Over the past few months, my husband, Dick, and I have attended several functions put on either to raise funds for or celebrate victories that were ultimately achieved in three local California Assembly Districts: ADs 44, 45, and 48. The two of us enjoy good relationships with people in all three districts and we have a tremendous amount of respect for the many people who worked to achieve those victories. In fact, these past few months have positively shaped our opinions about the quality of political representation that exists in this region.
We want to continue to be involved and to affect change. However, one disturbing observation made at all these events in the three distinct districts was the striking lack of diversity among the attendees. This observation brings a troubling trend to the fore. There continues to be and perhaps there is a rise in racial separatism in Los Angeles, the state and the country. Given the recent headlines focusing on racial conflict among L.A.’s youth, let’s hope the issue has come to a head and is now ripe for discussion.
Case in point, the event we attended for the 44th AD where Anthony Portantino is the newly elected assemblyman was overwhelming attended by whites; the ones we attended for the 45th AD where Kevin de Leon is the new assemblyman were overwhelming attended by Latinos; and the events we attended in the 48th AD where Mike Davis won the Assembly race were overwhelming attended by blacks. By the way, Anthony Portantino is white, Kevin de Leon Latino, and Mike Davis black. We worked for Anthony and Kevin and are delighted they won (we worked for one of Mike’s opponent), but leaders lead in part by modeling the behavior they want to see reflected in society at large.
Although the sciences now discredit long-held beliefs in racial categorization and most experts in these fields consider racial differences illusory, we as a nation continue to separate along racial lines. Some believe this tendency to separate results in experiences and privileges of American citizenship that varies greatly from group to group. Oftentimes the political, social, and economic dividing lines that separate us are quite severe. This is readily apparent in the three assembly districts mentioned earlier.
Some think that separation along racial lines occurs naturally in a free society. Perhaps this is true, but separation also tends to translate into inequities. This has been demonstrated time and time again in American history. State-sanctioned apartheid is no longer practiced in the US, but the nation has failed to integrate its populace. The sanctions are gone, but the separatism still exists so how can we expect the results to be any different?
Most Americans do not inhabit or share life space with other races or classes. As a result, those who are economically disadvantaged by this separation have little or no way out. While this wasn’t always the case, recent studies indicate that vertical movement in the American social strata is becoming increasing difficult. A century ago, it was common in the US for children of one generation to fare better than their parents. This is not the case today. The crystallization of class along racial lines comes at a high cost to society. One of the long-term effects, particularly for Black and Latino children, is that the public school system is now more segregated than at any time in the past 30 years. There is also a correlation between deficiencies in education, segregation, and growth in the prison rolls.
Creating communities of need
History has proven that one of the consequences of accepting this separatism is the development of communities of abundance and other communities of need. The work done during 1960s in the Civil Rights Movement, the Brown Power Movement, the Women’s Movement, and others led to victories. But victories are not permanently engraved in the social landscape. We must remain vigilant.
The Democratic Party made major inroads this past November but that progress was largely due to the failed policies of the Republican Administration. If the Democratic Party and the ideals it espouses are to be given voice, the party must focus on building a diverse organization by reaching out to the large numbers of blacks, growing numbers of Latinos, and progressive whites and women who have been excluded from power. But in addition to reaching out, it must also bridge the growing divide.
W.E.B. DuBois believed that equality for blacks in America would only be possible if this country was completely transformed. In an article published by “The Center for American Progress”, Sheryll Cashin, author of The Failures of Integration; How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream, stated that, “ in the twenty-first century we still need a transformation—a jettisoning of the common assumption that separation is acceptable—in order to solve the riddle of inequality and unfairness in America. Our public policy choices must be premised on an integrationist vision if we are to achieve our highest aspiration and the promise that America says it embraces: full and equal opportunity for all. Integration should be viewed as inherent to American citizenship. This is a necessary shift in thinking if we are to harness the beautiful diversity of America and be an example to the world on how to transcend differences of race, class, ethnicity, nationality, and religion.”
I could not have said it better.
— Sharon Kyle
Sharon Kyle is the Publisher of the LA Progressive. With her husband Dick, she publishes, edits and writes for several print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues.