In Los Angeles lives the type of progress towards social issues much like what the rest of the country faces, where the wealth of executives at the city’s largest institutions sits unthreatened while masses of low wage workers beneath struggle to make it to the next paycheck. These economics are accepted as irrevocable facts, natural and indefinite as the geography of Los Angeles, rather than as circumstances of human decision-making which have been reinforced over the course of time.
The same principles apply to the treatment of those who’ve exited the workforce or who’ve declined or been prevented from entering it to begin with, such as the so-called “homeless” of L.A. This is a population made up of veterans, LGBTQ youth, formerly incarcerated Black & Latinos, and swaths of others who’ve been historically neglected by Uncle Sam and generations of U.S. populations.
Recently, the L.A. Times has taken up a new series regarding the issue, and while it is a step in the right direction, editorials like these still need to work on their context.
Take for example the Times’s neglect to mention the legacy of homeowners’ and City Councils’ historic anti-Blackness. This is not just a documented phenomenon in Los Angeles, but throughout major cities in the U.S. It is relevant because to discuss “homelessness” without its racial component and documented antecedents would be like discussing crime in America without discussing who is criminalized in America and why. Of course, L.A.’s city council just recently voted to criminalize people sleeping in their cars overnight. Do not wonder why or for whom that is directed towards: Disproportionately, Black & Brown people.
Anti-Blackness in American cities has been best documented most recently by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay on Redlining districts in Chicago, for example, or by Isabel Wilkerson’s coverage of race rioting in Harlem, New York, and other cities with The Warmth of Other Suns. Mike Davis has also discussed anti-Black fervor in Southern California in his landmark City of Quartz.
For those with less time, just know that in the 5os white and white immigrant homeowners and landlords firebombed Black families when they moved into their neighborhoods in urban America, while in other cities they pelted them with rocks and beat them to a pulp largely without any legal repercussions. Once these actions no longer worked to keep the influx of Blacks fleeing Jim Crow in the U.S. South for the “free North,” whites either up and left further north, or further into the U.S. inland to maintain the dividing lines.
“White flight,” as it’s called, didn’t have to be catastrophic in and of itself, but the phenomenon largely left Black families and neighborhoods in urban America to desolation since so many of the small businesses and government jobs that were virtually monopolized by whites, too, going with them and draining neighborhood of important tax revenue as a result.
Lo and behold, then: Today in our major cities so many descendants of yesterday’s dividing lines happen to be “homeless” and predominantly Black, the likes of whom today’s homeowners and City Councils, as well as even Neighborhood Councils (as opposed to yesterday’s ‘Covenants’ and ‘Associations’), resent and resist. This is not a coincidence. But it is historic.
One might say it’s history repeating itself, albeit on upgraded terms. Blacks fleeing Jim Crow in the U.S. South for the “free North” during the 20th century is significantly different from Black veterans and formerly incarcerated Blacks or Black LGBTQ in the 21st century needing basic shelter and the means by which to support themselves. But these struggles are not disconnected and at their core are a result of the same hate-based policies against non-whites.
If the L.A. Times is serious about garnering attention for “homelessness”, then, it will do well to make sure its reporting accounts for the circumstances across American history that have led to this issue’s proliferation, or at another glance, its modernization.
We can do this, Los Angeles