Sat, Jul

Racism Is Alive and Well and Living in Los Angeles


ACCORDING TO LIZ - Los Angeles has long been recognized as one of the most multicultural cities in the United States.  

According to UCLA linguistics professor, Vyacheslav Ivanov, by the beginning of the second millennium there were at least 224 distinct languages in Los Angeles County, excluding dialects, with publications in an estimated 180 of these. 

Like in many other cities, immigrants first tended to settle where people who spoke the same language and shared cultural and religious similarities had already put down roots. These enclaves tended to shift geographic location over time as people prospered and moved up the economic chain. 

A hundred years ago, there were more Jews than Latinos in Boyle Heights. Back then it wasn’t called East Los Angeles, it was known as the Lower East Side. 

Canter Brothers Delicatessen, established on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights in 1931, moved to Fairfax Avenue after the Second World War. And Brooklyn Avenue was rechristened Cesar Chavez Avenue. 

Unfortunately, there has always been overt as well as covert exclusion of socially undesirable groups by elites; the elites generally being white-skinned men of northern European origin and the undesirables being everyone else. 

To a greater or lesser degree over the years these were indigenous Americans, the Spaniards who were ceded to the nascent United States along with their land in 1848, the Chinese whose labor built the railways, the Jews who brought the movie industry to Hollywood, the Blacks whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains... 

Whatever allowed the self-designated people of privilege to maintain their sense of superiority over everyone else. 

And then along came Shelley versus Kraemer successfully argued by Los Angeles lawyer Loren Miller. 

In an era when Black Americans were emigrating en masse from the deep South to the industrial cities of the north and northeast and to southern California, the Supreme Court struck down racial and ethnic covenants and restrictions on the sale of property. 

At the same time that the Jewish community was moving to West Hollywood and the Mexicans were filling the void in Boyle Heights, the ruling allowed all people to buy anywhere, live anywhere. 

Not that everybody liked it or even observed the rights granted. Some objections were overtly bigoted – when Nat King Cole bought a house in Hancock Park he met with bribery attempts, threats, derogatory signs and a shot through the front window. His daughter Natalie remembers a cross burning on the front lawn. 

Racism has run the gauntlet in the New World from despicable and continuing oppression of the indigenous inhabitants to slavery to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two to the hounding of Arabic-looking Americans after 9/11. 

Maybe it was worse elsewhere, the race riots in Atlanta, the massacres in Rosewood and Tulsa, lynchings in which authorities participated or turned a blind eye, and the blatant redlining in the northeast after the Great Migration from the rural communities of the Deep South, the diaspora of some six million black Americans between 1916 and 1970. 

The Japanese suffered racist abuse too, long before the internment camp relocations, even with their contributions to the growth of agriculture in the Central Valley. Or perhaps because of their success. 

But it has always been here, often hidden, the worse because California promised much but didn’t deliver. Unless you were white. 

And continues in Los Angeles with the disproportionate numbers of Black and Hispanic Americans being arrested and being sentenced, and in their deaths at the hand of law enforcement sworn to protect all people. 

More insidiously are covert practices that continue today with restrictions on loans, higher fees, and more as detailed in by Ta-Nehisi Coates back east and Jamie Tijerina here in Los Angeles along with lack of access to quality education, housing, and healthcare. 

And then there are the many examples of reverse racism including less qualified applicants landing jobs and university acceptances to fill quotas and with educated English-speaking immigrants pushed to the back of the line by policies intended to help those who came from south of the border. 

And then... there is the taped conversation of Kevin De León, Gil Cedillo, Nury Martinez, and Ron Herrera which targeted whites, Blacks and Mexican immigrants... 

As well as the escalation of finger-pointing in Neighborhood Council meetings about racist, sexist and other discriminatory comments; but is that more a symptom of increased awareness and more reverse racism by attacking the attacker? 

Is rubbing people’s faces in slanted DEI training really necessary or is it a way to get back at people perceived to have power? 

Yes, everyone needs to be respectful of others but the past few years have felt like responsible humans are being punished to provide certain classes of minorities the ability to vent historical anger. Which is in itself racist. 

Racism means putting people in boxes, categorizing them as Welfare Moms, Beaners, Valley Girls, and old white men. Not seeing them as individuals. 

Are old white men now deserving of protection? 

I fall into many categories but I don’t want to be categorized for marketing, social or political purposes; I am Liz, not Miss or Ms, not a left-leaning NPP voter. I am more, and I refuse to be boxed by computer algorithms. 

Opponents may call Democrats too woke, but the denial of the scourge of racism and its impact on people’s lives by Republicans is far worse. 

Every time a politician calls out trends based on someone’s country of origin or economic level as well as skin color or language or sexual orientation instead of the person, it’s an act of racism. 

Every time people comment on a woman driver, or Chinese exchanging driver’s licenses, or a person driving a car with Mexican plates not turning left until the light goes yellow, each time Angelenos refer to the plague of turistas that descend on the City every spring and summer, we need to acknowledge that these are acts of racism. 

Every time someone expresses opinions designed to hurt or demean another based on labels rather than the individual, it inspires others to join in, to bully, to lynch those outside the herd. 

Demographics change, education offers opportunities to balance inequality, and economic divisions shift... can we? 

As we evolve as human beings, we learn great truths about how we should live in this world be it from the Bible or the Koran, from our parents or ethics classes, or from sages and gurus that arise everywhere and in every age. 

Judge not, turn the other cheek, and love thy neighbor; that Allah forbids what is shameful, blameworthy and oppressive; that the Hebrew greeting Shalom means peace, a concept that is not only the opposite of war, but holds the sense of an ideal life to which to aspire. 

There are Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions, don’t take anything personally, and always do your best. 

 There are the concepts of paying good deeds forward, that the power of love is stronger than death, that each of us should give something back to society. 

Unconditional love is the enemy of every evil in the world. Can the love of a good woman trying to understand her trans grandchild overcome the evil of her state’s Senator referring to LGTBQ+ children as filth? I hope so. 

To love unconditionally takes effort, but it’s worth it. Hatred and fear cannot continue to thrive in an environment of pure love. 

Think about it.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)