Re: the New Wine Bar, Alma’s, on the Corner Where Our Neighborhood Forms a “Promise Zone”

Dear Mr. President,

I hope this note finds you well. On the subject of “returning to normal” once the majority of our cities and communities are vaccinated, I’d like to bring up an old, but recurringly fresh topic on my mind as well as that of many in my community in Los Angeles.

As you may know, white people in the United States have had exclusive access to land here by way of colonies, plantations, titles, laws, segregation, FHA loans, redlining, zoning, credit access, the suburbs, and more for centuries.

Can you explain to us, then, how their now fraternizing over drinks in our ‘hood, which until recently was avoided by both private and federal banks for its Black and immigrant residents, IS NOT recreating this exclusive access?

This is exactly the case at “Alma’s,” a bar recently opened underneath apartments that house Latinx families, including elderly women and children at one of the most disinvested intersections for our community through at least two decades.

The reason it’s outrageous that this bar has suddenly opened in our vicinity is because little Brown kids from our community were killed across the street from its corner, and indeed on the same block.

As our neighborhood still reels from racist disinvestment in health, housing, and educational opportunities for our families, then, the new bar acts like a vortex, vacuuming in white money away for white investors’ keep, all while a Brown reality surrounding it remains politically and socially unaccounted for.

The census tract for the area, 191410, shows a Median Household Income of $34,000 a year, or roughly half of L.A. County’s, placing the majority of families in the area well within the federal poverty level.

On top of this, public records state that at least 20% of people living on the same tract where the bar now operates rely on food stamps to pay for meals and groceries. This is a rate second only to that of the tract right below, 191420, where 23% of residents rely on food stamps.

That’s approximately 600 people in a six block radius, not counting undocumented and/or unhoused residents, of whom there are many along Virgil avenue, barely getting by, as white people throw money away on lavish drinks for themselves at this establishment, which was permitted to operate after a spot-zoning ordinance by local City Council Member, Mitch O’Farrell, in 2018.

The bar is also situated directly beneath residential housing, where Latinx abuelitas and mijas have resided for decades, and is also less than 500 feet from our community’s local Lockwood Elementary school. I’ve got a feeling that this wouldn’t happen in neighborhoods throughout the Pacific Palisades, Bel Air, or Malibu, so why should it happen in ours?

Due in no small part to those whiter, more exclusive neighborhoods, as of January 2021, the median price for a single-family home in L.A. County is now at $650,000. This makes the tiny blocks in our neighborhood much of all we have for the foreseeable future.

Yet suddenly, in our neighborhood, white liquor licenses, paid for by white patrons, are welcome? That is the definition of Planning Violence, meaning that is how inequality for some is designated, built, and manufactured, while access and rights are reserved for just a privileged few.

Walking past “Alma’s” recently, Mr. President, I could spot shame on some of the faces behind the bar’s screen, a shame betraying cowardice, as they looked back in our direction but still failed to see our humanity before returning to a fantasy world which plays more like a nightmare for those of us only in its peripherals.

Candles for Anthony, a youth and local in the neighborhood slain in October 2019 just over 300 feet from where “Alma’s” now operates.

Long-time neighbors and community members all around the new bar have also witnessedyellow tape cordoning off white chalk lines, where Brown bodies fell to their deaths on the street, as well as police handcuffing and incapacitating Brown youth before hauling them off the street, even during quarantine, and more.

And so we hope you can appreciate, Mr. President, that if there’s one thing we know after these experiences:

It’s that we don’t lose Brown lives on our streets for white wine bars to take home–outside of our neighborhoods–the pay.

Alma’s” disruptive presence in our community is not equity for our kids. It’s not support for 600 neighbors on food-stamps, and it’s certainly not justice for redlined Black and immigrant families here; it’s a product of Jim Crow policies by public officials in Los Angeles who shut the door to working-class communities but line boulevards for investors.

