Harris Bostic: To Be Black in San Francisco

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As San Francisco’s African American population continues to wane, Black residents like Harris Bostic are feeling the constant need to edit themselves.

Walking around San Francisco sometimes I feel seen for only the negative things some associate with the color of my skin. With the dwindling of Black residents in the city, I feel it more. I’ve learned to let many of these looks, actions and sneers bounce off, but occasionally a few penetrate and sting — making me question my own right to be me. Such as the time I entered a restaurant for dinner and headed to the restroom but was promptly told it was for patrons only. Or being asked to show my receipt upon exiting a department store when other, lighter shoppers were not asked for theirs.

It’s times like these I lean on the stark contrast of my upbringing in Atlanta, the Black Mecca of the South, where for each hostile face I saw, there were scores of beautiful brown faces that not only beamed at me but challenged me, and lifted me. Granted, I enjoy living in the city by the Bay, but I do have to ask myself: do I sport a cardigan sweater today instead of a hoodie, lest I be seen as a threat? I keep my hair cut short as opposed to an afro that might scream militant. My gait is slow and careful because quick and light might put others on alert.

But the real question is, should I even care about all of these external markers when I know what dwells inside is a proud, Black, American male who enjoys engaging with others of similar and dissimilar backgrounds?

I wish that people who harbor negative opinions of me should just try to see beyond the biased headlines, beyond the Jim Crow imaging, beyond the seemingly visceral aversion to my mere Blackness. Certainly that would be the first step, followed by pushing through discomfort to confidence that by getting to know someone who is different is to learn more about yourself.

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So, let’s talk and find out what we have in common, how we differ, and our aspirations. To paraphrase Dr. King, don’t judge me by the color of my skin but find out about the content of my character.

With a Perspective, I’m Harris Bostic.

Harris Bostic works as a nonprofit and philanthropic advisor, and lives in the Western Addition.