By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Bryant sits in his glass-walled office in the downtown high-rise that houses the Bryant Group, the financial consulting firm that is his day job. He often shuttles between this world and close-but-so-far-away South-Central several times a day, and says it is that kind of fluidity, rather than hewing to ground already lost, that will save black people. Migration may be a cultural tragedy, but it is also a fact of life that is accorded too much moral weight. "The [black] community is not eroding, it’s dispersing — into Rialto, Carson, Malibu," says Bryant. "Let the process drive itself. Get involved with the results. It’s not about Latino or black or anything. I’m so tired of that black b-boy mentality of ‘look at me, I’m important, give me attention.’ The more powerful thing is subtlety. We need to start finding ways to collaborate. I’d rather have 10 percent of something than 100 percent of nothing."
Every other year, Bryant leads a group of corporate and banking heavies on a bus tour through Central Los Angeles to show them the wondrous economic opportunities that lie waiting to be exploited. Like a carnival barker, he cheerily — at points, too cheerily — hypes all that he sees. ("Look at these beautiful homes on your left, ladies and gentlemen! Nobody hanging out on the street corner, no guns in sight! Surprised?") During the last spring tour, which set off from Crenshaw and wound up in Maywood, the differences between largely black communities and largely Latino ones became startlingly clear. Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills and much of South L.A. featured lovely, well-tended houses but neglected commercial strips; Huntington Park and Maywood had modest to run-down residential districts but boulevards, like Pacific Avenue, that were thriving with business and pedestrian traffic in the middle of a weekday afternoon. The bus tour started out from La Brea Avenue with much fanfare, but Pacific felt like its pièce de résistance, offering both the thrust of the future and prod of the past. As we rolled slowly down the boulevard with throngs of people on either side, my seat mate, a fellow black reporter and Crenshaw resident, turned to me and said wonderingly, enviously, as if it had just occurred to him: "This is the problem. We don’t shop where we live anymore."
More to the point, we don’t live where we live anymore; even where we are present, it tends to be in the flesh only. We have grown to believe too much in the larger-than-life status conferred upon us by the varied engineers of pop culture — film producers too enamored of ghetto stories, record executives who revere hip-hop and its unlimited power of product placement — who hardly have our social survival in mind. It has become perfectly okay to invoke the virtues of black people without being anywhere near them. Recently it was reported that Assemblyman Kevin Murray does not live in the Crenshaw neighborhood that he represents, and where he grew up. Doctored addresses are hardly new to politics, but Murray touts the place so eloquently and speaks so forcefully on behalf of L.A.’s black community that his absence from that community is a specific kind of betrayal. Not that one must necessarily live in a place to work for its benefit, but the fact is that, these days, very few black folks who don’t live in the hood have its future at heart.
Which is not to say that there aren’t black phenomena that need to be relegated to the past; there are. One is the willful, often hostile inertia of black politicians and civil servants who ignore the needs of Latino constituents, at everyone’s peril. Constance Rice, former attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, recalls angrily accusing Compton school district officials of the same dereliction of public duty that got white governing bodies slapped with civil rights lawsuits. "I told them, ‘If these Latinos were you, you’d be screaming for blood,’" says Rice, who, for the record, maintains a pro-black stance, and believes that many issues are culture-specific and not easily remedied by the platitudes of multiculturalism.
"No question, more and more blacks are becoming a victim population, becoming internally disconnected from each other," says Genethia Hayes, director of the L.A. chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "But we can’t talk about personal responsibility merely — there’s no good health care, day care, there’s insurance redlining. Don’t tell me all black people have to do is get out there and open a store."
Just beneath the conversation of many African Americans is a frustration at never reaching, as a group, a level playing field, whose existence has lately become America’s fondest social myth. "Blacks have been sold down the river. They never got what we were promised," says Teryl Watkins of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, an organization that has seen its core constituency rapidly shift from black to brown. "We are survivors, but at some point . . . we want to get past that struggle just to keep up a basic standard of living. We’re tired, dulled, still in the middle of a rip-off. Shoot, I want my 40 acres and a laptop."