Commentary: Black Exodus From San Francisco Worries Locals

The former hippie paradise is not as welcoming or diverse as people think.

Posted: 11/03/2011 07:04 PM EDT
San Francisco

As the song goes, if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. That was true in 1967, anyway.

The fabled city in northern California is often considered to be a gentle place, one where flowers in the hair were just an emblem of the freedom-loving, friendly, inclusive nature of the locale. But what if that’s inaccurate?

The numbers show that, despite its reputation, San Francisco isn’t really all that diverse when it comes to African-Americans, and as the years go on it’s becoming even less so. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in the past 40 years the Black population in San Francisco has gone from a high of 88,000 in the 1970s to 46,779 in 2005. By 2050, that population will have dwindled to just around 32,000, according to census estimates. That’s in a city with about 809,000 people, which puts San Francisco’s Black population percentage at only 5.8, well below the national figure of about 13 percent.

As you might imagine, Blacks in San Francisco, some of whose families have been in there for generations, are concerned. About 100 people showed up at a recent community meeting to discuss the troubling phenomenon of Black population decline. One of the main problems, people agreed, was that the dwindling numbers meant that African-Americans had fewer opportunities to engage with their own community. This, in turn, leads to more Blacks fleeing San Francisco to find a more lively Black community. And as more Blacks flee, the problem gains momentum.

N’Tanya Lee, who spoke on a panel at the community meeting, said that she and her wife were having a difficult time fitting in in San Francisco these days. "Young black people — queer or not queer — they do not want to stay here," she said, noting that it was either too expensive or just not diverse enough. "Community liveliness — it's not here,” she added.

Understanding why Blacks are leaving San Francisco — and reversing that trend — is a complex matter, and it can’t be remedied overnight. The housing market, the job market, high rents and city budget cuts all contribute to the exodus, and it’s going to take a lot of work on the part of political leaders and academics to think of ways to fix the problem. Something needs to happen, at least as long as San Francisco would like to remain known as a city for gentleness and inclusivity.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


 

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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