In Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity, Gaye Theresa Johnson examines interracial anti-racist alliances, divisions among aggrieved minority communities, and the cultural expressions and spatial politics that emerge from the mutual struggles of Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the present. Johnson argues that struggles waged in response to institutional and social repression have created both moments and movements in which Blacks and Chicanos have unmasked power imbalances, sought recognition, and forged solidarities by embracing the strategies, cultures, and politics of each others' experiences. At the center of this study is the theory of spatial entitlement: the spatial strategies and vernaculars utilized by working class youth to resist the demarcations of race and class that emerged in the postwar era. In this important new book, Johnson reveals how racial alliances and antagonisms between Blacks and Chicanos in L.A. had spatial as well as racial dimensions.
Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles
Introduction: The Future Has A Past
"The unmistakable roots of the universal solidarity of the colored peoples of the world are no longer 'predictable' as they were in my father's time - they are here."-
This is a book about interracial anti-racist alliances, about divisions among aggrieved minority communities, and about the cultural expressions that emerge from shared urban spaces. Examining Afro-Chicano politics from the 1940s to the present, I reveal the radical anti-racist and egalitarian cultural politics that helped nurture and sustain working class alliances, intellectual advances, and cultural practices that challenge traditional boundaries of race, space, and region. These politics have resulted in critical inter-ethnic challenges to structures of dominance in Los Angeles, making this story relevant to the history of diverse urban political cultures in every American city.
Relationships between African Americans and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles from World War II to the present have been characterized by both conflict and coalition, by antagonisms and alliances. The histories of these two groups have been linked in the city of the Angels (and all across the nation) by parallel but not identical histories of labor exploitation, housing segregation, and cultural demonization. Yet while sharing the experiences of containment and confinement, Black and Brown people have also been pitted against each other constantly, manipulating by a white power structure to competing with each other for jobs, housing, prestige, and political power.
Sharing struggles, spaces, and sounds has enabled Black and Brown people to work together for social justice in Los Angeles over the decades. This is a story of both continuity and rupture. Although racism persisted, resistance always existed. Different eras posed different problems and provoked different solutions. The racial order and racial landscape of today's neoliberal global city is very different from that of the high employment and high wage metropolis of the 1940s and 1950. Yet in the midst of enormous changes and transformations, Black and Brown residents of Los Angeles used the physical places they inhabited and the discursive spaces they imagined to assert their common humanity and forge shared struggles grounded in mutuality and solidarity. The political histories of these aggrieved communities entailed the creation of cultural forms that served as key conduits for the collective aspirations of disaffected youth in every generation. The key point underlying this book is that contemporary, multiracial struggles for social justice did not emerge in a vacuum. They deserve to hear and tell a better story about themselves as people and as a collective seeking freedom; a better story than the one that now dominates the discourse on Black-Brown relationships. In other words, the just future envisioned by radical social actors and multiracial movements has a past.
I advance here a concept that I call "spatial entitlement," a way in which marginalized communities have created new collectivities based not just upon eviction and exclusion from physical places, but also on new and creative uses of technology, creativity, and spaces. In many instances overlooked by social historians, everyday reclamations of space, assertions of social citizenship, and infrapolitical struggles have created the conditions for future successes in organized collective movements.2 Spatial entitlements created new articulations, new sensibilities, and new visions about the place of Black, Brown, and working class people on the local and national landscape. They were also "diagnostic" of authority: following Lila Abu-Lughod and Robin D.G. Kelley, I suggest that spatial entitlement illuminated the "complex interworkings of historically changing structures of power."3 Understanding it in this way renders everyday acts of resistance and survival demonstrative of more than just the courage of freedom seekers.
The variety of strategies enacted by working class youth to imagine and articulate new modes of social citizenship have been underestimated as a site and mode of scholarly inquiry. In the face of persistent repression, particularly in the meaningful spaces of interracial congregation, these actions can be studied as a barometer of the power relationships between oppressed and oppressors. Taken together, they constitute a philosophy of action that allowed the futures of Black and Brown people to be considered in the same lens of possibility. Spatial entitlement provides a means for understanding how working class communities and individuals secure or create social membership, even when the neighborhoods and meaningful spaces of congregation around them are destroyed.
