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Politics Mondays: The State of Black Los Angeles In 2005: “A Ladder of Hope,” or a Slide of Regression? by Anthony Asadullah Samad

The State of Black Equality in Los Angeles (SBELA), as chronicled in the United Way/Los Angeles Urban League study, is not a reflection of how bad Blacks are doing, but how well others are doing in pursuit of a better quality of life. African Americans can't blame others for leaving them behind. They can blame themselves for allowing it to happen--in not being vigilant about black issues, in not being watchful of emerging trends--including the return of “Negrophobia” (my topic next week), in not being strategic in developing communities that prosper and growth, and in not being willing to offer critique--and enact punishment on those who betray our interest. As you go through the report, a common reminder of how things have changed is that America no longer sees things in “just” black and white. They see things in black, and everybody else. Blacks in Los Angeles, and in America--for that matter, could not be as disadvantaged as they are if others were not pursuing their own self interests--sometimes at the expense of Blacks. Meanwhile, for the last forty years, African Americans have been hoping things will change. The SBELA report suggests its equality index assessment is based on “a ladder of hope,” Blacks eventually climbing out of the basement. But it reads more like a slide of regression.

Everybody who knows me, know I go off on this HOPE, which in some cities is the biggest hustle of the last ten years. This “HOPE” tip has been pretty profitable for folk the past decade who is willing to stay of the way of conflict advocacy, keep quiet and take what pennies banks offer up. But HOPE as a concept, as I've written in previous commentaries, is powerless without will. “Will,” social will--political will--community will, of course, were the catchwords of the day the morning the report was released, but disengaged from hope--neither word means much. One thing we now though, hope is not will. And over the past forty years, the black community has sat around, doing whatever it is we do, HOPING banks stop redlining, and HOPING police stop profiling, and HOPING health care improves…now we're sitting around HOPING the killing stops. I know, as many others know (and knew), that this HOPE thing is a shell game some people use to dismiss criticizing and confronting our societal realities. Waiting on HOPE we've witnessed some people taking small checks in lieu of large ones, take small development in lieu of large ones, take flack from the system in lieu of taking flack from the community, then turn around and say they hope change comes…and people in other parts of the city say, we hope so too, and they go back to doing what they were doing, building their communities and their quality of life. It's really ridiculous to even expect change that would come discriminators have no reason to change…because they are not being confronted. Nor is there reason to believe that our community will change when Blacks, themselves, are continuing to do what they've always done…

Which brings us to the report; the economic index for Blacks in Los Angeles .55, just over half that of Whites. African Americans are last is aggregate wages, with 34% of L.A. families earning less than $20,000 a year and 24% of black families living in poverty (33% of black children--both higher than the national average). Black unemployment (the report says) is 14%, more than double of whites (though we know Black male unemployment in South L.A., as in New York, South Chicago, and Detroit is closer to 50%). Thirteen percent of Blacks in L.A. are on public assistance, compared to five percent of Latinos, and two percent of Asians and Whites. However, eight percent of Black households in L.A. earn more than $100,000 a year (one percent earn over $200,000, including some of the most affluent black communities in the nation), and 24% earn more than $50,000, so Blacks in L.A. are not economically powerless by any stretch of the imagination; the housing index shows Blacks at .69, lower than anybody else. Blacks are disproportionately impacted by social and institutional racism--paying more for rent (52% of Blacks pay 30% or more of their income for rent). Blacks are 10% of the city's population but only get 5% of the home loans, while Whites, at 31% of the population, get 72% of home loans. Blacks also represent 30% of the homeless population; the health index shows Blacks at .68, where in 12 health categories of the leading causes of death, Blacks are at the top of the list in ten of them, most notably, Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke and Homicide--showing Blacks “off the charts.” Nobody makes us kill ourselves, but when African Americans need health care, they get the lowest quality of care because of their pre-existing (obesity) heath conditions; the education index is where African Americans have been most systemically compromise, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, with the lowest proficiency test scores in reading and math, and only 56% of Black students graduating with their high school class; the criminal justice index shows Blacks at .70, where Blacks are stopped “driving while Black” at a rate of 19.8% (highest of all groups), searched by LAPD four times more often than anybody else-yet found to have illegal substances only 38% of the time (compared to 55% for Whites, 65% for Latinos, and 54% of Asians). That data suggests that all other races have a greater reason to be stopped, but are not. Blacks are sentenced to longer jail terms (46 months on average, 3 and a half times that of Whites, at 13 months). Yet, in an almost unnoticed statistic, Blacks in Los Angeles is 18 times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than Whites, almost nine times more the Asians--the next most frequent victim; Civil engagement was the only place Blacks topped the list. The report showed Blacks participate in voting and unions at a higher rate than anyone else. But the next question is, what does it gain us? If our politics does not produce policies and better jobs that provide a better quality of life…why engage?

If there's a lesson to be learned in this latest study…it's that nobody is going to change the Black community, and the quality of African American life in Los Angeles, but Blacks themselves. The question then becomes, Do we have the will (not the hope) to climb up the socio-economic latter? I HOPE we don't wait too much longer. There's nowhere else to go, but up.

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Monday, July 25, 2005

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