Jul. 10, 2020
PROXY_in between, volume two
We’re back with the second volume of PROXY >IN BETWEEN< to share things we’re seeing and hearing during this in-between time. It’s been eight weeks since we last reached out, and it has been a time of necessary and important demonstrations and discussions about racial injustice in our city and across our country.
At PROXY we are reflecting on the history of this site and our role in contributing to a different future for our city. The white supremacist foundations of our country continues to have tangible effects on the development and composure of cities across the country, including San Francisco. And we are confronting the legacy of explicitly racist lending policies and urban planning programs that shaped Hayes Valley and the Western Addition over the 20th century.
This map shows redlined districts of San Francisco in 1937. Agents of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a government-sponsored entity, created this map to grade the neighborhoods of cities across the country for development and lending purposes. The criteria HOLC applied were explicitly, if not predominantly racist, and banks wouldn’t lend in areas graded the lowest. Here is the description of the zone that included the site of PROXY:
“It has a highly congested population consisting of Japanese, Russians, Mexicans, Negroes, etc. having a very low income level. In the north-central part of the area is the largest concentration of Japanese in the City, and Negroes predominate in its northwest section. The southern part is much less affected by the racial situation which has been described, and has many of the qualities of Area D-4.”
While white San Franciscans could access capital to purchase homes or improve their properties, redlining denied this access to their Black and new immigrant counterparts. A cycle of growing disparity ensued.
The suppression of Black San Franciscans’ path to wealth and opportunity took another dramatic turn following World War II, when the City enacted a redevelopment plan for the Western Addition focused on the historically Black area around Fillmore Street, then celebrated as the Harlem of the West. The plan led to mass displacement of the Black community, and the destruction of scores of homes that, over time, would have made their titleholders millionaires.
This was not by mistake. In 1947, the City commissioned local planner Mel Scott to create a plan for “revitalizing” the Western Addition. In his 70-page report, Scott notes:
“The presence in the Western Addition District of a high proportion of negro and foreign born families presents a special problem…. In view of the characteristically low income of colored and foreign-born families, only a relatively small proportion of them may be expected to occupy quarters in the new development.”
This travesty took place just a short walk away from the corner of Hayes and Octavia where PROXY sits today. (Read more about this regretful chapter in this neighborhood’s history — and the incarceration of Japanese Americans that preceded it — in this paper.)
These are only two of countless instances of white supremacist policies suppressing the Black community of San Francisco. As a site born out of another legacy of racial injustice, the proliferation of freeways, PROXY is a part of this system. It is not simply enough to recognize this reality: We must work to actively dismantle it — like the freeway where PROXY now stands — and remake it. As a curatorial experiment, we can continue to show films and host installations from a range of diverse perspectives. As a physical space, we need to ensure that Black San Franciscans feel welcome in this place, and that our offerings fully embrace the entirety of our city. This isn’t something that is a quick fix: we are committing to a longer learning process, one that will benefit from ongoing community collaboration.
This week, we’re sharing some films, music, articles, and actions with this new imperative in mind. We hope you join us!
THE WATERMELON WOMAN
Directed by Cheryl Dunye, 1996 [not rated]
THE WATERMELON WOMAN follows Cheryl, a young Black filmmaker as she probes into the history of “The Watermelon Woman,” a 1940’s Black actress who Cheryl discovers in her day job as a video store clerk. As Cheryl searches for more information to try to make her the subject of a documentary, she begins to see similarities between their lives and their work. This debut film from director Cheryl Dunye won Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1996.
Watch on Kanopy
HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING
Directed by Ramell Ross, 2018 [not rated]
An intimate portrait of African-Americans in the south, HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING challenges the conventions of filmmaking to create a sense of place and personhood that is palpable through the screen. Director Ramell Ross focuses on the intimate, the profound, the mundane, the extraordinary to expand the typical portraiture of documentary filmmaking and illuminate the lives of his subjects.
Watch on Kanopy
PROXY >IN BETWEEN<_VOLUME 002 playlist
Here are some of the tracks we’ve been listening to over the past several weeks — solemn at the beginning, growing to a growl, and ending with a tenacious hopefulness. – dB
COVID-19 AND JUSTICE IN AMERICA
Authors Deanna Van Buren and F. Javier Campos-Torres make the case that the early release of some inmates to stem catastrophic COVID-19 outbreaks in our prisons point to an urgent need for a comprehensive re-imagining of our justice system. They write: “Without a long-term plan for true decarceration, at a larger scale, and the necessary infrastructure to support both returning citizens and their communities, we will inevitably backslide and refill these institutions.” To start, they outline a path to building a more equitable system, one “crafted in collaboration with the communities most impacted.”
SAFE STREETS ARE NOT SAFE FOR BLACK LIVES
Transportation planner Destiny Thomas cautions her professional peers and “safe street” advocates that the celebrated “slow streets” response to the pandemic overlooks the relationship Black communities have with their streets as places of violence, oppression and life-threatening pollution. By overriding genuine community engagement, the hastily deployed networks, like their the precedents of pop-up bike lanes and guerrilla-urbanist interventions, risk deepening inequity and mistrust in underserved communities and substituting feel-good gestures for truly transformative change.
ON THE LIMITS OF CARE AND KNOWLEDGE
Yesemi Umolu, the artistic director of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, reflects on the limits of care and knowledge in museums and other cultural institutions that are reacting to the current moment. She argues that creating a new world will take more than diversity initiatives in staffing and curation; it will require institutions to relinquish their authority and rethink their role in the fabric of a city. She asks “What would our museums be if they were to center community in place of audience?”
A LETTER TO SAN FRANCISCO
In an open letter to her city, pediatrician and born-and-raised San Franciscan Zea Malawa lays out her dream of raising her children in a changed San Francisco. She speaks to the real effects of decades of abuse, exclusion, and oppression of our city’s Black community, and fantasizes of a future in which San Francisco leverages its considerable political and economic power to become a sanctuary city for Black people — one that not only invests in the lives of its Black residents, but invites more in. What does the future of San Francisco look like beyond this moment?
SAN QUENTIN COVID-19 OUTBREAK
San Quentin State Prison was free of COVID-19 up until five weeks ago, when a transfer of inmates from a facility in Chino led to the first reported cases within its sprawling cellblocks. Since then, at least 1600 prisoners have tested positive for the virus and six have died. Activists inside and outside the prison have released a set of demands to slow the spread of the virus, alongside a media toolkit that includes instructions on how you can help, including email and social media templates to increase pressure on the prison and the governor.
KEEP MUNI FUNDED
Our beloved SF Muni is expected to lose more than 40 of its lines if it can’t find a new source of revenue, according to this SF Chronicle report. Muni is integral to the health and equity of our city, and is an essential resource for many San Franciscans. Check out this document for help in voicing your support of Muni and consider getting involved with SF Transit Riders, a grassroots organization that advocates for better transit systems in San Francisco.
GLIDE is a social services provider in the Tenderloin and the anchor of a caring community for folks experiencing homelessness. Throughout this crisis, they are continuing to supply three daily meals free of charge to those in need, and have recently launched a free COVID-19 testing program in their Tenderloin headquarters. You can support their efforts here.