That experience from that baseball game really sums up my feelings about San Francisco today. Pride, joy, and a sense of loss. You see, when I was in high school there in the City, the African population in San Francisco was approximately 15% (the official records say 12%, but the Census has never been good at counting our people). We had communities in Hunters Point, Fillmore, Lakeview, and other areas of the City. We had institutions that come with community. We had identity and a history of struggle that included being part of the birthplace of the Black Panther Party and other viable forms of proud struggle. In fact, I remember when the entire corner of Fillmore and Geary, just blocks from the Kaiser Hospital where I was born, was dominated by businesses owned and controlled by the Nation of Islam. Fried fish, bean pies, a cleaners, and a legal aide office. Their huge Mosque sat just doors away on Geary. Soon, that Mosque would give way to the People's Temple, the home of Jim Jones. Soon, those businesses would disappear and be replaced by standard fare capitalist enterprise like check cashing, Rite Aide Drugs, etc. Soon that 15% population would dwindle down to the less than five percent that it is today and with it, the sense of community that I felt growing up.
For a brief period after my mother died in 2009, I lost any sense of connection to San Francisco. My father had died 10 years before and once they died the rent control they enjoyed vanished. As a result, my sisters (one who has since also died) were immediately forced to move to the East Bay to seek out more affordable rents. This feeling of alienation from San Francisco had been developing since the 1980s, but it was solidified during one of the last times I saw my mother alive. I had driven to San Francisco to spend time with her and along with my daughter, we visited her at the flat she and my dad (and myself during my high school years) lived on Haight Street, just six blocks from Ashbury. My mom, in failing health, was wheelchair bound, but one of the things she always loved was going to the local Indigenous casinos. So, since my out of state visits were her only opportunities to leave the house, we went through the process of helping her descend the 44 steps so that she could then engage in the struggle of climbing into my vehicle. Since Haight Street parking is unbelievable (I remember my father having to wait two hours to find parking when returning from work), my standard practice was to double park, click the hazards on, and go up to help my mother. On this particular trip, as my daughter, sister, and I helped my mother down the steps, once we reached the outside steps, we were greeted with an extremely hostile and belligerent European (White) woman who was incensed that we were double parked. The woman was standing in front of the stairway, on the sidewalk, yelling and cursing at me for leaving my vehicle double parked (an extremely common occurrence in San Francisco). What made this scene especially odd is that by all visible evidence, this woman appeared to be walking up the hill, not driving. Not seeking to get around my vehicle as every other car going up and down Haight Street had no problem doing. She was just standing there yelling at us. I remember her saying "you people have no right to be here!" I didn't respond. My sister and mother were more than effective at countering the rude outburst of this woman with one of their own. As we drove off, we debriefed the incident and after listening to my family members express their outrage, I offered that the situation reflects the times in San Francisco. The fact that I was born and raised there was now ill relevant. The fact my mother was an elder who had contributed to San Francisco in so many ways for so many years (since 1949) was ill relevant. What mattered was this woman and all the values and culture that she brought to the City was there now and therefore, she could create whatever type of reality there that fit her vision. And obviously, we aren't a part of that vision. It wasn't just that lone experience. That incident triggered many similar incidents in recent years. Being confronted by European street kids on upper Haight and even getting into a physical confrontation with some of them who refused to move out of the way so that we could walk by. Being stopped by police in various parts of the City when all I was doing was driving with my daughter and other small children. Being watched in stores and other businesses. The message was clear. You don't belong here.
Don't get me wrong. Growing up in the 70s meant I was bused to suburban schools. That means I was exposed early on to white supremacy. During those years, the Sunset district was prestigious and all European. The messages painted on walls everywhere and the way I and my friends were treated made it clear even back then that we were not wanted in San Francisco. And if I needed any further evidence it was provided by these examples: the time two friends and I were jumped at Big Rec in Golden Gate park by 13 European racists when I was 13, the European man who stopped my friend and I riding our bikes when we were 10 with loud racial epithets and threats, and finally, the three thirty something European men who physically beat the tar out of 14 year old me for just being an African made that message clear even back then. The difference is that in 1977, even with those horrific incidents being a way of life, we had community in San Francisco. I knew that and that knowledge made me understand that the community meant that in spite of those people and those incidents, we had a right to be there. Now, there are no beatings or threats, but the systematic method in which African culture has been removed from San Francisco makes the statement much louder and clearer than it was even during the violence I experienced in the 70s. We are not wanted there and our very existence and history there is being wiped clean. Almost as if it never happened.
I have no hard feelings though. I don't because the existence of the landmarks I mentioned in the beginning made me realize that no matter what the racist institutions and people in San Francisco do, my life growing up there will always be mine and they can't take that from me. I will go to Baker Beach, Golden Gate Park, etc., and share in my childhood memories whether anyone likes it or not. I will walk up and down Haight Street and Buena Vista Park whether anyone likes it or not. I will eat fish on Third Street in Hunters Point and be proud of that neighborhood and the resistance from my people which cannot be seen on a large scale anywhere else in the City today, but is still prevalent in good old HP. Plus, from what I've learned in my life, I have no need to be angry at the land grabbers and gentrification benefactors. I can claim San Francisco. I can go there whenever I want and my history there is my history, but gentrification exists because white supremacy exists. White supremacy exists because capitalism exists. And, capitalism exists because Africa is being exploited. I realize now that the negative experiences I unfortunately had to go through as a child happened because Africa is disrespected. No matter what people think, everywhere we go, everything we do, we are viewed as representatives of Africa. And in truth, that's exactly what we are and what we should want to be. And, if we understand this all correctly, until Africa is free, we will continue to be disrespected in San Francisco and everywhere else.
So you people continue to stare, look down your nose, and benefit from your racist system. You can't have my life in San Francisco and soon you won't be able to have Africa either. The correct message has been clearly articulated to me my entire life. I just has to work hard enough and become mature enough to understand it. From the shores of West Africa to Louisiana to my parents and grand parents in S.F. Whether I'm in the Pacific Northwest, the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, the Bay Area, or Africa, I'm going to be a proud African. A proud African who was born and raised in San Francisco, who is fighting against capitalism every single day of my life.