April 19, 2012
20 years after the L.A. Riots
Where are we now?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
Eshman: Has it gotten better in the last 20 years or worse?
Rice: Depends on where you’re talking about. It’s gotten more complex. Have we desegregated? Yes, we’re probably the best-desegregated big city, other than New York — but there are very few what I would call integrated communities.
Siqueiros: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I went to public schools here; I have two kids who are currently in public schools here, and for me it’s been very disappointing and surprising how much more segregated their schools are than when I went to school. We may talk about us living together in a much more diverse community, but our schools are incredibly segregated, and the opportunities that exist for our children are incredibly segregated as well. For my children, as middle-class children now, they’ll certainly have access to a lot more opportunities, but for students that are low income and all they have are the few resources that they get at a very segregated school, with probably lower educational opportunity and access to resources than other schools, I think that is what is more terrifying.
Hicks: There are two things going on here — one is at just kind of a working-class level of people either immigrating, or living here just in association, living where they want to live, or where their money will allow them to live. People just trying to get along and make it. Then you’ve got the elite leadership that have these kinds of conversations we’re having now, and I guess the question is, well, what would you do about that? Everybody’s trying to get their piece of the political pie; it’s not about where people are living or working, it’s about the pure politics of power. …
Eshman: Joe, how do you reconcile that with what Connie and David were saying, that the millennials — this group is also the least racist, even though they’re the most divided. So how do you reconcile those things?
Lehrer: Seventy percent of their friends are of a different group than they are.
My four kids went to public schools. They had friends who were Korean, who were black, who were Asian, who were Latino — I mean it’s the nature of the beast.
Chu: When I worked in the LGBT community, we used to have a strategy where we’d joke around and say, you know, all we need to do is just wait until people die, then we’ll win LGBT civil rights, because it’s about generations. But at the same time, I do think that you don’t create this kind of awareness, perspective and thinking around race and politics and power in a vacuum. And, you know, one of the questions I would ask is, does the case of Rodney King even get taught in school?
(Various people say no)
Lehrer: These kids don’t want to be lectured to!
David Levinson: These kids are growing up with a black president! It’s a different world!
Lehrer: They are not interested in holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” and being told black people are like you and Latino people are like you and Asian — for them it’s superfluous.
Chu: But here’s what happens, when a 12-year-old kid goes to school and shoots their classmate because they think they’re gay, those are the kind of moments …
Lehrer: But that’s an anomaly!
Hicks: Connecting up those kinds of obscene acts with — I’m sitting here, by the way, looking at L.A. County’s hate crime report, which I think is largely bogus. They in some way do gather this data, each year, the hate crime reports go down, in terms of numbers, they say African-Americans have the highest percentage of hate crimes committed against them. It was 123 cases, in total, in all of 2010. Anybody know what the crime stats are in the City of L.A.? This is minuscule. It’s like, there’re some stats that say there’s 10 percent of the population who believe you can send a letter to Elvis, and you’ll get a return letter. There are going to be fools and crazy people and all kind of folks at the margin of society — somebody who’s going to run out and shoot a gay kid in the back of the head, for whatever reason.
Leibman: I don’t think you have to get that extreme to do this.
Hicks: But I’m connecting it up, because Samuel made the statement about that kind of horrendous physical act. And I’m saying that’s disconnected from the larger picture. Because I think, frankly, the City of L.A., 20 years ago, versus now, people in this city get along amazingly well.
Leibman: Until they get threatened. Until some population gets threatened, then they react, and when they react they often go to the basest level they can, which is typically race.
Levinson: That’s an unfair generalization.
Leibman: Of course it’s a generalization.
Siqueiros: So then are you all suggesting that racism is an anomaly?
Lehrer: Racism is an anomaly.
Leibman: That’s not true.
Siqueiros: I mean as a Latina, with this huge increase in anti-immigrant fervor in this country, I find that really offensive.
Lehrer: You can find it offensive.
Siqueiros: I think to cite all the beautiful examples of when we come together and work together does not mean that you don’t have privilege as a white man in this country.
Lehrer: I don’t.
Hicks: Those are political positions.