To be sure about our neighborhood, though, Mr. President, please also note that it was designated as a “Promise Zone” under the Obama administration in 2014.


According to the fact sheet for Promise Zone neighborhoods in Los Angeles, strategies to create equity for communities here are supposed to include (bold J.T.’s):

  • Increasing housing affordability by preserving existing affordable housing and partnering with housing developers to increase the supply of affordable new housing to prevent displacement.
  • Ensuring all youth have access to a high-quality education, and are prepared for college and careers through its Promise Neighborhoods initiative, by partnering with the Youth Policy Institute and L.A. Unified School District to expand its Full Service Community Schools model from 7 schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019.
  • Ensuring youth and adult residents have access to high-quality career and technical training opportunities that prepare them for careers in high-growth industries through partnerships with career and technical training schools and the Los Angeles Community College District.
  • Investing in transit infrastructure including bus rapid transit lines and bike lanes, and promoting transit-oriented development (TOD) that attracts new businesses and creates jobs.
  • Charging its Promise Zone Director and Advisory Board with eliminating wasteful and duplicative government programs.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, the Youth Policy Institute was shut down for embezzlement in 2019, leaving this part of our promise glaringly unfulfilled. But in addition to goals laid out by the Promise Zone we’d still like to see come to fruition, we’ve also got a simple suggestion for what our neighborhoods can use to begin creating equity here:

Federally subsidized housing and zero-interest loans for Black and immigrant communities, so we may live without the threat of displacement and banishment and open our own shops in our neighborhoods; that’s all.

In terms of “wasteful and duplicative government programs” to eliminate, personally I’d submit that the 13th District Council Member’s office for our community has fit this profile for decades, and that it should be shut down and rebuilt for our communities more aligned with the interests of our Promise Zone.

J.T.

80 Years Ago, when the Klan Marched through Downtown L.A.

In 2021, so called “Anti-Maskers” are wreaking havoc for Black and Latinx retail workers across Los Angeles, harassing official vaccination efforts at Dodger stadium, and gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to recall the 40th governor of California, which will prove an expensive campaign for the state to rebuff. There is almost no evidence that the LAPD or the FBI have significantly arrested or investigated members of these groups for their potential involvement in criminal activity against the larger public.

But this is not the first time that such groups have gone unchecked by local and state officials in California. 80 years ago, a group of hood-wearing white supremacists in Los Angeles similarly made their voices heard, and like today’s predominantly white “mobs,” they were also unimpeded by LAPD forces. The California Eagle reported:

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

Failure of police to halt the parade of Kluxers was severely lashed by prominent leaders. Twenty hooded members of the Los Angeles Klan No. 1 marched through downtown streets handing out handbills denouncing communism.”

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

While twenty hooded Klan members marching without a permit for two hours surely created panic for nearby African American service workers and other non-whites, editors for The California Eagle reported that no Klansmen were arrested or even questioned.

Editors for the paper also noted that: “Department officials explained that it was not necessary to obtain a parade permit, since there were assertedly less than 30 marchers. Violent protests are expected from civil liberties groups and private citizens. Rebirth of the Klan [had] been heralded for more than two years, but Saturday’s demonstration was the first blatant indication of active local participation.”

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

Less than two years after the Klan’s march, on February 19, 1942, tens of thousands of Japanese American men, women, and children in Los Angeles would be rounded up at Union Station to be placed in Concentration Camps, as they were officially called at the time, where they would remain against their will for over four years.

Japanese Americans herded at Union Station to be sent to Concentration Camps, February 1942; Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

And in 1943, “…with the Japanese out of the way, anxious white hysteria in Los Angeles led to increased targeting and attacks against Mexican Americans in the city, culminating with the arrest of 17 Chicano youth alleged to be members of the 38th street ‘gang,’ based on weak evidence accusing them of murdering a fellow Mexican American youth at ‘Sleepy Lagoon.'”

No reports or evidence of any Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, or African Americans rallying for their “supremacy” throughout Los Angeles could be found, however.

