When the Southern Poverty Law Group released their “Hate Map” last week, many were surprised to see California lead the nation with 79.
I have deep roots in Southern California. My maternal grandparents were part of the Great Migration, and moved from Jackson, Mississippi, to San Diego when my grandfather joined the Navy in 1955. They eventually settled in Riverside, CA, where my mother and her siblings grew up. My father moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Perris, CA, a small suburb about 20 minutes outside of Riverside, when he joined the Air Force in 1975.
All of them moved here for opportunities they felt didn’t exist where they came from. For my grandparents, the idea of raising children in the Jim Crow South was unfathomable.
However, the reality they were met with was not what they expected. Despite the fact that my grandfather came to San Diego to serve in the Navy, they were denied tenancy over and over again. My mother tells stories of growing up in Riverside and being one of only five Black students in her high school. Three were her siblings. My grandmother once told me how she found their family dog murdered, shot in the head. She told her children it ran away.
By the time I was born in the late 1980s, things were better, but racism still colors many of my memories. I spent much of my childhood confused because my reality was so different from what I was taught: that we didn’t have “those problems” in Southern California and that the color of my skin presented no obstacles to my trajectory of my life.
While racism in California might not be as prevalent as it is in the South, where systemic oppression has a longer, bloodier history, there is no denying that it exists as part of our history as well. When the Southern Poverty Law Group released their “Hate Map” last week, which charts active hate groups around the country, many were surprised to see our state lead the nation with 79. Florida follows close behind with 63.
Some will dismiss this as a result of our state’s large population and argue that we have less hate groups per capita than other places on the map. However, this does not diminish the fact that those groups found a home here, and probably with little resistance.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last decade, and many Angelenos like to think of themselves as the liberal elite. Whenever events like Charlottesville happen, I see my Facebook timeline light up with self-righteousness.
“This is exactly why I left (insert flyover city and state here),” they’ll declare smugly. “I’m so glad we don’t have to deal with this in California.”
Except we are dealing with this in California. Orange County has plenty of TV dramas named after its likeness, but all of them fail to depict the racial discrimination that still washes up on its sparkling shores. This past weekend, white supremacists were outnumbered at an “America First” rally in Laguna Beach. Just last week, the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery removed a Confederate Memorial following public outcry and threats of vandalism. San Diego took similar actions and removed a statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate states, from its downtown Horton Plaza.
Some of the white supremacists leading the Charlottesville riots were from California, with one of them making headlines in April for punching a woman in the face at a Berkeley protest. While it is true that Trump gave these cowards the courage to be more open about their views, to believe that they were previously cut off from society is dangerously naive.
These people are your coworkers, police officers, teachers, and students. Some of them are your fathers and mothers. How many times have you allowed them to spout stereotypes and tell racist jokes without pushback? How are you complicit?
Like the rest of the country, we are seeking to distance ourselves from our racist history and show the world that we no longer honor these figures or what they represent. What I think is missing from this conversation is an understanding of why we allowed them to be celebrated for so long, and how that enabled racism right underneath our noses. For those in positions of privilege, it means contending with how they have excused racism with their actions or non-actions.
It is not enough to show up to rallies and tear down statues. Residents of California, just like those around the rest of the country, must recognize their roles in allowing hatred to plant itself into our soil, and the ways in which they’ve tended to it over the years.