By Sikivu Hutchinson
The South L.A. flank of Manchester Boulevard remains largely unchanged from the street of my childhood memory. There are nail places, fast food chains, motels, car washes, an orgy of little strip malls, and a theatre, boarded up and cadaverous since the early 80s, that juts out on the corner of 5th Avenue in Inglewood. It is easy to miss the theatre in the ruckus of westward traffic, easy to assign it to the category of visual bric-a-brac as yet another figment of South L.A.’s past. When the theatre was open during the 70s and 80s it was a B movie haven that provided local Morningside Park kids, steeped in our largely black insular world, with a dependable weekend hangout. Now, with one exception, movie theatres in 21st century South L.A. are as common as meteor showers. The disappearance of recreational public spaces for youth is a subtext of the bleak portrait presented in the UCLA School of Public Affairs’ recent State of South L.A. report. There are no major revelations in the report, which focuses on jobs, education, crime, poverty, housing and the considerable demographic shift that’s occurred since the 1992 uprising. Now predominantly Latino, South L.A.’s black population continues to shrink by the year. Motivated by lower housing prices and the desire for better living conditions, African Americans have migrated to the Inland Empire and the South in greater numbers since the 1990s. Despite these patterns of black out-migration, the severity of black residential concentration in South L.A. is still pronounced, with nearly 90% of the black population in the county represented in South L.A. Over half a century after restrictive covenants, African Americans have the least residential mobility. Put simply, even the most affluent black Angelenos, the Baldwin Hills/View Park/Windsor Hills dwelling elites, are living in relative poverty conditions when viewed in the context of the county as a whole. All of the disposable income, advanced degrees and ability to code switch with white culture in the world won’t mitigate the reality reflected in surveys nationwide—namely, when it comes to living in the same neighborhoods as black folk white respondents invariably express a greater willingness to welcome Latinos or Asians into the block club.
The reassessment of the “identity” of South L.A. comes during a period when the national political profile of blacks would appear to be on the rise. Yet, the South L.A. centered 2nd District supervisorial race between Councilman Bernard Parks and Senator Mark Ridley Thomas is widely predicted to be the last to feature two African American candidates. For the past decade, the obscenely long terms of the supervisors have bred abdication of leadership around King-Harbor, gang conflict, education and development in a district that has the highest number of black and brown residents living below the poverty line. Thrust together by circumstance in a climate that does little to validate their shared history, blacks and browns coexist from Watts to Inglewood to Baldwin Village. However, it is generally believed by African American community activists that blacks have taken the lead in black-brown collaborations. As Latino political capital is on the ascendant, tensions over the receding black identity of the community will fester if the perception that Latino leadership is resistant to reaching out to African Americans persists. Countering this perception, and making sure that the next supervisor pushes an agenda that addresses the culturally specific dynamics blacks and browns face in divide and conquer economic conditions is one of the key challenges for the new state of South L.A.