As World War II rages and the United States battles Japan, the Asian population in San Francisco dwindles before everyone’s eyes. Asian parts of town are evacuated, and they become predominantly black areas. Though we might expect the black community in America to have a special kind of empathy for other oppressed people, like Japanese-Americans, that was not the case. Asian people were not white people, and since they “didn’t have to be feared, neither did they have to be considered.”
Here Angelou explains the lack of camaraderie and support between disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities in America. Because black Americans are consumed with their own struggle, and their own fear of white people, they disregard the plight of Japanese Americans.
Blacks continued to be discriminated against in San Francisco, though the city considered itself very egalitarian and progressive. Animosity between white people and black people “festered” in San Francisco—Maya says she saw it on the streetcars and on the sidewalks. White people assumed black people were lazy draft dodgers; and Black people were still defending themselves from white aggression.
Though racism is not as overt as it is in the South (because San Francisco residents consider themselves progressive) racism “festers” here—a word that evokes a kind of disease or infection. In the South racism is in the open—here it is disguised.