“Black Flight” — an idea whose time is long overdue

This article talks about city leaders in SF worried about black flight and San-Fran turning into an upper-middle-class city.  Got news for ’em: it’s too late.  MUCH too late.  And the idea of “affordable housing” in San Francisco, is a relatively meaningless buzzword.  

I have to admit — I’m bitter about my time in San-Fran.  It’s a gorgeous if somewhat provincial city with great potential, completely squandered by Chicago-style political elites.  I used to rant bloody murder about it, while my brother — who at the time was more insulated from it, and is now much more knowledgeable — used to just shake his head at me.  Well, same thing happens here in Collin County, now the richest county in the country.  

As the commentary upon SF’s minimum-wage notes in the artice, this isn’t really about race, just like half the debates of feminism have nothing to do with sex or gender.  This is an issue of class.

San Francisco and Collin County are both wall-to-wall upper-middle class, and, to be blunt, it’s both economically irrational, and socially pointless, for middle class people to try to live in an upper-middle-class environment.  The upper middle class has completely different values which are centered around an obsession with material success.  Often this comes with complete bifurcation of  intellectual life, from a minority living a life of deeply-absorbed cultural richness and rigor, directly to a majority living in an utter vapidity of shopping — ask any DFW native, and they’ll confirm the legitimacy of the “Plano Girl” stereotype, flush with Daddy’s money and completely lacking in any disturbing ideas or actual thoughts.  The middle class tends towards middle-brow pursuits, with a little lowbrow (football) and a little highbrow (occasional museum trips) thrown in for flavoring.  The Upper Mids have a sprinkle of “highbrow” combined with an unusually large swath of “Shoppingbrow.”

The Upper Mids worry about “playdates.”  They also believe that it’s very important for children to have playdates with the right children.  No, really, this is not a hallucination, but a regularly-repeated idea, its speakers oblivious that such a notion might come just laden with class assumptions.  Sometimes it’s a pre-occupation with school districts providing a thinly-disguised veneer for racial and cultural bigotry — huge chunks of North Dallas and Plano suburb wouldn’t exist except for openly racist whites wanting to have nothing to do with either Mexicans or Blacks.  But more often, it’s a simple exclusionary vision, which wishes to network for success, and wishes nothing to do with that vast stream of humanity not preoccupied with “making it” as measured in starkly financial terms… most of Plano isn’t desperate about education because they want deeply cultured children, for example.  They want education so their kids will be afford to shop at the same boutique stores they do.

This, while mentally rather straitjacketed, isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  But why would anyone making minimum wage, or even a normal middle-class wage, want to live in such an environment, with house after house carefully designed to enable one to completely avoid one’s neighbors?  When said neighbors make it perfectly apparent that their decisions to either interact with you, or not, has more to do with your networking prospects than your character?

Generally speaking, San Fran and Plano share a basic cultural assumption about wealth, which is only dishonored in the breach for public consumption.  And that is the assumption that if you’ve got it, you’re a better person than if you don’t.  This, in return, tends to encourage a pretty Marxist counter-response.  More obvious in San Francisco, but still evident all over Dallas once you adjust for the greater physical distances involved.  You can’t miss the disease in San Francisco, because it’s the size of a postage stamp, but Dallas is no stranger to the infection.  Dallas is a city obsessed with wealth and social class conflicts:  if you doubt me, crack a copy of “D” magazine, the area’s Magazine For The UpperMid, complete with all its accoutrements:  bad hairstyles, pointlessly over-priced clothes, and smiles which show off rows of beautifully-sculped teeth, but which somehow never reach the eyes, to the professiona matchmakers who promise that even the most completely boring stuffed suit can find an Exciting,  Socio-Economically-Compatible Partner for Romance.  You don’t need to be an Upper Mid to enjoy nice things.  Last night, little old me kicked back in a perfectly average back yard while drinking some of the world’s best brandy, for example.  But you do need to be an Upper Mid to define “nice things” the way that those who read “D” do.

That there might be any other “D(allas)” worth knowing, is not an idea you’ll see represented in those pages.  More’s the pity, because there are some Mom’n’Pops out there putting out food every bit as good as what the Beautiful People are eating.  And it should come as no surprise that those living a “working class” or “middle class” lifestyle want nothing to do with it, and will not be enticed back with insulting sugar-plum visions of “affordable housing.”

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  1. I largely concur. I think you still don’t get that San Francisco is three cities, not two (you get the f-ing socialists and the upper-mids (there’re the wealthy too, but no-one sees them except in the society columns of what passes for a newspaper here), but there’re also the long-term families that lived here back when Silicon Valley was covered with avocados instead of shopping centers. This latter group is what makes S.F. cool.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with you. Hell, I make pretty darn good money and the only thing I miss about S.F. is the quality of the bookstores (good bookstores require either population density or massive investment (like Powells and the big Half-Priced Books)). I certainly don’t miss the marxists who think others have a constitutional obligation to provide them with living spaces, health care, or ….

    Oh, but I think you’ve got the education thing only half-right. I can’t speak towards Plano, but A) play-dates are the natural results of requiring two incomes (the day-care lifestyle) to make a middle-class living and B) in a USD-choked morass like CA has, there are so many preposterously bad schools that it, rather than protecting the rights to get to the mall, over here it’s trying to set the kid up to eventually be able to afford a mortgage (clearly not the same kind of problem in TX, where wage-plumbers can afford decent houses and to have an unworking spouse if she so chooses).

