Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walking in San Francisco

Spending the end of 2008 rejuvenating and getting inspired for the New Year in my home state of California. The Bay Area. Full of different emotions for me. So much has happened here. It is my past, it was my home. I had to leave in order to see it.

As I prepare for Anna Deavere Smith's FIRES IN THE MIRROR I am devouring Smith's TALK TO ME about her travels through media and politics. Smith studied and lived in San Francisco and as I walk those familiar hills, the energy charges through me. But then I also look around to try to find those who do not look like me. I am surprised by the lack of color. I see mostly a sea of White among the Asian population. My old friend Chris tells me we are in the Western Addition. "Yeah the blacks were pushed out, once again." I read up on it and find the Fillmore District after WWII indeed was a cultural center for San Fran's African-American community. But then read about the changing demographic. And the "return of the middle class." I wonder why "urban renewal" means more whites and less people of color. I think about economics and code words like "bad neighborhood." I think of Oakland and turf wars. It's complex and unsettling. I look to myself to see where I fall in this.

It's scary to look. Afraid of what I may find. I am nervous about diving into FIRES IN THE MIRROR and those strong, uncomfortable words. To put that out there: our complicated relationship with race, with class, and with difference. Our American identity. The melting pot that has yet to melt. The melting pot that seems only to continue to separate.

I remember something. I open up the intro to FIRES IN THE MIRROR and read Ms. Smith's words: "I think there is a gap between those who are heard and those who speak. Those who really speak in their own communities, to their own people, are not heard as frequently as those who speak on a regular basis with authority. The media most often goes to experts to speak about difference. My sense is that American character lives not in one place or the other, but in the gaps between the places, and in our struggle to be together in our differences. It lives not in what has been fully articulated, not in the smooth-sounding words, but in the very moment that the smooth-sounding words fail us. It is alive right now. We might not like what we see, but in order to change it, we have to see it clearly."

I keep walking. I keep listening. I keep looking.

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