J.T.

What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.

D.R.

Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.

American

American Removal begins with a language.

It starts with Indians as “uncivilized” “savages.”

It expands with Black bodies deemed as “niggers” and “3/5ths.”

It proliferates with “providence” but only for Aryan destiny, “by the millions.”

American Removal embraces its robes with an “Indian Removal Act,”

Followed by a war on “Dirty Mexicans,”

Followed by a “Chinese Exclusion Act,”

Followed by Filipinos as “niggers.”

Then by “Japs Keep Moving.”

American Removal tests its first PSAs with “public enemies,” “hobos, tramps, and vagrants,” but ultimately settles for Black & Brown youth as “gangs.”

It then sows its modern seeds with a “red line.”

Red line maps delineate our colors, separating “undesirables” and “subversive racial elements” from “homogeneous,” “single-family [white] homes.”

Until a war to end all wars. Two atom bombs dropped on “Japs,” but none on German nazis or Italian fascists.

After the war, American Removal includes “Un-American,” “Black radicals,” and “communist hippies” into its lexicon.

Once these ring hollow, it reinvigorates itself: “[Black] drugs and gangs,” “[Black] welfare queens,” [Latinx and Asian] immigrant “invasion,”

Followed by national publication on a generation of new [Black] “super-predators.”

American Removal then sanctifies itself, calling on “[white] property owners” to “revolt.”

Followed by calls to “Save Our State,”

Followed by “English (Only) For Our Children.”

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, American Removal finds yet more life-blood: a global war on Muslims as “terrorists,” “extremists,” and once again “radicals.”

A generation later, American Removal relishes in “good people on both sides,” “shit-hole countries,” and “stand back and stand by.”

But when you ask about a million bodies burned by drones in the Global South since 2001,

Or when you ask about civil uniforms shooting down Black men, women and children,

When you ask about the forced sterilization of incarcerated Latina women in private prisons,

Or when you ask about the gentrification of our neighborhoods, a city’s homeless “clean-ups” as new police patrol new hotels around the corners,

When you ask American Removal if it may dignify these acts with so much as an acknowledgement,

That’s when all you get is silence.

American Removal concludes with a silence.

J.T.

EPISODE 26 – STATE OF THE GENTRIFINATION

In our twenty-sixth episode, we coin the term “gentrifination” for listeners, describing a gentrified “state of the union” due to the last four years of policy under the Trump administration, and consider how communities should prepare for the political season ahead with the presidential election just 42 days away on the cusp of the Fall season. If you live in California, the deadline to register to vote is October 19th, and you can both check your registration and arrange to vote by mail at the following link: https://registertovote.ca.gov/.

J.T.

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America’s Greatness Has Always Been Measured by the Scale of White Violence

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 74)

As businesses burn and sirens embitter the night air, under the shadow of a president who was elected to office on a lie, and then a million of them, what could we expect from our nation following four years of his flipping off the system?

Several papers, including the New York Times and the L.A. Times have published headlines on broken windows, but on the “big five” social media networks, many have seen how the vast majority of looters are not Black people nor immigrants. For one, footage abounds of mask and hoodie-wearing white groups, so-called “anarchists” and Trump supporters, taking liberty while police focus on peaceful Black & Brown bodies on the front-lines to advance a perverted lust for mayhem unrelated to racial justice.

For another, when someone points their finger at impoverished Black and Brown people associated with acts of vandalism or violence–which is a form of white supremacy in itself–just remind them that years from now, the biggest criminals will not be people who broke windows, or the people who stole a flat-screen TV, nor even those who wrecked a police car or two.

Years from now, the biggest criminals will be the barely-elected public officials like Mayor Garcetti and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who, along with their counterparts from the National Guard, clad in M4 assault rifles, looted democracy in Los Angeles overnight, rebranding martial law as “curfew” so it sounds less out of a Banana Republic.

