I live in San Francisco where there is currently a culture war in full swing between those who have been labeled economically “wealthy” and “privileged” and those who have been labeled economically challenged. This has come about due to quickly escalating housing prices, neighborhood demographic changes, and other factors.
My more left or progressive friends, many of whom relate to the economically challenged category, decry the changes to our city and often assign the blame directly on those they have labeled wealthy and privileged. On some level this rings true, but today I had an experience that made me rethink all of that.
Today I was chatting with a friend who works with incredibly poor people including those in third-world countries where poverty is beyond what most in the U.S. can even fathom. Against the backdrop of that conversation, I saw things in a new light.
I walked around in my neighborhood today and bumped into many friends who place themselves squarely in the economically challenged category, many of whom are rather vocal in their opposition to the local tech industry’s influence and other people they see as wealthy and changing the city they love. Then I noticed a few things.
These friends were all carrying iPhones or the latest Android phones. Many were carrying laptops. Most were dressed rather well. A few had in their hands lattes and other costlier coffee drinks. One mentioned buying tickets to a show and spending $90 for each on them. One had just come from his $25 haircut. Another had just booked a cruise with a friend. None of this appeared to represent anything approaching poverty or anything remotely close to economically challenged.
In many (most?) parts of the world, these people would be considered incredibly wealthy and privileged. And relatively, they are. People in impoverished countries would be shocked that my friends are calling others wealthy when they themselves appear to be quite wealthy too when looked at through the lens of deep and entrenched poverty.
I say this to give the local conversation some perspective. Yes, I know the issues are complex. Yes, I know each side has an argument to be made. Yes, I know that those of us in countries with robust economies and opportunities will always be seen as wealthy as compared to many others. But still, I think it’s worth noting that in the grand view of the world’s population, most of my friends in San Francisco would be seen as wealthy, even the most left and progressive of friends.. Maybe this observation will cause all of us, myself included, to look at the disparities in wealth and how that changes neighborhoods and cities from a broader perspective, accepting that such shifts are far more complex than simply pointing fingers at who we perceive as wealthy.