By now, you’ve almost certainly read the open letter written by Talia Jane to the CEO of Yelp. If you’re reading this, there’s actually a good chance I’ve talked to you about it directly. It seems to keep coming up, and I wanted to write down my thoughts on some of the arguments I’ve seen raised against Talia.
If you can’t afford it, don’t live here
To be blunt, she doesn’t. When she lived in the Bay Area, it cost her nearly $6.00 one-way to get to her job. That’s something like $250 a month in transit fees, in addition to her ~$1200 monthly rent. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bay Area, $1200 a month is quite cheap, even with roommates.
There will always be people here who earn less than others, but affordable housing for all incomes needs to be a priority for this city. Even if you don’t care whether people who earn a low wage can afford to live here (presumably because you’re a horrid, short-sighted troll of a person), at least consider that those human-powered startups we all love so much are made possible by people earning similar wages.
I’m sure her family is helping her and she’s exaggerating
Many people don’t seem to realize just how much of a privilege a supportive family really is. There are a ton of people who have no family to lean on, and several elements of Talia’s post pretty heavily indicate she falls into that group.
I’ve seen this argument come up several times, usually in the form of “well when I was having trouble, I just moved back in with my parents”. While it’s really great you were able to do that, it’s insulting and thoughtless to assume everyone else also has that option.
Look at the excessive things she’s bought! What a liar!
Or maybe, just maybe, she was presenting herself on social media as a happy, well-off person even when she actually wasn’t, because that’s pretty much the most human thing in the world.
The primary sentiment tying these arguments together is that they all imply a minimum amount of suffering someone must go through before they “qualify” for our sympathy. They reek of Reagan-era “welfare queen” scare tactics, projecting our own privileges onto others, and a form of localized xenophobia.
These attitudes are quickly pushing us towards a monoculture, even faster than we’re already headed there. Personally, I want the Bay Area to become a more inclusive and diverse place over the upcoming years and decades. To have any hope of that happening, we need to stop discounting the suffering of others.