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.

 

Video courtesy of Victor Allen’s Local Zone


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.

CITY RISING:  A 2017 look at Gentrification


Special Review

 

[Los Angeles, CA] On September 13th KCET in partnership with The California Endowment hosted the premiere screening of CITY RISING.  The theme of the documentary is gentrification.  An overflow crowd of nearly 700 was on hand to see the “Director’s Cut” which was 90 minutes.  Coincidently, on the same evening KCET showed the regular 60-minute screening on their channel.

If you’re black, get back!

If you’re brown, stick around!

If you’re white, it’s all right!

from an anonymous social scientist

 

Gentrification, a working understanding

Not every white person is rich and not every black person or those of color is poor!  One legacy of the history of the United States is the construct of racism or using race as a controlling factor.  On basic quality of life issues; from economic or the ability to earn money, to health, to housing and other areas whites were granted privilege over other groups.   Even today many attempt to dismiss this very basic fact of not understanding or accepting the issue in a historical context.

 

“He who gets behind in a race must forever stay behind or run faster than the man ahead of him, that is our dilemma” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 1961 

 

That privilege buffered by legal discrimination, including specific land covenants of who could buy land or live in certain communities which set in motion the premise of defining the American Dream as being able to afford a home.  Unfortunately, the dream dismissed the reality of certain groups being blocked based on race.

 

In addition to basic shelter, the more important benefit of home ownership is wealth accumulation or a legitimate asset which has generational benefits.  The lack of it, is one reason for the marginalization.

 

Inner cities, the target of gentrification

 

Following the great depression and leading up to the industrial revolution, cities throughout the U.S. witnessed an economic boon.  Labor was the fuel that fed the boon and many ethnic groups relocated and the result was financial uplift.  As the majority group or whites were enjoying the lions-share of the boon, they created the strategy in developing suburbs which allowed them to flee the urban core.  They were able to transfer their properties (through sale or renting) to the minority groups who remained.  Thus, the term “white flight” was coined.  More important and critical to the gentrification discussion is the reality that as whites moved out of the urban core, critical resources were stripped and went with them.   Employment stability left.  Stores left.  Services left.  Resources which are necessary for a community to thrive slowly disappeared.  The result was communities were disseminated and succumbed to blight and other negative forces.  As bad as that may appear the groups who remained didn’t die off.  Instead they created their own identity based on their culture to create a vibrancy which allowed them to thrive and redefine the space they occupied.

 

Reclamation

 

City Rising focuses on several communities in California.  They are Santa Ana, Long Beach, Sacramento, Oakland, Boyle Heights and South-Central Los Angeles.

 

One poignant part of the documentary is discussing the issue of racial covenants which made it illegal to sell property to certain groups.  Many people are ignorant to this reality and dismiss it as being made up or something which happened lifetimes ago.  The sad reality; it is current history regarding real estate ownership.  Assemblyman Hector De La Torre lives in South Gate, CA.  The discussion centered around him showing the covenant as part of the land title documentation which years earlier would have prevented him from purchasing the very home where he was being interviewed.    Even though the practice was outlawed through fair housing legislation, it remained as permanent language within the documentation.  Using his activism as a political leader he created a law which would have required title companies to remove the language from the report.  Unfortunately, even though the law passed, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it and the language remained as a reminder of the discrimination meted out against certain groups.

 

The documentary does a good job in highlighting the effects of gentrification.  Even though race plays a huge role in its impact, the subtle reality is the class divide or the “haves versus the have nots.”

 

Cities that were once thought of as “dead” have sprung to life through various forms of reinvestment.  Interestingly many of the families who fled the urban core, see their offspring take on a renewed pioneering spirit to reclaim areas.  With their economic status, they are able to pick up properties, many on the cheap and with modest investment, transform what was unthinkable into havens of a new lifestyle.  Through this process and focus on redevelopment they are able to attract stores and services which provide a great opportunity, assuming one has the money to operate.

 

People can only buy your property if you agree to sell

 

Who doesn’t want to live in a “nice” neighborhood?  The problem with gentrification and this is where CITY RISING shines is as new people reclaim or move back into neighborhoods,  the issue is what happens to the current occupants?  Do they just disappear?  Do they escape in the middle of the night?  For many it’s pure economic, especially the vast majority who are renters.  Those who reclaim properties and invest in the restoration are not motivated by some benevolent gesture, but from an economic perspective so it boils down to return on investment.  The result is the rise of home prices as well as the rise of rents.  Many occupants simply become priced out and that is the ire of those who oppose gentrification.  The community they thought they knew……no longer exist, so they must rebuild their lives or try to coexist with their “new neighbors.”    Some do it very successfully, most don’t because they do not have the leverage of home ownership.

 

There is much more to this topic.  The causes and effects are worthy of examination.  This documentary does an excellent job in creating a foundation for you to move forward.

 

See the documentary HERE.

Detroit – The Movie – My Review


 

It just so happened last week my daughter reminded me the Dramatics were on “Unsung.”   Those of you who may be unfamiliar with Unsung may do yourself a favor as it is a television program which chronicles the life of African-American entertainers.  It provides a snapshot of how they started, how they reached fame and for many how they stumbled and eventually fell. Then for the lucky few, it shows how they got back up and live (or lived) a productive life.  I quickly turned it on and almost forgot the group started in Detroit.

