Racism: White Flight: Gentrification – A discussion about View Park and surrounding communities


[Exposition Park – Los Angeles, CA] This past Thursday the California African-American Museum (CAAM) hosted L.A. Commons and Mrs. Karen Mack in a community symposium titled the “Evolution of View Park.”  This was the second of a three-part series focusing on “Making Sense of Gentrification,” highlighting the community of View Park (Los Angeles), CA.

Mrs. Karen Mack welcoming attendees. photo courtesy of fredyt123

A standing room crowd came out to hear and discuss what is one of the hottest topics in the past twenty years.   Gentrification is not an easy topic to discuss.  The word evokes emotion and for many has a negative meaning.  Although from my lens those in attendance were predominately African-American, homeowners and female, for the most part there was a good degree of diversity from other ethnic groups.  What also made for a good discussion was the span of age groups.  In addition to the focus on View Park, some who have called the community home represented multi-generational families.  You also had representation from neighboring communities such as Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, West Adams and Venice, just to name a few.  Additionally, there was representation from cities such as District of Columbia, Baltimore and other cities on the east coast.  Sprinkled in the audience were a few millenniums who were courageous to share their perspectives.

Mrs. Mack brought quite a team to inform those in attendance but to also motivate dialogue which is essential in fostering honesty about the subject matter.  She was joined by economist Dr. Devin Bunten who has researched the effects of gentrification throughout communities in the United States.  The data he was able to cull together to add to his presentation was unapologetic as it was supported by solid documentation.  This helped the audience frame a better understanding in answering the What and the Why, as well as the How of Gentrification.

View Park and neighboring Windsor Hills are just two enclaves where today African-Americans maintain over 70% occupancy.  They are treasured communities due to property type and proximity.

To view some of his presentation click here Gentrification and View Park


Also, joining Mrs. Mack was local community historian Mr. Robert Lee Johnson.  The grassroots work he has done was well received because he was able to dig back to the evolution of various communities and discuss how they have come to define themselves in 2018.

Lee pointed out how African-Americans migrated from the south.  For housing they were relegated to Central Avenue or the “eastside.”  Legal segregation was a reality.  However, as legal victories were achieved in the 60’s and racial property covenants were ruled unenforceable, African-Americans were afforded housing opportunities that those before them could not enjoy.  Many find it hard to believe that Compton, CA was once all white!

Those who were stacked in the Central Avenue corridor took advantage of the legal victories and moved in all directions.  Some went west to West Adams, Leimert Park as well as View Park and Baldwin Hills.

 


The motivation

Gentrification primarily occurs in the urban core and surrounding communities.  Communities such as View Park are desirable for a variety of reasons.   As beautiful are these areas are, for those looking to move closer to the urban core they must contemplate life in a more multi-cultural environment versus an area they may have grown up in, such as the Westside or other bedroom communities in the suburbs.

By selecting to relocate patient buyers are rewarded with savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The biggest issue they face in coming to the new community is the realty of instead of being in the majority, they find themselves in the minority.  Also, part of their acceptance in relocating is understanding services they have come to accept, might be lacking in the new neighborhood, however they can be transformed.  Blending those needs into their new community is one of the biggest challenges of gentrification.  That is, making sure the new services are appreciated by the current residents so they don’t feel like outsiders.


After the presentations those in attendance came prepared to ask questions and provide their anecdotal realities.  The discussion was very candid and became quite emotional.  Some felt the current gentrifi’ers are more like invaders.

 

“THEY WALK THE NEIGHBORHOODS WITH THEIR DOGS AND TARGET PROPERTIES WHICH ARE VUNERABLE, PARTICULARLY WHERE SENIORS MAY BE LIVING ALONE”

 

“THEY COME TO THE COMMUNITY WITH A HAPPY FACE AND BRING COOKIES AS A RUSE TO DEVELOP FRIENDSHIPS BUT THE REAL MOTIVATION IS TO GET THE HOMEOWNER TO FEEL COMFORTABLE IN DISCUSSING PURCHASING THEIR HOME.”

