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An Open Letter to the Tech Workers of San Francisco

Dear fellow tech workers,

“We interviewed a senior being evicted from their home in the Mission who told us, ‘Google is Hitler’. What would you say to that?”

An interviewer from TechCrunch asked me this question a month ago. The question didn’t surprise me, even though it should have. It seems like that’s all that’s been in the news lately.

The same week, I went to a Youth Speaks poetry slam with my girlfriend, Monica. This was the first poetry slam that I’ve ever been to, and I was excited to hear young people speaking out about the issues they hold dearest. The event was fantastic. It inspired me to see youth cultivating their creativity.

But it wasn’t long until a slam came up accusing “toxic” tech workers of ruining the city:

[Link to video]

On valencia now that’s all you see. It’s spreading. Like an airborne toxicity. And that’s exactly what I mean, it’s a toxic city. So they force us out. Both young and old. Raised up the cost of living, no rent control. So if we can’t afford to live our only option is to die or move out to Tracy or Antioch like a couple of my guys. While I’m in my city, they’re out in the burbs. Not to mention that Twitter and Google are too strung up for words. They’re speechless. Denying the fact that the only ones who can afford to live here now are the ones that are Google bussed in. Like they’re employees from the mystical wonderland called the valley of silicon. It’s really damn sickening, and I’m a 19 year old mother f**cking San Franciscan, damn. – Jerome Robles-Reyes “In My City”


It seems, from all fronts, that the city hates tech workers. Even SF Streetsblog, a blog I hold near and dear as a daily cyclist, declares the tech community as a monoculture that “blames those less wealthy for their own problems”.

Monocultures serve no one, including those whose culture takes over. – Fran Taylor, SF Streetsblog

From these articles, I should be ashamed. I should move back to where I came from. I guess that would be Indiana.

But I’m staying in San Francisco. The solution to evictions is building more housing. But building more housing isn’t going to conquer the root problem which is the animosity many native SF’ers have against people who work in software.

Instead of leaving, I’m going to see all the hate as a challenge to become a better member of the local San Francisco community. I think as tech workers we can make a big difference in public perception with consistent, everyday steps that any techie is capable of doing. You don’t need to be a community organizer to make things happen. A community is just a bunch of ordinary folks having relationships with each other.

I did some research, and apparently there are 20 ways to not be a gentrifier as described by local paper Oakland Local. It inspired me to make a list of my own:

1. Go get a haircut at a local barbershop or hairdresser (price must be < $15 (guys) or < $30 (gals)). Talk to your hairdresser. Talk about the car accident that happened down the block last weekend. Talk about the traffic issues from Outside Lands. And listen. Learn what’s on the mind of folks in the community.

2. Read and talk about local news. Be aware of the pulse of the city and about what’s affecting everyone, not just the software industry.

3. Get involved in local volunteerism. This summer I helped Doug, a local SFUSD high school teacher, in an externship hosted at Tint. He learned technical skills with us that he can bring to the classroom in the upcoming school year. This fall, I hope to mentor local high school students so they too can learn how to write code. There are lots of resources for you out there, you just have to look! For starters, check out SF Citi or Mission Bit.

4. Participate in local art. It could be as simple as going to a poetry slam or an art walk, or go even further! My friend and colleague Brandon is a great example for this. He’s working with a local organization called Clittorati on the Vulvatron. What could be more SF than a visually iconic mobile art piece, empowering women, goddesses, and the feminine identity?

5. Don’t talk down to people less fortunate than you .  I once met a fellow tech worker who condescendingly referred to the 38 as the ‘dirty eight’. As someone who rides the 38 every day, it made my blood boil to hear that comment. I finally knew how it felt to hate techie outsiders. Don’t reinforce negative stereotypes.

These are just a small subset of the many things that can be done to cultivate a community and dismantle the image of the evil techie outsider. Do you have your own list? Please share your ideas and actions in the comments below.

The biggest change that anyone can make is to treat everyone from all walks of life with respect. Even with the fairest of intentions, it’s easy to seem condescending to outsiders, so it’s our responsibility to think carefully and act generously. It’s our responsibility to participate in the community.