Spatial entitlement requires an alternative understanding and construction of the meaning of citizenship. Traditionally, citizenship is defined in terms of social membership in a particular society or national identity. In this regard, Rogers Smith has argued that "citizenship laws literally constitute - they create with legal words - a collective civic identity. They proclaim the existence of a political 'people' and designate who those persons are as a people, in ways that often become integral to individuals' senses of personal identity as well."4 Excluded from these collective identities, aggrieved people have fashioned alternative expressions of collectivity and belonging.
The United States' use of citizenship as a qualifying category of national belonging reveals an unsavory legal history. Time and again, rather than endowing citizenship with affirmative characteristics of national membership, United States has historically defined its citizens not as much by who they are, but by who they are not: at both federal and local levels, white desire to sustain racial and class privilege has been the driving force behind legislation authored to exclude people based on race, gender, origin, and legal status. When these exclusions constitute the conditions for citizenship, the "civic myths" that inevitably arise as nations define why persons form a people can become what Smith argues are "noble lies... [that] cloak the exploitation of citizens by their leaders [and] demonize innocent outsiders." And "they may also be "ugly, ignoble lies. And they are often likely to be so..."5 These lies have been the basis for the exclusion of generations of racial outsiders.
The 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford case demonstrates that such "ignoble lies" require extraordinary measures of maintenance and justification. In Scott, Chief Justice Taney was forced to execute several legal contortions in order to distinguish the difference between the denial of rights (particularly the franchise) to free Blacks and the denial of rights to white women and minors. In order to preserve the myth of racial inferiority, Taney declared that unlike Blacks, women and minor were U.S. citizens as well as state citizens, entitled to privileges and immunities clause protection. Such women and children were, Taney said, "part of the political family" of those "who form the sovereignty." Blacks were outside the "family."6
In the past three years, the United States has passed a series of anti-immigration laws that function to discriminate and exclude with increasing sophistication and malice. Laws such as Arizona's HB 10707, Georgia's HB 87,8 Alabama's HB 569 hijack the language of civil rights to exclude racialized subjects from national membership by proclaiming them a threat to the civil liberties of white citizens. Even when these laws have been overturned or modified at the federal level, which is increasingly rare, the de facto consequence remains, evidenced by anti-immigrant racism: populations perceived to be expendable or unwanted can be excluded not just from citizenship rights but human rights as well.
Legal scholar Patricia J. Williams has argued that since citizenship rights have been a crucial terrain of struggle against the totalizing domination of racialized capital, we cannot abandon them as a category of analysis. Williams insists that for Black Americans and others, the discourse of rights embedded in citizenship can still be deployed against the social system that they are supposed to uphold.10 Spatial entitlement recognizes that for Black and Brown communities in LA, expressions of collective entitlement to national membership have been an important site of resistance over time. The history of this resistance contains significant lessons for understanding not just how these claims are made, but why, as a cumulative political practice, they form a counternarrative to privileged constructions of public life. 11
My discussion of spatial entitlement values the ways in which freedom seekers have attempted to claim human and social rights, and recognizes the philosophies of freedom and equality that connect local articulations to international movements. Within this framework, the struggle for social membership and human rights by and among local populations becomes something larger, more just, and more complex than a conventional discussion about citizenship. The spatial articulations these struggles enact become a multi-referential practice that holds imagination and freedom struggles at the center of some of its strongest foundational elements.
Struggles for social justice in Los Angeles involved changing the meaning of existing spaces and creating new ones. African Americans and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles recognized that ghetto and barrio segregation could also produce unique and creative forms of congregation. 12 The city streets that served as commercial conduits could also become sites for festive celebration and display. Dance halls, night clubs, and youth centers could be transformed into laboratories for the creation of new identities and identifications. Moreover, spatial entitlement was not confined to physical spaces. When housing segregation, police containment, and transit racism made it difficult to move across urban spaces, young Black and Brown people used the discursive spaces of popular music to create shared soundscapes. They did not have to be in each other's physical presence to enjoy the same music at the same time as it was broadcast to them on radios in living rooms, bedrooms, neighborhood hangouts and automobiles. These strategies and affinities speak to the power of popular music and of popular culture, to envision and create new political possibilities.