 

“THEY WORK WITH LOCAL CODE ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES WHO SCOUR COMMUNITIES LOOKING FOR VARIOUS VIOLATIONS WHICH RESULT IN THE CURRENT OWNERS FEEL THEY ARE HARRASSED.  OR THEY RECEIVE FINANCIAL PENALTIES WHICH JEOPARDIZE THE CURRENT OCCUPANTS ABILITY TO PAY.”

 

“WHILE EVERYONE WANTS A POSITIVE COMMUNITY, THOSE WHO ARE ABLE TO MOVE IN HAVE THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND POLITICAL VOICE TO MAKE IMPROVEMENTS THAT CURRENT OCCUPANTS MAY HAVE LACKED.  CONSEQUENTLY, AS COMMUNITIES ARE ENHANCED AND DEVELOPED THE RESULT IS HIGHER TAXES WHICH THREATENED CURRENT OCCUPANTS BASED ON THEIR INABILITY TO HAVE THE INCREASE IN INCOME NEEDED TO REMAIN IN THEIR PROPERTIES.” 

 

“THERE IS GREAT CONCERN CURRENT FAMILY’S WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN A LEGACY FOR THEIR CHILDREN AS BASED ON THEIR FINANCIAL PLIGHT, BATTLING RACISM AND OTHER SYSTEMIC ISSUES MAKES IT VERY HARD FOR THEM TO BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE WAY THEIR PARENTS DID.”

 


 

The majority of issues raised by the audience was well received as you could see many heads nodding in approval.  At the same time, some issues were like self-inflicted wounds as some claimed to be unfairly targeted or harassed.  Based on what they were representing their behavior is the type that falls prey to being targeted.  Illegal add-ons or other enhancements which might have made the property more livable, in fact are out of code.  The result may lead to financial penalties or decrease in value based on what they represent their properties to be.  The key, and most homeowners understand this, is to make sure their property is within code or not a target from any scrutiny, let alone a gentrifier who may feel their property is a potential purchase.

 

The bottom line is Mrs. Mack provided an opportunity for folk to gain information, network and become more empowered.  Gentrification may have a negative connotation but understanding how it works is essential so that one has a workable answer why and how groups are reclaiming parts of the city.   In the meantime, while people continue to move or relocate for a variety of reasons, much of it justified, those who remain are encouraged to take a page from the 1960’s which saw one of the early migrations of folk leaving the city for what they perceived as “greener pastures.”   Don’t Move!  Improve!!!


 

A Historical Perspective:

Racism, White Flight, Gentrification

 

As mentioned Racism, White Flight and Gentrification are words many have a difficult time discussing.

Racism is not a new clothing line!  White Flight is not a new dance step!  Gentrification is not a new gelato flavor!

Racism is a by-product of white supremacy.   Gentrification is the reverse of White Flight but still a by-product

Racism was most attributed to those who identify as “white” and whose ancestry is primarily European.  A construct or a system was created where their race was used to dominate other races and otherwise maintain superiority over others through oppressive tactics, hence the birth of white supremacy.

 

“IF YOU’RE WHITE, IT’S ALRIGHT……IF YOU’RE BROWN STICK AROUND….IF YOU’RE BLACK GET BACK!!”

the original jim crow character. It became the symbol of institutionalized racism in the united states

 

Racism became a world phenomenon as whites used their domination to conquer many ethnic groups.  The result was colonization.  Over the years some may have thought racism was eliminated by groups reclaiming their cultures, however EVEN in 2018 it still festers in our overall society and is quite prevalent.

Many voting age African-Americans had accepting the notion in their lifetime a fellow African-American would never ascend to the office of President.  That is why in 2008 they were happily stunned when Barack Obama was elected the 45th president.  Likewise, as long as racism has been around many feel it will not be eliminated in their lifetime.

