“I was thinking of an oil tanker,” theological student Allen Corben proposed during last Sunday’s white-racial-awareness workshop at the community room in the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City. The all-white group, gathered to examine their own “ethnicity” on the way to enhancing their racism-fighting powers, had been assigned to use the “right brain” to draw an unspecified sea vessel representing whiteness in America, and Corben was fighting the forces favoring a luxury liner. “We have a great deal of resources, but there’s a storm behind us . . . We’re moving out of a period where we were on top.”
“Yeah but it’s all white people, not just us . . . Should we represent, in some way, Nazi skinheads? Where are they?” asked Rebecca Barkin in a hesitant tone, sending Corben, armed with a colored marker, to a porthole below deck, where he sketched in a tiny swastika.
“I’m going to make a ship of multiculturalism and our contingency is reaching out to it,” Jill Murray, a sign-language interpreter, said later.
“Probably not everybody’s reaching for it,” said Barkin.
“But we are,” Murray responded quickly.
Through exercises like this, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews), since 1992, has been helping white people get active in anti-racism work, adjunct staffer Lise Ransdell said. The workshops are a rare opportunity for our National Tragedy to be tackled in a sea of white faces, she noted. (Limiting attendance to Caucasians helps break down the barrier of white guilt, Ransdell explained.)
The workshops’ goal is to help participants shed feelings of inertia and helplessness about ending racism born, in part, of their myopia as white people.
“For white people, there’s a certain amount of catching up we have to do in terms of racial issues,” Ransdell said. “White people don’t have a good sense of how the history of white people in the United States, and the history of racism, still affects white people today.”
In the initial ship-drawing exercise, however, Corben and his fellows seemed less anxious to confront white racism than to depict themselves as a happy band of anti-racist rebels — letting the banner of bigotry fall along the way to the white supremacists. That way of thinking was confronted during the discussion that followed, when it was pointed out that, as nice as it may be to envision a multicultural society, “a lot of things are in the way,” Ransdell recalled.
“We also had a fascinating discussion about skinheads and the psychological concept of projection, and whether any ugliness in us, we’d rather turn and see in them — it’s those people who are awful,” Ransdell added.
The NCCJ white-awareness workshops are part of a broader movement that has produced at least two national conferences on “White Identity,”in Berkeley and Riverside, Ransdell said. But the NCCJ remains a national model, she added.
“There’s a lot of interest nationally in replicating what we’re doing here,” Ransdell said.
In the end, Corben’s group settled on a tanker flying the pirate’s skull and crossbones; members of the crew representing the workshop participants mutinied, throwing cannons overboard.
“I’m like the Joe Average person; I think it’s important for me to be involved in dismantling these structures,” said Corben, a self-described white, middle-class, married straight guy. “The way white people think is, Everyone else is ethnic; I’m the standard. We have the privilege of being white, but that has to be invisible. We don’t like to believe it’s true; we just like to enjoy it.
“But no one wants to put people from the bottom in charge. So it’s important to change folks in the middle who will be the leaders of tomorrow.”
The PCH club in Wilmington hosted hundreds of hardcore kids, straight-edgers, crusties, indie rockers, and spiky Mohawks-and-patches punks, but it didn’t survive a single visit from an L.A. Times zone reporter.
“The PCH club had to close its doors after authorities discover[ed] it did not have proper permits,” read the subhead over a November 2 article by Stefanie Frith of the South Bay Weekly (a Los Angeles Times community paper). What Frith failed to disclose was that it was her letter to the LAPD’s Harbor Vice Division questioning the club’s legality that triggered the permit investigation in the first place.
“This takes place in a warehouse,” she wrote, according to Harbor Division officials. “Just walking in makes you wonder if it’s legal.”
After the story was printed, South Bay Weekly staff did not respond to requests for comment on the paper’s role in the closure. But in an earlier interview, city editor Michael Martinez, who contributed to the story, said that Frith’s letter was a “very standard” request for information and not a complaint. Frith contacted the police after Alex Maciel, who had run the all-ages club since 1997, told her that officers had visited numerous times during his drug-and-alcohol-free shows and left without asking about permits, Martinez said.
“We were out to do a story that morphed beyond our original intent,” said Martinez. “We had no intention of causing injury to anyone.”
For the financially struggling Maciel — who, with his brother Pete and his friend Reggie Rosalvas, booked more than 300 shows with bands from Orange County to Sweden, Argentina and beyond — permits, at $6,000 to $8,000 a pop, are not a realistic option.
“It was just four walls and a ceiling,” Maciel said of his club. “People would ask when we were going to get air conditioning — we just paid rent. If you’re going to pay for permits and still charge $5 for shows, you’ll have to sell a lot of expensive drinks.”
Maciel said police had visited the club in the past without raising a problem — until the Times’ goosing, that is.
“They never asked us for anything,” Maciel said.
Ron Martinez, a booker at Anaheim’s Chain Reaction (which has already picked up at least one scheduled PCH show), said the club’s closure would “hurt a lot.”
The PCH “was about music and community first and foremost. They were contributing something important,” he said.
“It was the one place that was truly underground,” said Brian Rogers, singer for Orange County’s Fish People. “Shows there were always more fun than at other places.”
Maciel said he hopes to carry on with the annual PCH Record Swap, an event without live music that would be “one last chance to hang out.”
“This was a big part of my life, and I’m sure it was the same for a lot of other people — a lot more than I thought,” he said.
OffBeat was in the midst of a frantic, how-am-I-going-to-get-to-tennis? phone conversation with our child when the call-waiting beep went off in our ear. “Hello, this is Barbra Streisand on behalf of Planned Parenthood,” the dulcet tone on the other line began.
“That was Barbra. Barbra Streisand,” we dropped casually after listening in full to Barbra’s scintillating political message. “Yeah, she just wanted to make sure personally we were going to get out there and vote. Isn’t that just like her, to be thinking of little old us on Election Day, with everything on her famous and oh-so-politically-committed mind?” we chuckled proudly.
“Wow,” our son responded.
The next day, the beep sounded again. “This is Erin Brockovich. Remember me from that award-winning movie on fighting toxics?” We made it about halfway through Erin’s computerized message before ringing off. Hey, the fish was overcooking. No on 37, we murmured softly, trying to memorize Erin’s election pick. Or was it 38? Damn.
“Erin. Erin Brockovich,” we told the child.
“She isn’t real,” he answered scornfully.
“Yes, she is. She, too, wants to help get OffBeat to the polls,” we riposted deftly.
Election Day. Deadlines. Can’t find the polling-place address. Ring! “Hello, this is President Bill Clinton —” Slam! With Barbra and Erin in our corner, we don’t need no stinking president pressuring us to get out and vote. Ring, ring. “This is former Attorney General John Van de K — “ Click. Who unleashed these annoying cybernags anyway? Remember when it was college kids, not hollow-voiced celebrity simulacra, trying to get you to the polls? They’d drive you, too. And they knew where the polling places were.
So, for all the Erins, Barbras, Bills and Johns who were so worried that OffBeat might hole up with Friends reruns and forget to cast our ballot — we voted, okay? Just once, too. We’re left with one haunting question, however. What if that really was Bill, trying to get OffBeat for the transition team..?