The Racial Engineering of San Francisco

One of the ugliest aspects of contemporary "progressive" thought is a thoroughly patronizing attitude toward African-Americans, regarding them as eternal victims unable to fend for themselves. The latest insult comes from America's most stridently left wing big city government, San Francisco, where municipal officials are fretting over recent declines in the number of blacks living within the city limits.

The nation's largest newspaper, USA Today, yesterday joined the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle in bemoaning the trend of San Franciscans of African heritage moving out of the central city. Not just to "working-class cities like Vallejo, Richmond or Fairfield" (The New York Times), but to genuine American Dream suburbs like fast-growing Tracy California, which welcomes all races and hosts a proud and growing African-American community that includes a number of people of my acquaintance.

Even more pernicious than liberal journalists lamenting blacks behaving like every other group attracted to the amenities of suburban living are the official attitude and actions of local government.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last April that:
San Francisco officials are now calling the thousands of black people who have moved away "the African American diaspora," and the mayor's office is putting together a task force to figure out what can be done to preserve the remaining black population and cultivate new residents.
USA Today helpfully updates:
San Francisco officials... vow to stop the exodus and develop a strategy to win blacks back to the city. In June, Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed a task force to study how to reverse decades of policies - and neglect - that black leaders say have fueled the flight. [emphasis added]
So taxpayer funds are already being expended for the purpose of encouraging one race to live in the city of San Francisco, and by extension discouraging other races who might instead occupy the same housing. Am I the only person who sees this as racist madness?

A thought experiment

Imagine that instead of blacks, the white population of San Francisco (which has declined significantly over the last several decades,
from 89.5% white in 1950 to 53% in 2000) were the object of concern. City officials trying "stop the exodus" or "win whites" (as if they were a prize) or "to figure out what can be done to preserve the remaining white population and cultivate new white residents" would be properly accused of racism.

But the problem with the city's concern to "preserve" (not in formaldehyde, one hopes) its black population go deeper than just an unthinking and reflexive desire to see blacks as a special group deserving special rights and needing special protections from a wise and benevolent city government that knows better than they where said blacks should live. The very concept of racially engineering a city's population ought to be anathema to anyone who gives a moment's thought to the matter.

What's the "optimum" number?

How would one go about deciding how many blacks are "enough" for San Francisco? Any theory or method one might choose is deeply flawed.

The latest estimate of San Francisco's black population puts it at 6.5%, a level which is below the national average of 12.3%, but which is almost equal to the California average of  6.7%. Yet the current black percentage of the city's population already is regarded as a problem because it is too low. So apparently the thinking is that San Francisco for some reason should have a greater-than-California-average concentration of black residents. It is not merely a matter of San Francisco reflecting the average, San Francisco should exceed the average. Why? Are blacks to be stereotyped as "urban" - the kind of people who should be concentrated in certain neighborhoods? I thought we called this "ghettoization" and considered it racist.

All three newspaper articles linked above mention the history of African-Americans in San Francisco, so perhaps the thinking is that some sort of "historic preservation" principle applies to ethnic communities as well as to structures of architectural or historic significance. But anyone with the slightest familiarity with San Francisco history, or the history of practically any large American city for that matter, should see that neighborhoods change over time, as established groups prosper and move on, and are replaced by newer residents.

Historical amnesia

All three newspapers specifically mention the Fillmore District in San Francisco as a neighborhood sadly being lost by its apparently somehow rightful black inhabitants. Yet none of the papers bothers to note that African-Americans came to the Fillmore in large numbers only because the previous Japanese-American residents were forcibly evacuated to internment camps during World War II. Incidentally, it was liberal President Franklin D. Roosevelt and liberal Governor (and subsequently Chief Justice) Earl Warren who were responsible for this non-lethal ethnic cleansing. The forced evacuation handed the neighborhood by default to black immigrants from the South who flocked to San Francisco to contribute to the war effort on the shipyards, docks, and other defense facilities.

In fact, prior to World War II, San Francisco had very few black residents (well under one percent). The relatively few blacks in the Bay Area were concentrated in West Oakland, a community that had its origin as the home of sleeping car porters who worked the transcontinental railways with their terminals in Oakland. In those days of overt racism, sleeping car porters were among the best-paid blacks in the country.

Nobody tried to "protect" the Irish or Italians

There are plenty of other neighborhoods in San Francisco which have seen their ethnic character change over the past several decades. For example the Castro District, now famous as a gay neighborhood, was formerly inhabited predominantly by Irish Catholic families. I would be astonished if someone could point out to me articles in the New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle which sympathetically portrayed the plight of these families who watched the ethnic and cultural tone of their neighborhood radically transformed by affluent immigrants from elsewhere. I know of no initiatives on the part of the city of San Francisco to make itself congenial to Irish Americans, or which sought to "preserve" the Irish population. The same could be said of the city's Italian-American community.

What about Asians and Hispanics?

Another note entirely missing form the press coverage was any mention of those groups which are replacing the blacks who are moving out. It is no secret to anyone that Asians and Hispanics have been moving to the city (and to California and the United States) in large numbers. Just walk the streets or visit any of the city's famous restaurants. On what basis do city officials and the newspapers believe that these and other groups are less desirable residents than African-Americans? And why are municipal resources being spent to (by implication) discourage them from residing in the city so that blacks may instead live in the city's relatively finite housing stock?

Every group fondly remembers "the old neighborhood"

It is entirely a different matter to remember ethnic neighborhoods of the past nostalgically and recall the good times enjoyed at the churches, restaurants, barbershops, pubs, and other community gathering places. Every group does that when they have moved on. A major theme of The Sopranos, after all, was nostalgia for the old Italian-American enclave in Newark, a city now heavily African-American.

San Francisco, for all its political foibles, is city whose housing stock is in high demand thanks to views, climate, and a dynamic economy that has seen wave after wave of new firms formed to exploit cutting edge business opportunities, attracting wave after wave of newcomers to staff them. In the past, the market mechanism has sufficed to allocate the housing to those who wish to live there. One of my children is making a considerable financial sacrifice in order to live in a small apartment in the city, rather than in more spacious and less expensive accommodations elsewhere. Life is full of such tradeoffs, and I see no reason why African-Americans should be presumed less capable of making these tradeoffs for themselves than anyone else. Evidently city officials see it otherwise.

A city government entering the business of racially engineering of its population is repellant.The liberal journalists who fan this sort of racism ought to be ashamed of themselves. And the city officials who proclaim their preference for residents of one racial group over others ought to be challenged to justify their racism.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker
If you experience technical problems, please write to