“Homelessness” in Los Angeles Today is the Result of Decades of American Discrimination

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, 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 Neighborhood 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.

Back to the matter at hand: anti-Blackness in American cities has been most recently documented by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s piece on Redlining districts in Chicago, for example, or Isabel Wilkerson’s coverage of race rioting through Harlem, New York in The Warmth of Other Suns. But Mike Davis has also discussed anti-Black fervor in Southern California in his landmark City of Quartz.

For the skimmers, just know that in the fifties 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 once there left with whites, too.

Lo and behold, then, that over half a century later 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 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 events are not disconnected.

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

J.T.,

Voting in Los Angeles

Less than 18% of registered voters in L.A. County cast ballots for the Municipal and Special Elections of Tuesday, March 07, 2017. But in the election postmortem, when L.A. County’s Voting Registrar and KPCC discuss the paltry turnout of voting in The City, the key point is how they talk about it: they neglect to mention the demographics of Los Angeles. Yet the turnout or lack thereof for voting has much to do with ‘identity politics.’

If we’re going to talk seriously about impacting turnout, then, discussing “the voters” in purely abstract terms is not helpful. We have information now, and it’s meant to be used; below, for example, is a telling info-graphic on voters identified before the election on March 7th, 2017, either by registration or vote by mail submissions.

As a note, these graphs are incomplete. They do not account for people who identify as mixed, Native American, or Pacific Islander as the 2013 Census does. However, the graphics nonetheless offer valuable assessments for a comprehensive look at the patterns we’re dealing with when it comes to voting in Los Angeles.

Returns

Based on the data, we can see that elections start early through the registration of voters. In terms of eligible voters, whites outnumber their non-white counterparts by considerable margins at 47%, or nearly half of all registrations. However, the combined population of non-white registered voters is slightly larger at 52%.

Assuming that each of these voters hold a place on the vote-by-mail list –as is standard procedure– the potential for at least a reasonable turnout of the vote either by mail or on election day is there.

When it comes to ballots returned from those registered voters, the number of returned ballots from 18 – 24 year olds is exceptionally low at 3.4%,, while the number of returned ballots from 25 – 34, 35 – 44, and 45 – 54 year olds is spread more or less similarly across the board at 10.0%, 10.4%, and 12.9%, respectively.

The highest number of returned ballots from registered voters, however, come from 55 – 64 year olds, and those 65 years and over, who make for 19.3% and 44% of returned ballots, respectively.

When it comes to the racial makeup of ballots returned after election day, according to the data, white Senior citizens make up for more than half of all returned ballots at 64.7%; the non-white population on the other hand, makes up for 35.7% of returns.

There is a considerable dropoff, then. Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast, post-election day only 37% of these groups actually submit ballots.

Is there a way to be more specific, however, or to see more about L.A. voters besides their age and racial category? Sure. The three categories for the large numbers below as set up by the samplers are ‘registered’, ‘has ballot’, and ‘returned’, respectively. This data more or less corroborates the aforementioned, but also tells us about voters’ living situations.

Screenshot 2017-03-13 at 3.25.25 PM - Edited.png

From here, since we already know that Senior white voters make up for more than half of all returned ballots of the share, we can also see from this second graphic that these folks are overwhelmingly a group of homeowners, outnumbering apartment renters by essentially 58%.

Finally, we can also see that a sizable portion of vote-by-mailers registered or re-registered for November’s general election, and that hardly any new voters entered the game in 2017.

Based on the information presented by these graphics, then, what’s clear about politics in Los Angeles is that while most of its constituents, or the 52% of eligible voters are stuck in traffic somewhere, a swath of mostly Senior white homeowners are electing the city’s officials and policy-making decisions.

What a fascinating dynamic. At a time when the 2011 Texas legislative session has just been indicted for drawing district lines discriminating against Black and Latino voters in favor of Republican Anglos, we might say that L.A. is a 2011 Texan Republican’s perfect empty vessel, a dreamland of political opportunity for white identity politics.

Isn’t that something?! But of course there’s more the story; again soon.

For POC Today,

J.T.