The black-and-white ads appeared on bus shelters around the city over the weekend, and by Monday, Twitter was all aflutter with opinions.
“Can anyone fix this?” tweeted activist Nancy Pili, with an image of a white, shaggy-haired, sunglasses-bedecked man adorned with the phrase “I AM BAYVIEW.”
The image is of eight-year Bayview resident Brian McMullen, but when spotted alone in the wild by people who don’t know he’s part of the neighborhood, the ad brought back unpleasant memories of an offensive advertising campaign launched by the Bayview’s new luxury Waterbend Apartments in 2017. “Come grow with us as Bayview becomes the next Mission,” read the front page of that website, as an African-American man watches a petite white woman lift weights.
Supervisor Malia Cohen blasted the development company at the time, calling it “cultural appropriation at its worst.”
But Cohen supports this new photographic campaign, and once you read the full description, it’s easy to understand why. Photographers George McCalman and Jason Madara spent last summer taking pictures of Bayview residents for a campaign about the neighborhood’s diversity. The 29 posters were installed on June 1, on every Muni stop along Third Street.
“The I AM BAYVIEW campaign is a wake-up call for San Francisco to acknowledge an invisible neighborhood within our city, generally only referred to with negative connotations by people unfamiliar with its vibrancy,” Cohen said in a statement. “The diverse portraits celebrate the multidimensional community of longtime residents and business owners. I AM BAYVIEW showcases that the Bayview is not monolithic, celebrates its Black artistic and activist history, and also highlights the many #SFmakers who call Bayview home.”
Nevertheless, in a city that’s a little gun-shy about advertisers rebranding, whitewashing, and gentrifying neighborhoods, the ads can certainly appear offensive taken out of context.
Twitter user @thechefcarter put it well. “The series is BEAUTIFUL but giant posters of white people saying I am Bayview is going to hurt and piss off a lot of people … we love all of our neighbors, but it’s important to preserve the community especially when most of us can’t live here anymore.”