    That all said, you’re totally spot on the money as to wage-earners living there. It makes no damn sense for any unsubsidized wage-earner to live in S.F., and their idea that lack of public housing is a major reason for black flight is borderline racist: blacks (and other wage-earners) are fleeing San Francisco because they have self-regard and self-respect, and rightly so.

  2. JimDesu, a riposte:

    Because you married into one, you actually see native San Franciscan families, etcetera. And you are right, they are what make SF cool.

    I met one local the entire year I lived there. I likely bumped into a few more without realizing it, but that was pretty much it. And I wasn’t shy for social contact. That “third city” is pretty much as invisible as the wealthy, unless you have an in.

    I disagree on the playdates thing, precisely b/c I know a whole bunch of folks who’ve done the two-incomes-plus daycare thing. Arranging times to kids to get together is one thing… carefully filtering your kids’ lives so that they only meet the right kids, is something very, very different.

  3. Oh, I agree on the racist tinge to the article, by the way. Having “affordable housing” is also a cry of “where has our servant class gotten off to?”

  4. Mike

     /  January 1, 2009

    Hopefully, the servant class has run away and is free. I read the article you are talking about and was snickering the entire time. S.F. has been needing a big, urm, correction like this for a good while. Entropy: its the law.

    Well, its more than that. But you can’t freeze situations like this. Eventually corrections happen, and if you are smart you can ride them. In S.F.’s case, they are getting dumped off the board and smashed into the beach.

  5. Yup. More’s the pity, they’re driving out folks like Jim’s wife and in-laws, who are the folks who made the place so cool.

  6. convivialdingo

     /  January 2, 2009

    I’m pretty much the biggest class no-stick-um ever. And everywhere I’ve ever lived it’s exactly the same story. In Paris, in the hill country, in Highland Park, and even in Dallas – MOST perceive their intentions not as racists(though there are plenty of those), but merely as a form of protectionism and opportunity.

    Your analysis is certainly ONE of the possibilities. But there’s plenty of other reasons.

    The successful black families know the odds. Why risk your children to violence & drugs when the solution is a higher house payment and a longer commute? At least that’s the perception.

    In reality all people suffer from the same moral failures – it’s like a giant social Brothers Karamazov. There’s no escaping it – but we certainly try.

    And the reasons why they clump vary widely, as some are class & socially driven, some are safety & morally driven, and others are politically driven (think Orange County Republicans).

    You also left out one significant fact about Collin county though – there’s a huge contingency of Yankees there. They fled to avoid being taxed to the grave and find themselves flush with wealth after buying a house that ONLY cost 250k. They followed their corporate overlords such as JC Penny, & EDS.

    And yes, I went to Christmas mass at St. Francis in Frisco. Lots of strange accents – and they weren’t Southern, LOL.

  7. It’s true, emigration is a huge part of the Collin story… but it’s a huge part of the DFW story in general. Downtown’s got some of the most expensive real estate in the country right now.

  8. convivialdingo

     /  January 2, 2009

    Yup, that’s absolutely correct – and something we share with SanFran.

    Oh, and I can’t disagree with the “shopzilla” offspring of High Dallas. Truly a scary time in my life.

  9. Mike

     /  January 2, 2009

    The fact that a city actually starts to think it has a “High” section is usually the sign that it has grown up a bit too much in my opinion. Once you start hearing that kind of talk, the city starts to slide. Why do cities feel the need to put themselves up to this crap anyway? We are almost as cool as NYC or Chicago or LA or SF. Who cares? I would be more attracted to a city that says “we are nothing like any of the above and actively work to not be like them”.

    Welcome to Fort Worth? Maybe Cheyenne?

  10. Well, I can tell you for a fact that working in Tarrant Co. has meant a 99% reduction in the amount of bullshit I not only had to put up with, but even had to *hear about.*

    So, yeah, I’m with you on that one, Mike. Cities are cool, but something goes terribly wrong once it starts to become a hive.

  11. Allen has been trying to match the gaudy sophisticated look that Plano and Frisco have been adopting. The new “Watters Creek” shopping center is a poor replication of “The Shops at Legacy.”

    I see a bunch of people trying way too hard to live the life they see on MTV. They want to live the glamorous life, which unfortunately tends to be the faux life. All of their nice cloths and high entry barrier home societies are a facade for their maxed out credit cards.

    They are all dumbshit assclowns. I’m sorry but I absolutely despise the “scene.” There are only a handful of young intellectual thinkers, and we’re surrounded by a sea of wannabe Paris Hilton’s. To quote Tool in talking about LA, I think we should “flush it all away.”

    /rant end.

  12. Well, Reyna, from your mouth to God’s ears. I really liked being in Allen, and watching it slowly turn into just another version of Long Island (sans water), has been muy not happy. Given a choice, I’d *much* rather have a few very nice things that will actually last, rather than waste money over and over again buying semi-disposable crap.

    But the folks who live in said places don’t care what folks like me think, and that’s just fine. You just couldn’t pay me to live there. People really look down their noses at Irving, but we’ve got great food, and neighbors who are actually able to talk about something besides who’s having a sale. I’ve met a couple people who are really smart about how they finesse the whole Collin thing, saving carefully, picking up houses with saved money, that sort of thing. Seems like the way to go.

  13. Russ, people are people: you probably ran into hundreds of native San Franciscans while you were there.

    Granted, hundreds in a year means you were still swamped with socialists of convenience, especially given where you were living. No magic hand-shake or ritual to be introduced to “the cool people” — they’re all over the place, but they’re not necessarily advertising to any particular set of prejudices.

  14. Mike

     /  January 3, 2009

    Well, of course we run into the issue of what makes up a “cool” person in this. But you are right, “cool” people are all over.


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