An African-American male poses with his hands behind his back in front of a metal barrier

No More Names: ‘Reform’ Has Failed, Reconstructing American Society is the Only Viable Beginning

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 85)

In less than three months, cities and households across America have gone from discussing precautions for COVID-19 to discussing the racial inequality that still limits access to resources for millions of non-whites in the U.S. But the two have never been anything but linked: throughout this writing series, a number of stories and statistics have shone light on the barriers afforded to people by wealth, skin color, and their associated access to resources, as well as even to “an alternative truth” to America’s racial inequality and its staying power. Yet even these issues betray “older” roots.

In November 2016, the United States faced a choice between not one, but two denialist candidates, both of whom refused to confront racial politics in America as a matter of the nation’s core, or the bedrock on which its economy was built, including genocide, chattel slavery, dishonored treaties with Native American tribes, and more human rights violations on which it’s still sustained.

One doesn’t need to recall Trump’s denials, since he will likely be remembered as the most ahistorical candidate and president of all time. But one also needs to look at the alternative to Trump at the time.

In 2016, when Hillary Clinton and her husband were each confronted by Black Lives Matter activists, both denied calls for acknowledging their roles in jailing countless Black and Latino men, including youth, by means of President-Clinton’s Crime Bill in 1994, which paved the way for 14 years of increased incarceration for Black and Latino bodies, including with an increase of death penalty sentences.

In a meeting with Black Lives Matter leadership at the time, when Hillary Clinton was asked to admit her and her husband’s parts in this racist jail system, she told Black Lives Matter activists to ‘change policy, not hearts.

Four years later, it’s clear that “changing policies” did not prevent the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or the countless other names that haven’t made their way to the mainstream conscience from another show of white supremacy rearing its deadly head in America. Reform policy has also largely not prevented the incarceration of Black men and women at nearly six times the rate of whites in the United States.

Is it still the job of communities of color, then, to change racist policies which betray racist hearts?

Now, it’s time to continue holding not just Biden accountable for his benefit at the expense of Black and more working-class communities, but also elected officials like Eric Garcetti, Michel Moore, and more. As Black Lives Matter and the growing calls to reduce the LAPD’s budget in Los Angeles demonstrate, the battle is long, but our communities have battled our whole lives for truth and reconciliation. In days forward, as the American economy teeters on the brink of another decade of depression and insolvency for another generation of too many families, it’s not just depression that is at stake; it’s the survival of our very society. The world is watching, Los Angeles. And the world is with us.


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Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, from Sunset boulevard and Edgemont street

Racial Inequality Today Results from the same U.S. Policies that have just cost 100,000 Americans their lives

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 71)

I am thankful, once again, for Black America leading the cry for dignity and justice in our country at a time when many Americans might forget that in less than four months the wealthiest nation on earth has lost more than 100,000 lives to a health-care system built on class and therefore racial lines.

The American ideal of equality for all, and indeed an attempt at democracy anywhere, cannot survive if not for protest at the first sign of unequal justice. Black Americans have reminded us of this burden for centuries, and are rightfully angry at still having to carry such a burden into the 21st century, when instead of perpetuating racialized inequality our nation should be leading the charge towards meeting the more existential crisis of global warming and rising sea levels on the horizon.

Protests over these last few days—similarly to protests from six years ago following Eric Garner’s death at the hands of yet another white police officer in Staten Island–may remind some readers of the radical 1960s, but for this column, an earlier call beckoning the American government to honor its promise to all Americans, however preposterous the notion of governments actually honoring their oaths to their people may have sounded even then, is also instructive.

In Frederick Douglass’s first speech against slavery in the U.S. south, delivered in Nantucket Island, MA in 1841, Douglass begins his lecture by describing one of his experiences at a New Bedford church with newly Christianized white and Black residents:

…among those who experienced religion at this time was a colored girl; she was baptized in the same water as the rest; so she thought she might sit at the Lord’s table and partake of the same sacramental elements with the others…[the deacon] handed the girl the cup, and she tasted. Now it so happened that next to her sat a young [white] lady who had been converted at the same time, baptized in the same water, and put her trust in the same blessed Saviour; yet when the cup containing the precious blood which had been shed for all, came to her, she rose in disdain, and walked out of the church.

The anecdote demonstrates how the American psyche separating humans by race affected life in both “northern” and “southern” states. The New Bedford church was in “Northern” Massachusetts, and Douglass went on:

Another young lady fell into a trance. When she awoke, she declared she had been to heaven. Her friends were all anxious to know what and whom she had seen there; so she told the whole story. But there was one good old lady whose curiosity went beyond that of all the others–and she inquired of the girl that had the vision, if she saw any black folks in heaven? After some hesitation, the reply was, ‘Oh! I didn’t go into the kitchen!’

I admit that however laughable and “backwards” such attitudes may seem for life in this country circa 1841, I only have to remember walking out towards Virgil avenue or Sunset boulevard on “a regular day” in 2020 to see whites–many of whom are clearly not from Los Angeles–casually taking seats at one of the posh new restaurants in town while Black and Brown hands serve them their plates of food.

On a sunny day, Los Angeles can certainly gleam like heaven. And I can recall on my walks through the neighborhood stepping past white patrons eating well, growing large, and running up bills that most of the Black and Brown bodies around them couldn’t dream of spending on food.

Is it inherently wrong for people to eat? No, but it is ironic when only a few can eat well in a country that’s supposed to afford equal opportunity to all.

More importantly, even when many patrons like those of my anecdote haven’t been in L.A. long enough to know who their local council member is, they still quickly grow used to being served by those familiar Black and Brown bodies in the kitchen! And those Black and Brown hands cleaning up the tables after them! And those same Black and Brown bodies getting out of the way when they see them on the street! As Amy Cooper in Central Park expected.

If some of them were asked what their conception of heaven today might be, I can’t even imagine what they might say. But such realities thus show that people in Los Angeles have much to share with people protesting in cities all across the country today, in the same way that our country still bears so much resemblance to that church in New Bedford 179 years ago.

In that case, thank you Mr. Douglass, Black Lives Matter-L.A., and all purveyors of justice still calling for a better way of life in this scarred land.


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