Eshman: Taking everything together that you’re saying, what I hear is that even though now things are maybe better than they were 20 years ago, the kinds of seeds we’re laying — lack of economic investment in our schools, in our judicial system — we are no longer laying the seeds for them to be even better 20 years from now. In fact, they could even be worse 20 years from now — would you agree with that?
Lehrer: That’s not just an L.A. problem — the schools. California spends the second least of any state in the country. That’s the whole state of California.
Chu: I think that the absence of violence is not a sign that things are better. Just because things are calmer on the coexistence side — that there has not been another riot — is not an indication to me that there are better relations.
Levinson: I actually disagree. I’m on the ground, and I deal with people from every background in every neighborhood in the city, and they all want to get along. I have worked with very wealthy people and very poor people, of every ethnicity, working side by side.
There are a lot of people out there who are invested in keeping them apart. You know, you talk about the kid going in and shooting the kid — 20 years ago, there wasn’t an Internet on 24 hours a day with all those hatemongers on there. A guy like Rush Limbaugh is openly misogynistic; he’s openly racist. A guy like Rick Perry basically ran on an openly homophobic ticket — these things didn’t happen 20 years ago and weren’t repeated round-the-clock. So the world has changed. But in our city, the things I do, and LA Works, and many other groups, grew out of the riots.
Im: But I can’t help but agree with Connie that, depending on the framework, the answer could be very different. In this whole redistricting experience, our organization was very much at the center, or part of it, and when it finished, for the Asian community and the Korean community, I thought “What the hell?” It was the same old thing for us — our story was marginalized and demonized.
Twenty years ago, when the store owners tried to rebuild, no matter how much the store owners came out in massive numbers to public hearings to say, “You know what? Our businesses, our life savings, the American dream, all got burned down. We need help to get back on our feet,” it fell on deaf ears. They all said, “You know what? We just have to listen to our [City] Council person who represents that area.” And after this redistricting experience, we visited each of those Council folks. You know what they said? “You guys came out in massive numbers; you guys were organized — give you credit for wakening your community, but, bottom line: We can’t help you, because, really, the Council member who represents your community really sets the agenda, and we have to fall in line.”
Lehrer: But that’s politics.
Im: All I’m saying is: Has progress happened? Yes, if we point to the positive things — our organization, our model came after the First AME Church, so I could point to great examples, but then if you look at other areas, gosh — things haven’t changed.
Hicks: So, Hyepin, what’s not changed other than that the Korean community is again getting caught in power politics in the City of L.A.?
Im: Perhaps, but depending on the framework — you’re right, if you think about Korean Wave [the spread of Korean culture worldwide] with Korean stars from South Korea coming here, and they’re on the “David Letterman Show,” and in South Korea they’re doing rap music, there is kind of a greater awareness and appreciation on a global scale. So you could point to all of those things. But, then again, when there’s kind of that point of contention on power or whatever it may be, the loss of privilege, loss of rights, whatever it may be, we still fall back onto the default, and that’s the point that still needs to be addressed.
Freudenheim: So, I ask all of you: What should we do? What’s the solution? How do we make it better for any single group, for all of us?
Im: We really need to do two things. First of all, we need to build a bridge of understanding that, really, we’re all in the same boat together.
Hicks: What does that look like?
Im: One example is this foreclosure crisis: Our agency helps a lot of people across the country on foreclosure. When a home forecloses in one area, it actually impacts that whole block. And then, families move out of the area, then the schools get impacted because they don’t get their budgets, etc. And if the schools go down, then other families move, etc., etc. So it has a ripple effect.
So that’s one.
The other part is that for communities of color — with eviction rates, foreclosure rates and poverty rates — we have to realize we have a common enemy.
Lehrer and Hicks: Who’s the common enemy?
Im: The system. However, however …
Lehrer: Is this the ’50s? The ’60s maybe?
Im: In conversations with some African-American leaders, they talked about a common argument. Why don’t Korean store owners hire youth from the black community? Great idea — let’s do that! But, at the same time, I said, you know what, the black community — if I was to generalize — you guys have some great connections with entertainment and sports that maybe the Asian community may not have. Could we also place Korean youth into those businesses? So then, it’s lifting up both communities and lifting the strengths of what both communities have. It could be the artistic community, it could be other communities. I think that is the kind of strategy and conversations we should have, instead of tearing each other down.