When I first learned that what we commonly refer to as the “ghetto” was born out of unfair economic practices, it all made so much sense to me. When the modern mortgage system was spreading in the early 20th century most of the lenders were racist and didn’t want to lend money to people of color. The result of that was that many concentrated communities sprung up in typically undesirable parts of town that no one else wanted to live in. The buildings were shoddy, the available work in that area was sub-par, and so began a system of creating a socioeconomic loop that was nearly impossible to get out of.
At that time the aftershock of the Civil War was still very palpable; it was not ancient history nor was it a distant memory. Many people alive at the time were just one step away from living through the ramifications of what happened then, and simply did not want to deal with integration. Instead it was easier to create an institutional form of racism that allowed the white individual to say “oh, but I’m not racist” but then turn around and create an economic wall that kept colored folks segregated, isolated, angry, afraid, and highly disadvantaged. This created a culture of white privilege which is borne out of a sense of more options being available to white folks because colored opposition wasn’t even around to be felt or heard.
I know this experience well, from growing up in a white, affluent part of Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s. Embarrassingly the only time I ever experienced the tiniest glimpse of black LA was when I attended Raiders games in the 80’s, or when my parents would get lost in Inglewood after a Lakers game. Back then Inglewood was much grittier than it is now. Other than that, I was raised to think that my entire Los Angeles was north of Wilshire and west of Vine St. – anything else might as well have been Mars. It wasn’t until I started going to public schools in the 8th grade did my world view change. LAUSD was famous for implementing “bussing” programs which allowed for kids from the inner city to be “bussed” into different schools because the schools in their neighborhoods were overcrowded. It was built to alleviate a specific problem but also helped to integrate kids who normally wouldn’t cross paths. While I’ve never experienced what it’s like to have to go back home to an apartment on Florence and Normandy in 1990 (pre LA riots), or felt what it’s like to not have a parent home when I returned from school because they were out working a second job, I was introduced to people that did live in that reality. I was exposed to something that was outside of my white bubble. I am also thankful that my parents did not introduce me to the concept of a difference in skin color or racism. That thought was never taught to me personally, but because of the segregated nature of Los Angeles in a physical sense, I can see why people who were brought up that with those values feel so much tension in and around LA. There are generations of millions of white people who are brought up to see a black person in Los Angeles and immediately think that “they” are far from home if a colored couple is walking down the street in Beverly Hills. And if that black person is wearing saggy jeans they must be a banger, right? This horrific view of the world is still so apparent within the hearts and minds of so many white people that it’s become second nature. It’s an embarrassing reality that most “liberal” white people from the Westside don’t want to admit. Adding to that is the very fabric of the way that our city is laid out physically. Sure there are some hipster neighborhoods that borderline-classify as melting pots but let’s be real – LA is a sectioned off and segregated melting pot. It so happens that many of the white people who are brought up to think like the horrific cliché when they see a colored person outside of their “zone” are now cops. That’s just math. Sure there are black and Hispanic cops in LA too, but there are also many white ones.
I understand that this week’s shootings of two black men by white police officers, and then the insane retaliation in Dallas, were not in Los Angeles. The point Aim making is that I understand how our cities were initially built to be fucked up failures, with the deck stacked against the chance of success. Until we start truly living in integrated communities, or at least integrated mind sets, the road will be long. This endless bullshit Illusion of Separation is do deeply integrated into the Maya of white America that it will take bold action to course correct the trends we are experiencing. America is not that old; only 50 years ago the peak of the modern Civil Rights movement was in full bloom. Just 50 years. That means my parents were growing up before that – they were brought up in a segregationist America. That’s just one generation away.
We need to fix our cities, address the power struggle with cops, possibly not let cops with less than 5 years on the force have guns at all, and most of all offer across the board economic equality for all. As long as our inner cities stay in the disadvantaged column, things will remain tough. These problems are systemic and ingrained in our minds, but also into the visual landscape. Breaking these molds are a necessary step so we stop viewing the city and the world as separate or that of “us and them.” I wish there was some way to wave a magic wand that erased the innate ignorance of white America, but the reality is that there is not. That’s why I think we need to combat that ignorance with systemic fixes that will force change from the inside out.