Coincidently, the movie “Detroit” came out yesterday, so having a little free time I decided to go solo and check it out.  After watching the movie and upon leaving to try to catch up with Lanie, my initial rating was a 7 on a scale of 1 – 10.  However, after some serious reflection and in fairness I increased my rating to a 8.

Not a documentary

It is not a documentary but a portrayal of a real life story; the Detroit Riots of 1967.  However, more important the plot or key storyline focuses on the horrific incident and overt law enforcement brutality lashed out at those who were staying at the Algier’s Motel.  Notice, I mentioned law enforcement as during the riots that cadre included the local police, the state police and the national guard.

Contrary to what some believe, folk who live in a community and subsequently unleash their frustration resulting in a “riot” and where damage is done to their immediate area do so not out of stupidity……..but from years of frustration, oppression, public policy and other factors that reach a boiling point.

The black migration to the industrialized north

As a historian I really appreciated the opening of how the black migration from the south to the industrial north occurred.  More important it focused on the construct of racism and how the strategy of white flight occurred.   As blacks were achieving civil rights gains which allowed more movement, those whites who fled urban cores found a new haven in the newly created “suburbs”  As they left resources went with them.   The core plea of blacks seeking integration was not a basic attempt to “be white” or transition to a “white lifestyle.”  Instead it was the demand for whites to integrate the resources, the power and the responsibilities.

Many are steeped with denial in justifying why them and their families left various areas.  The bottom line centers on race so you don’t have to be a history major to understand why and how this became a popular practice in communities such as Detroit and many places in the United States where blacks were moving in to try to benefit from the economic uplift made possible by the “industrial revolution.”

The white flight dynamic or fleecing communities phenomenon reminds me of a great parallel Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the last sermon he would preach, which was Sunday, April 1, 1968, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps!”

The film allows you to see the reaction created from the riots.  The backdrop will take additional studying for you to fully grasp the theme.
Occupied force

Fast forward to 1967 and the many dreams deferred as those blacks who moved in did not experience the paradise they expected.  Instead they were marginalized and many dreams were cut short.  Worse, the very police departments who had a “protect and serve” protocol transitioned their behavior to an occupied-like force, thus fueling much distrust and  anger from community folk.

The raid which was the focus of the riot was the type of incident which was quite common. As a matter of fact, the police didn’t expect anything to get out of hand.  Instead this time it did and the community responded with anger and the frustration boiled over to start the outburst which lit the flame for the riots.

The director is to be commended for having the courage to tackle the subject.  Although the movie is a bit lengthy, I would suspect that is because there is so much ground to cover.  Also, and a key point so you are clear is the movie is not a documentary so there is some creative license such as the ’72 bug being featured in a scene which was supposed to reflect 1967.  Also, there are numerous questions you are left to ponder. Why did the person who shot the starting pistol run?  Why didn’t those who knew he shot the pistol simply fess up to avoid the subsequent harassment, brutality and for some death which they suffered?

Yet, even in 2017, you can see some of the same behavior carried out by law enforcement embraced today.  No doubt police are needed for public safety.  Bad people do prey on good communities to wreak havoc and carry out their destruction .   Yet the movie speaks to attitudes.  If relates how you can experience sheer discrimination and hostility of people simply because they are different from institutions designed to help people lead a productive life. The denial, the cover-up and the brazen nature of those who simply lack basic respect for humanity is seen.

Fiction is fiction but this is a movie which hopefully inspires candid discussion.  It is a movie featuring many black actors portraying a critical incident in the black community, but the movie can’t be relegated as a movie just for blacks ?  It is a movie all should take the time to see as it is not about “police-bashing” but it portrays the environment of how things were and unfortunately there is pain.  Some don’t want to be reminded of what happened.  Then for others it rips the scab off of a wound which was thought to have healed.

 

More can be found here.

 

If you found the movie Detroit interesting and you seriously would like to have more facts I recommend two solid sources.

Eyes on the Prize is the seminal documented source which chronicles black life during that period.  The series is split into sections.  In addition to footage there is also a companion book.

The book – The book lends about 30 pages to the Detroit issue.  It is packed with eye-witnesses and serves as an excellent source.

The footage.  American Playhouse rebroadcast the Eyes on the Prize series and the good news is their clips are available via youtube.  Here is the specific clip which features Detroit (about 33 minutes into the footage).

 

 

Postscript – I am lucky to take up residence in what is referred to the “inner city” or “urban area.”  The good news is we have choices so especially for movies such as “Detroit” I started to just trek the three miles downtown to the Regal theater.  Luckily I came to my senses and headed to the Rave theater in the Crenshaw community.  I was pleased to see the movie theater packed.  More important it was full of folk who are a bit older than me who more than likely lived during the period of the Movie, as they probably were in their early teens or early twenties.  The reason this is important is to experience the visceral reaction from the various scenes communicated in the call/response found in audiences that are predominantly black.  Some might find the reaction irritating or “why don’t they shut up” but it’s that reaction which helps you truly understand what the director is attempting to show you.