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
Lacking a strong economic link to their community, many upwardly mobile African-Americans — as many as 75,000 by some estimates — deserted the community for the suburbs.
ONE MORNING BACK IN THE ’80S, when I was teaching 10th-grade English here in Los Angeles, I talked with my class about the changing ethnic makeup of the United States and what it meant to be a minority. Moette, a pretty, dark-skinned 15-year-old, didn’t seem to get it.
“Why am I a minority?” she asked. “All I see is black people and Mexicans. How’s that being a minority?”
I leaned forward and said with some confidence, “Los Angeles is not a black city, not like New Orleans or D.C. Most people are not black; most people in the United States are white. We’re about 11 or 12 percent of the population.”
“What?” said Moette. “L.A.’s black!”
“You live in black Los Angeles,” I patiently told her. “You just don’t see the rest of L.A.”
“Around here it’s black,” she persisted. “That’s what I know.”
I shrugged and continued to explain how Los Angeles had far more people of Mexican ancestry than black people, and that white people were the majority. Still, Moette refused to believe what I had to say about Los Angeles. For Moette and for many African-American kids growing up in near-absolute racial isolation, Los Angeles was still a Chocolate City, and she really didn’t know a thing or give a damn about the vanilla suburbs.
That was 1986, and maybe then she could believe that L.A. was majority black, but more than two decades later, this Chocolate City of Los Angeles, so named by George Clinton in his P-Funk days, has largely ceased to exist as we knew it then, except on the margins — Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills and parts of Crenshaw and Jefferson Park. The days of Los Angeles as an imagined Chocolate City are long gone; black people are steadily leaving the city and county of Los Angeles. Greener pastures beckon; sometimes it’s the beguiling song of the South and Atlanta in particular, sometimes it’s just down the freeway to Riverside or San Bernardino counties, anywhere outside of Los Angeles.
While it is reasonable to assume that this is natural — that when a people become decidedly more affluent and educated, they disperse; that, for various reasons, the ghetto, the barrio, the racial enclave becomes unsuitable — this dispersion feels different, like the emptying out of a region. It seems an inescapable fact that for many black Los Angelenos who have left or are in the process of getting out, running away, assimilating or disappearing into the greater vastness beyond Los Angeles, our presence is diluting into irrelevance.
L.A. County population changes from 2000 to 2006:
Total population change is +4.5 percent; African-American population change is –5.1 percent. The total county population is still under 10 million (about 9,950,000), while the African-American population was about 890,000 in 2005. (These numbers are survey estimates based on the American Community Survey and can’t be as detailed or precise as the 2000 Census.) Because of the faster growth of other groups, as well as its own decline, the share of the total county population made up of African-Americans declined from 9.8 percent to 8.9 percent in just five years.
—Dowell Myers, USC professor of urban planning and demography
IN 1994, MY MOTHER WAS ONE of those pioneers in the reverse migration who bailed to the sandlots and abundant cacti of Victorville. She left for very basic quality-of-life issues: rampant drug dealing, gang warfare, laughable policing and the common perception that black Los Angeles was going to hell. My former wife’s parents lived in L.A.’s Jefferson Park neighborhood in the late 1940s, and even then they saw the coming decline and headed first to the promise of San Bernardino, and then, having quickly given up on that, headed to the greater promise of Santa Barbara. They wanted better opportunity commensurate with their achievements; my father-in-law had multiple degrees and was a UCLA graduate. He and his wife, who also attended UCLA, wanted the best public schools for their children and the best neighborhoods, even if those neighborhoods would have few, if any, black folks.
My parents didn’t possess that kind of foresight; nor did they have the means to be so selective. We moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans in 1962, a few years before the Watts riots. I remember being frightened seeing jeeps driving down Exposition Boulevard with National Guard soldiers manning .50-caliber machine guns. I suspect that my parents thought they could isolate us, that we’d be cocooned safely inside our New Orleans culture, and in our neighborhood with many New Orleans expatriates that almost seemed possible. But in the end, that ploy failed miserably. What we all faced, those from New Orleans, or from Texas, or native black Angelenos, were disappearing jobs that paid a livable wage, policing that enraged far more than it protected, and a largely broken educational system. These problems overwhelmed whatever consolation a Los Angeles version of a po’ boy could provide.