This essay charts a history of black liberation and complicity in the struggle for economic advancement at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) from the late 1950s into the 1980s. Joining scholars who have explored commercial aviation as a site of black mobility and immobility as well as those who have theorized Black Power's intersections with municipal policymaking, labor organizing, business and community development projects, and affirmative action programs, I examine the spheres of airport employment and entrepreneurialism to show how struggles to overcome social and spatial confinement in the Bay Area were often shaped by the entanglements of heterogeneous actors and systems. Indeed, such efforts at SFO responded to and were made possible by shifting interfaces of public and private capital investment; government action and inaction; the work of local and national networks of business elites, labor organizers, and activists; the efforts of individual black people to make their lives better; and a concomitant symbolic economy regarding the black presence in the Bay Area. As this story concludes in the 1980s, it demonstrates that despite some successes, such struggles had advanced in the Bay Area only so far as offering a precarious and patchy inclusion: a kind of holding pattern characterized by piecemeal professional integration and the more widespread consignment of black men and women to low-wage, low-skilled work, intermittent employment, and unemployment.
“A Black Future in the Air Industry?”: Liberation and Complicity at San Francisco International Airport
eric porter is a professor in the Departments of History and History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, where he also holds appointments in the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Program and the Music Department. He received his PhD in American culture from the University of Michigan. His most recent books are his collaboration with the photographer Lewis Watts, New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition (University of California Press, 2013), and Playing for Keeps: Improvisation in the Aftermath (Duke University Press, 2020), coedited with Daniel Fischlin.
Eric Porter; “A Black Future in the Air Industry?”: Liberation and Complicity at San Francisco International Airport. California History 1 May 2020; 97 (2): 88–111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2020.97.2.88
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