Sometime last week, I was walking across campus and talking with a friend about Los Angeles. The talk was engaging, but at one point he mentioned that he does not believe Los Angeles to be a particularly segregated city. His case is rooted in the fact that the city’s diversity is remarkable in terms of pure demographics and that while walking through parts of the city, he sees diversity unlike what he has seen in his native northeastern Boston.
I disagree. I believe that Los Angeles is an extraordinarily segregated city. This is not to say that diverse and fully integrated parts of Los Angeles don’t exist, for there are many. But to argue that Los Angeles is a fully integrated city is to overlook several large swaths — the majority, really — of the city.
Most people who know Los Angeles can give you a breakdown of how ethnicities seem to be scattered about the city: Eastside equates to Latinos, the Westside is white, South Los Angeles is largely black, and the Valley is a divided mix between Latino and white people.
We are aware of this, but most of us living in Los Angeles (especially those reading this) don’t experience it because we never have a need to travel outside of our designated “racial zone.”
This applies to me just as much as it can to anyone else. When school is not in session, I spend most of my time in the Valley and Westside. I also occasionally travel to East Los Angeles, most often to visit members of my paternal family who are of Mexican heritage.
I’ve never really had any reason to travel into South Los Angeles, however. Indeed, prior to this semester, I could count the number of times I’ve traveled south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on one hand.
This semester, however, I started field work for a local campaign. The office I work out of is located just north of the intersection of Crenshaw and Slauson boulevards, an area about three and a half miles southwest of USC in a census tract that is 89 percent black.
The nature of campaign field work demands that I work not in an office but outside interacting with people who live in South Los Angeles. I can easily say that doing this field work has made me realize how South Los Angeles is just as varied as any other part of Los Angeles.
The stereotype of South Los Angeles being a poverty and crime-ridden region is true in some neighborhoods, but other neighborhoods are just plain beautiful. Indeed, there are several primarily black communities in South Los Angeles that are extraordinarily affluent. The notable example is Ladera Heights, a neighborhood that breaks down to being 65 percent black and posting a median income of over $118,000.
By this, the median income places Ladera Heights into similar levels of affluence as Pacific Palisades ($158,000) or Malibu ($133,000).
Nevertheless, in the same Ladera Heights is nearly 90 percent black, the Palisades and Malibu are also nearly 90 percent white. Despite relative economic equality, affluent white people and affluent black people do not mix.
Exactly why there is no mixing, I cannot understand. On paper, individuals from these neighborhoods reflect wealth, college education, civic engagement and cultural participation. The curious bit comes when one notes how the only characteristic that varies between the inhabitants of these neighborhoods is race.
A New York Times op-ed piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled “The Good, Racist People” makes the case that “the idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing.”
Coates would likely agree with the sentiment that ignoring Los Angeles’ racial segregation is a reflection of how racism is most often treated as an isolated example instead of an institutional norm.
There is little doubt that the United States, since its genesis, has made tremendous strides in racial inclusion. Yet the fact of the matter remains that there are still racial barriers to overcome, and it is too early to declare a victory in the fight against racial prejudice and segregation.
I have no doubt that it will come in the future, but the inevitability of racial equality can only remain inevitable if we continue to fight for it today.
Matthew Tinoco is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism.