Thankful, angry, sad, confused, and embarrassed

Thanks everyone!

The launch party for Uncommon Stock last Friday went fabulously and it was wonderful to see so many friends and readers. In my view, book launch parties have a single purpose: a big thank you for all the people close to the author who made the book possible. In Uncommon Stock‘s case that’s a big list: from the folks at Techstars who have been such allies and supporters throughout the launch, to my dear friends and editor, to my new publisher FG Press, to my parents and fiancee who were my backbone throughout the creative process. It was touching and deeply empowering for me to have everyone there.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who came, wanted to come, or helped out.

It’s a truism among authors that all press is good press. A recent development has convinced me that’s not the case. Susan Mernit with Oakland Local, a wonderful community news resource in my hometown, just published an extremely disrespectful and disheartening piece on our launch party. Go read it right now. Then come back and finish reading this post.
I was shocked.
Just to give you some background, Susan reached out to me and FG Press during our launch week to express her enthusiasm and to do a local author story. FG Press and I immediately followed up. I offered to make time for an interview at her convenience and sent her a free review copy. She never responded.
But any author knows that journalists are often hot and cold. My perspective is that I’m always grateful for anyone’s interest, even if it never leads anywhere. So I included Susan on my personal invite list for the launch party even though we’d never met.
Susan attended the launch party on Friday and then proceeded to write and publish an article packed to the gills with lies and misinformation. Her chief complaint seems to be that despite her self-proclaimed “strong social skills” she didn’t have a good time. Also despite those skills, she never approached me at the event or introduced herself and I had no idea she was there despite the fact that I was spending the entire time thanking friends and meeting new supporters. This from someone who had previously requested an interview and never followed up. Interesting.
Then she stepped it up a notch and compared our guests to invading technocrati:
And I thought about the growing network of Google and Yahoo buses picking up their workers in West Oakland and on Market Street, and I started to feel like I had to say something to these mostly white, mostly male, clearly privileged start-up folks who were now starting to show up in Oakland.
The “clearly privileged” folks she’s describing have no first-class busses ferrying them to work everyday. They are entrepreneurs that are putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to make a difference. These comments, sprinkled throughout the article, are baseless and crass. Susan simultaneously demeans them and counts herself among Techstars alumni as a media entrepreneur herself. I hope this article doesn’t indicate the quality of journalism to which her team aspires.
And most importantly,  I’d like these young dudes coming to my town to actually see ALL the people coming up in tech in Oakland around me–the many Black, Latino, queer, female, and trans folks who, like all of us, show up in so many different ages, styles, and sizes, but who have a place, just like the white bros do.
And  if these new folks coming into Oakland can’t see the folks who are already here, can’t change, I’d like them to just get the F* out of the way and take one of those corporate buses right back to where they came from .
Again, despite Susan’s “strong social skills” she seemed to have neglected the multiple female founders at the event. She didn’t reach out to the women-of-color entrepreneurs either. She also appears to have never read Uncommon Stock. Inequality in the tech world is one of the major themes and the protagonist is an African American female CEO. I cofounded my first company with three women, one from Mexico and one from Colombia. My female entrepreneur friends are an ongoing source of inspiration for all my writing. I wish I could count Susan among them instead of against them.
But apparently it wasn’t enough to insult the guests at large, she wanted to make it personal:
So I made my way across the room, through the bustling crowd, to this mature lady who looked friendly. ”So what brings you here?” I said when I got to her, after we exchanged greetings.
“Oh I’m Eliot’s mother,” she replied. “The author.”
And then I got it.  The Mom thing.
I was at a book party for Tech Stars founders and friends in Emeryville and because I was over 50 and didn’t look like the young ones, I’d been profiled by them as a Mom, a Mom  just like their Moms.
It was the “Mom wouldn’t possibly get it “ thing young male founders do when they talk about making their products easy to understand, but they were applying it to me while I was right in the room –based on how I looked to them I was seen as a person who was not cool and would not get what they were talking about.
I also realized that now that I’d moved into the Mom corner of the party and was chatting with the real mom of the author/Tech Stars alum, my chances of talking to anyone there about their company,  their experience at Tech Stars, or any of the other things I’d gone there thinking I’d talk about (like finding founders to profile for Live Work Oakland)  had likely dropped to zero.
Seriously? She actually just found a roundabout way to insult my mother. This was a book launch party. It’s all about saying thank you to friends and family. My mom had a wonderful time meeting all the guests. And I was honored that she was there to support me. Hell, all the bedtime stories she read to me as a kid sparked my love for books. If anything, my mom was the most important person at the launch party and Susan was lucky to have met her.
Mom, thanks again for all your help and support along the way. It turns out that there are still people out there who could use your lessons on kindness and respect.
Ironically, I completely agree with some of Susan’s comments:
Yes, the Oakland tech scene is starting to take off, but that doesn’t mean we want to swap out what we have begun to create for the bad behaviors of bigger tech communities.  Rockbot co-founder Garrett Dodge–whose company is expanding in Oakland- recently told a reporter, ”the sense of place here isn’t about tech–it’s a sense of  community with our friends,” and that’s the way I hope the growing Oakland tech ecosystem rolls.
As a city with a history of supporting labor, strong African-American leadership, an amazingly diverse workforce (170 different languages spoken here!), and one of the largest queer women’s communities in the Bay, Oakland can meet the need for accessible real estate and offer a talent pool for growing software and advanced manufacturing companies without becoming as insular as Silicon Valley or as arrogant as parts of San Francisco.
I love Oakland with all its magic and its quirks and I’ve been an evangelist for the city for years. I was born here. I grew up around 51st and Telegraph. I now live over in Gaskill. Oakland is packed with the most interesting people on Earth. There’s a feeling of creativity and momentum that has been building for decades. Small business owners are changing the ways things get done. Residents are cleaning up neighborhoods. Artists are pushing the boundaries of design. History and diversity are two of Oakland’s most valuable resources and are serving the city incredibly well. I’m proud to be a local author born-and-bred. It’s not a satellite of San Francisco in any way. It’s a metropolis in itself and the most exciting one in America at that.
At the party, Susan happily snacked on pizza from Arizmendi, a local coop three blocks from our home. She sipped on beer from Linden St. Brewery, a down-to-earth joint near the Port in West Oakland. This launch party was as Oakland as they come. They fact that Susan tries to alienate us from our roots here makes me question her credentials at “Oakland Local.”
Reading the story made me angry but finishing it left me sad, confused, and embarrassed.
Sad because I deeply believe in Oakland Local’s mission and a story with this many lies and misinformation woven through it devalues their platform and all the hard work of true Oakland locals everywhere.
Confused because Susan never actually talked to me despite the free copy we sent her and the invitation she accepted and instead chose to write an article based on profound ignorance that seems try to play off every opportunistic buzzword in the book.
Embarrassed because my dearest friends, family, and readers, the very people I threw the event to thank, were publicly insulted as a result of attending a Uncommon Stock‘s book launch.
Susan, I’m a writer. I get negative reviews all the time and have to grow thick skin to work past them and draft the next book. So don’t apologize to me.
But as a journalist and a human being, please apologize to my mom and to everyone at last Friday’s event. It’s the least you can do.