Sincerely,

Ryo Chiba, Co-Founder & Developer, Tint

Comments
  1. No, you’ve got it wrong. Just leave. Even your “solutions” are terrible. Go back to indiana, go anywhere else. The problem is your money, it’s your privilege. There is hardly a community left to “get involved in.” Cities don’t need charitable rich people, they need policies that don’t allow one group to “disrupt” the whole city. By the way “Disruption” is just a new word for white colonialism. The tech “community” doesn’t understand so much about why they are hated. Imagine, if you can, that you were part of this very intense, creative and difficult community that required that you be super intelligent, super flexible, always growing, always changing and always giving everything of yourself; it required a strength of character and an ability to know yourself and your social environment in order for you to progress or even remain stable. Then, the weakest most short-sighted and frankly anti-cultural, anti-intellectual and just anti-city folks showed up, kicked you out of your home and walked around the city without fear because they felt somehow that they “earned” everything and that they are doing something valuable. Well, let me tell you: HUMANITY DOESN’T NEED MORE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY. For a group that thinks that it is so smart and “data obsessed” how is it not clear to you what the endgame of all of this is? Any “usefull” information technology will only ultimately be used to centralize power more, no matter how democratic the intent is; everything else that the industry does boils down to entertainment, well, I think we all have about three synapses left that haven’t been worn out by your industry, so I’m not sure how long that will last; finally, more and more, your just making this shit for people like you. Who cares what your “app” does, it doesn’t do anything, tech doesn’t “do” anything. It doesn’t add to the cultural conversation or the local atmosphere. It’s not because tech workers are intentionally avoiding engaging in these things, it’s because they literally can’t engage. Monoculture as you have correctly called it will not generate anything of real social value. Tech workers don’t stand to contribute because they don’t have anything. Except for money, which brings me to my final point. Most people consider the model by which the tech workers become wealthy as corrupt. We don’t believe that you earned your money. we resent it all the more because it is based upon speculation, it’s just Wall Street. So there, that’s why we hate you, don’t bother volunteering or getting involved in art, you won’t “get it” anyway. Just leave.

    1. Andrew,

      Apologies for initially rejecting your comments. It was a mistake on my part as I felt attacked by what you said, but I think it would be wrong to hide your comments just because I felt attacked.

      Anyway, I’d just like you to know that I totally agree with you that I didn’t earn everything that I have, and that many important parts of my success including my education/upbringing that has influenced where I am now was something that was handed to me on a sliver platter due to my privileged upbringing as the son of a doctor. I also think it’s very arrogant for people to think that they’ve earned everything that they have when so much depends on what your family situation is, or whether your family can afford to put you in summer school, or whether your home life was stable.

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  • andrew berg

    Look man, just turn commenting off if you don't want comments. This just makes you like like a wimp.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • andrew berg

    You did, you did delete it. And this is what it is all about... you want to have control, you want things the way you want them.. and you don't want to be confronted. Well... We are smarter than you, we are more adaptable than you, we have more experience in the world and we understand it way better than you do.. We are better people, in general, than you and we don't like you. That's it, we just don't. We don't like corporations, we don't like the financial industry and we don't like you bringing those things here. That's what this is about, you are arrogant with nothing to back it up, and we know it, and you can't stand that we do. We just don't like who you are.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • andrew berg

    Did you delete my comment?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • andrew berg

    No, you've got it wrong. Just leave. Even your "solutions" are terrible. Go back to indiana, go anywhere else. The problem is your money, it's your privilege. There is hardly a community left to "get involved in." Cities don't need charitable rich people, they need policies that don't allow one group to "disrupt" the whole city. By the way "Disruption" is just a new word for white colonialism. The tech "community" doesn't understand so much about why they are hated. Imagine, if you can, that you were part of this very intense, creative and difficult community that required that you be super intelligent, super flexible, always growing, always changing and always giving everything of yourself; it required a strength of character and an ability to know yourself and your social environment in order for you to progress or even remain stable. Then, the weakest most short-sighted and frankly anti-cultural, anti-intellectual and just anti-city folks showed up, kicked you out of your home and walked around the city without fear because they felt somehow that they "earned" everything and that they are doing something valuable. Well, let me tell you: HUMANITY DOESN'T NEED MORE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY. For a group that thinks that it is so smart and "data obsessed" how is it not clear to you what the endgame of all of this is? Any "usefull" information technology will only ultimately be used to centralize power more, no matter how democratic the intent is; everything else that the industry does boils down to entertainment, well, I think we all have about three synapses left that haven't been worn out by your industry, so I'm not sure how long that will last; finally, more and more, your just making this shit for people like you. Who cares what your "app" does, it doesn't do anything, tech doesn't "do" anything. It doesn't add to the cultural conversation or the local atmosphere. It's not because tech workers are intentionally avoiding engaging in these things, it's because they literally can't engage. Monoculture as you have correctly called it will not generate anything of real social value. Tech workers don't stand to contribute because they don't have anything. Except for money, which brings me to my final point. Most people consider the model by which the tech workers become wealthy as corrupt. We don't believe that you earned your money. we resent it all the more because it is based upon speculation, it's just Wall Street. So there, that's why we hate you, don't bother volunteering or getting involved in art, you won't "get it" anyway. Just leave.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
    • teamtint

      Andrew, Apologies for initially rejecting your comments. It was a mistake on my part as I felt attacked by what you said, but I think it would be wrong to hide your comments just because I felt attacked. Anyway, I'd just like you to know that I totally agree with you that I didn't earn everything that I have, and that many important parts of my success including my education/upbringing that has influenced where I am now was something that was handed to me on a sliver platter due to my privileged upbringing as the son of a doctor. I also think it's very arrogant for people to think that they've earned everything that they have when so much depends on what your family situation is, or whether your family can afford to put you in summer school, or whether your home life was stable.
      UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
13 More Comments