Open letter in response to Justin Keller, Entrepreneur

I am writing today, to voice my concern and outrage that an unfeeling ignoramus such as yourself walks the streets of this city. I’ve been living in SF for about two years and have spent quite some time in the Bay Area. I graduated from Stanford University in 2010, joined the Peace Corps in 2011, and moved back to the Peninsula in 2013. Every day since my return, I’ve watched what I can only describe as low-grade class warfare unfold. It is disheartening and disillusioning, and has given me a chronic case of culture shock that is sometimes intolerably depressing.

I often wonder what is the point of wealth and education, since it seems only to inure the wealthy and educated to the “pain, struggle, and despair” of fellow humans. I wonder how it is possible that a world-class American education fails to impart a complex and nuanced understanding of the intersection of history, society, and economics. Our country has done a terrible job of providing support and resources for the mentally ill. We tend to, however unconsciously, blame people for their addiction rather than critically reflect upon the insidious forces that converge in American society to facilitate its development. And often, it seems we would rather use all of our wealth and political might to sweep our problems under the proverbial rug, conveniently forgetting that these “problems” are actual human beings with perhaps as much potential as you or I, for whom circumstance and the caprice of their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. ad nauseam have conspired to bring them to the doorstep of your office, disturbing the peace of your daily commute.

Is it quintessentially and necessarily American to believe that one’s successes are solely one’s own? That privilege and power are borne of individual prowess and not a bloody history during which human beings were regularly commoditized? That the indigent poor and mentally ill are weak, inferior, and deserving of their fate? I cannot believe that, but the rhetoric emanating from tech these last several years has given me little reason to suspect otherwise.

San Francisco is an amazing city for so many reasons — not just for the abundance of posh eateries and complex coffee drinks, nor the gorgeous geography and endless opportunities for recreation. It is ironic that you believe so strongly in the coming revolution, not least because you are partly right. San Francisco HAS historically been a place where revolutionaries have gathered — from the 60s counterculture to Harvey Milk in the 70s, to the discovery of HIV and the establishment of Ward 86 at SFGH in the 80s — San Francisco has welcomed and celebrated the marginalized and scorned. Its leaders have embraced the oppressed and given them a space, a voice, and ultimately, the support to foment REAL revolution. The kind that gives rights back to the disenfranchised, stirs the winds of social change, and bends the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

I reject the notion that wealth and education should grant us access to an ivory tower shielded from poverty, mental illness, violence, and all other manner of slings and arrows that muddy the human experience. And I am friends with plenty of inspiring leaders in the tech industry who feel the same way. I plan on using my education and any wealth that I might accrue to, in whatever small way I can, relieve the pain and suffering you find so distasteful. I can only hope that we elect compassionate officials who have the foresight to want the same.


Jen Wang

UCSF School of Medicine, Class of 2018