The biggest looters will also be people like Jose Huizar–the L.A. City Council member under investigation by the FBI for bribery–and his enablers at L.A. City Hall, including his fellow council-members, who refused to say anything about their colleague stealing from the public good until it was no longer newsworthy given the open secret that council-members do the bidding of real estate developers and police unions instead of serving the 250,000 residents who actually form their districts.

What will also be clear following this weekend is that the United States needed no wall to keep rapists and violence from MS-13 out, as President Trump promised to voters was the case. Because we grow rapists and violence right here in the U.S.A. better than anywhere else.

Consider how after four years, at the highest levels of government, our greatest mascots for American thrashing of the rules have been Brett Kavanaugh, Donald J. Trump, and Addison Mitchell McConnell, whom to any accusations of misconduct or being held to the same standard that any Black or Brown person charged with a crime during these protests will be: they give a bit, fat, and raging middle finger.

After years of such disregard for fairness, we’ve simply gotten used to white men like these shoving personal responsibility to the American public out of the way, not to mention their playing all out warfare against their opponents–against “the establishment,” or against the “liberal media”–demonizing their opposition, denying them even an ounce of dignity.

But in the billions of acres that comprise the United States, there are still many young people out there, including young white children in America, who might be watching such disregard for the rules.

For those young white Americans–including anarchists–in the 21st century, what does it say if their own president, and their own supreme court justice, and Congress’s top senator can flip everyone off?

The implication is that they can do it, too. To place this into perspective, recall a few names we’ve forgotten these past few years: Patrick Crusius, Devin Patrick Kelley, and Stephen Paddock, or some of the latest white men to shoot down helpless bystanders with assault rifles during the last three years of the Trump administration.

It’s unclear whether the FBI labeled even one of these shooters domestic terrorists, but such silence also sends a message. Such silence is also violence; Paddock was 56 years old, while Crusius and Kelley were 21 and 26 years old, respectively. But they were all 100% white homegrown Americans, each inheriting a legacy of (white) violence over the past two decades, but practically incited over the last four years from our elected leadership, so that if anyone still doubts whether language denying the humanity of “the other” has psychological effects on a generation, these men–like young white “anarchists” exploiting Black Lives Matter protests today–have shown otherwise, each by contributing their own part to a uniquely American legacy of (white) violence.

In an editorial for the New York Times, Charles M. Blow thoroughly and succinctly reminds readers of how (white) violence is also like a birth language for a nation that’s been called the United States of Amnesia, forgetting its rhetoric of “Manifest Destiny” and “Segregation forever!” until it screeches back into range:

We can bemoan the violence that has attended some of these protests, but we must also recognize that…White people in America have rioted, slaughtered, massacred and destroyed for centuries, often directing their anger and violence at black people and Native Americans, to take what they had or destroy it, to unleash their rage and assert their superiority, to instill terror, to maintain power.

Today, other inheritors of this legacy of violence include white police officers like those in Atlanta, who, just this past weekend, viciously pulled a young African American couple out of their car–supposedly for violating a haphazardly made up curfew–despite footage showing a white woman in a car in front of the couple, who was also presumably violating the same curfew, but who the officers don’t even bother speaking to. After one officer pulls at the young couple’s car-doors, a swarm of more officers huddle in. Then, a National Guard troop runs up to slash the tires of the vehicle. Meanwhile, the white woman in the car ahead casually drives away, unfazed. It looked like a scene straight out of the 1943 Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles, if not 1930s Nazi Germany. It was actually only a slightly different day in the American police state that happened to be filmed for the internet to bear witness.

Yet, what can we expect? Those police officers in Atlanta have president Trump’s backing in Washington D.C., a world of courtrooms overseen by judges like Brett Kavanaugh, and mayors and commanders not so unlike Eric Garcetti or Alex Villanueva, a myriad of whom have made clear that they’re taking this system for all its got, that is, until the wheels fall off. It appears that the wheels may finally be doing just that.

J.T.

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