 

“When we discuss the word integration, what we are stating is the sharing of: Resources, Power & Responsibility”  Rev. Dr., Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Racism is often confused with prejudice and other biases.  Disliking something or someone for whatever reason is much different from using race to oppress other groups.  Most people have prejudices but not everyone is a racist.  Therefore, many whites are not racist, per se.  However, the legacy they inherited shows up in many forms of behavior as other groups attempt to migrate into the larger society.

 

In the 1940’s, 1950’s, the 1960’s and beyond another phenomenon was created which has it roots in racism.  White Flight was the result of primarily African-Americans and other groups moving into areas once primarily occupied by whites.  While there are many reasons why whites fled communities and neighborhoods they once proudly called home, the common denominator was their dislike or being uncomfortable sharing space with those such as African-Americans or those who were not like them.  In other words, on the periphery they may have had friendly relationships with them, but living next could not be tolerated, thus they fled and established new communities, commonly known as suburbs.

 

A vital element of White Flight is acknowledging Whites or no group wants to be confined to neighborhoods were property values are decimated, or where there are inferior stores, shops or business opportunities, or where their children suffer the blow of an inadequate educational system.  Most important feeling fearful because of the lack of basic services.

A critical element of disparity

 

Racism has a specific pecking order or domination over others.  From economics, employment, housing, education and other factors necessary to fulfill the ideal of living, whites receive higher pay, better employment opportunities, more access to lending as well as better educational opportunities than non-whites.  That pattern still exists today as while many groups appear to enjoy a positive lifestyle, typically the person who is white is in a much better economic position, much of it the result of racism or white supremacy.  However, one must be careful to not assume whites do not make sacrifices in achieving a better lifestyle.  They too work very hard and are dealt some of the same blows as anyone else.  In our society they just do not have the burden of being considered “less-than” or other pitfalls which systematically stymies their growth.

“All things being equal if one could insure steady employment, thus steady compensation they too would be in a position to pay their debts in a timely manner resulting in stellar credit”

 

Gentrification

 

White Flight does not mean every white person left their community as soon as a non-white showed up.  However, as the dominant group shifted, communities across the United States, particularly those in major cities or those known as large urban Cities started a slow process of deterioration.  As whites left, they rightfully took their resources, especially in the form of a thriving tax base.

 

Compounded with the reality of a disparate economic condition, non-whites simply had an inferior economic standard based on the pecking order of racism and discrimination, so living standards were directly compromised.

 

Those urban areas once occupied by whites were always technically called ghettos.  However, the connotation drastically changed once non-whites claimed the space.   As resources necessary to maintain those areas took on a slow stream of deprivation, the result was the creation of blight and other negative consequences as well as social forces such as crime and a variety of factors which rendered those areas unattractive.

 

Gentrification is a subtle, yet specific process.  Communities which were defined as deplorable are stimulated with resources as they are redefined.  People who are part of the reclamation are for the most part white, and interestingly the off-spring of the very families who fled during White Flight.  Through the systemic reality of racism, they are in a better economic and educational position than those who will greet them as neighbors.   Thus, rebuilding the communities becomes strategic and transformational.  So instead of day-to-day survival, due to their economic standing they are able to execute a more sustainable lifestyle.

 

The core reality of gentrification is many who remain in those areas which are being reclaimed or who have paltry resources eventually are dealt the blow of being dislocated.  This is created from the basic notion of being priced out due to higher taxes or not fully comprehending the windfall they might receive for their property is never enough, thus communities are broken up; literally one house, one block at a time until it is transformed into an oasis for the current occupants.


Additional resources:

Dr. Frances Crest-Wesling:  Definition of racism and white supremacy

Mrs. Karen Mack, LA Commons

Dr. Devin Bunten, Professor M.I.T University

Mr. Robert Lee Johnson, History Council – CAAM


Fred Thomas, III and his wife Judith have been residents in the West Adams community of Los Angeles for the past forty-two years.

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