Studying the ways that entitlements of space and social membership were enacted through popular culture reveals the history and the promise of shared cultural politics among Black and Brown communities. Spatial entitlement has enormous implications for the study of Black and Brown working-class opposition, because it redresses inattention to the profound role that space plays in everyday life, as well as the cumulative role that everyday life plays in the development of mass movements. Kelley's analysis of Black working class resistance on public transportation is instructive here. Segregated public spaces in mid-20th century Birmingham were "daily visual and aural reminders of the semicolonial status black people occupied in the Jim Crow South." As such, they constituted important sites of contestation and struggle, and such struggles "offer some of the richest insights into how race, gender, class, space, time and collective memory shape both domination and resistance." Furthermore, these struggles remind us that Birmingham whites encountered public space as "a kind of 'democratic space' where people of different class backgrounds shared city theaters, public conveyances, streets, and parks." But for Black people in the same era, "white-dominated public space was vigilantly undemocratic and potentially dangerous."13 Black working-class opposition on Birmingham's streetcars and buses during WWII, as well as many of the spatial entitlements examined in this book, can help us to understand how marginalized historical actors have worked under injurious conditions to produce, elaborate upon, and defend emancipatory identities.
There is an old saying popular among Black church congregations, that a lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has even put on its shoes. Contemporary conservative news sources have been a relentless source of characterizations that depict the relationship between Black and Brown communities as little more than eternally tense, inherently competitive, and sometimes mutually violent. At times this has been the only audible discourse in discussions about the futures of these communities, and it has been more lie than truth. While there are instances contained in the record of Black-Brown interactions that have been devastating examples of intergroup tension, there are far more examples of mutually meaningful Black-Brown antiracist struggles and radical creative affiliations.
Writing a cultural history of post-war Black-Brown struggles and cultural expressions in Los Angeles shares some of the same methods and aspirations as beat juggling. A new sound emerged from hip hop turntablists in the 1990s that reflected the musical dexterity and competence that DJs must command for their craft. "Beat Juggling" indicated unprecedented advances in digital technology, and helped create a soundscape appropriate for the needs of its listeners. In this book, instead of turntables, records, and cross-faders, I use the history of Black and Brown people in Los Angeles, spatial studies, music studies, and a desire to see the freedom dreams of interracial struggles met with equity and social justice. "Beat juggling" involves using a turntable as an instrument: by isolating drum and snare hits, vocal phrases or sound effects by the recording artist, and "flipping" or combining the sounds with a cross fader, turntablists take what is already contained in a record to create new rhythmic patterns. At times, DJs work together, using two or three turntables each. Together they form a sort of band, with each DJ responsible for a different sound. For example, one DJ will isolate the drums behind a particular song, another will manipulate a record to make a bass line, and yet another will be responsible for a horn riff. One sound alone, or the work of one DJ or sound in this form of beat juggling, means very little until it is joined with other sounds and results in a collective sonic production. When multiple DJs beat jugglein one performance, they must manage multiple turntables and cross faders to break down beats on records and then recreate them. The records they choose when creating these new rhythmic and melodic patterns are as diverse and complex as the styles developed to execute the movement necessary to perform these physical manipulations quickly and accurately. A turntablist has to know records, to have a mental archive not only of songs, but of phrases, tempos, lyrics, and instrumentation. Turntables have pitch controls to alter the tempos and tones as well, so DJs must be masters of both mixing and memory.14 The musical productions that emerge from this practice can use eclectic combinations of jazz, soul, rock, hip hop, blues, and funk, resulting in a fusion not only of musical styles, but of sonic patterns associated with different time periods and diverse social spaces. A listener might hear the sounds of Herbie Hancock, Mongo Santamaria, Cannonball Adderly,Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Public Enemy, and the Eagles all in one song. Beat juggling must anticipate audiences' collective memories and produce an appealing textual combination of those memories. The practice encodes and communicates centuries of musical memory, minimizes the distance between diverse geographical spaces, collapses the time elapsed between different albums and songs, and interpolates a wide range of life experiences into a new beat.
The Black and Brown expressive cultures I examine have served as concrete social sites where new forms of social relations are envisioned, constructed, and enacted. These overlapping cultural forms emerged not just as practices containing the memory and history of specific ethnic groups, but also as artistic creations representing the mutual influence and locally shared experience of LA's Black and Chicano communities. In this context, music serves as a rich discursive terrain for examining the emerging consciousness that helped shape the personal identities and political struggles of these communities.
My inquiry into Black and Brown conflict and coalition in Los Angelesbuilds on the work in George Sánchez's Becoming Mexican American15, Laura Pulido's Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left16, Daniel Widener's Black Arts West17, Luís Alvarez's The Power of the Zoot18 and Anthony Macías' Mexican American Mojo.19 As a book on Los Angeles that examines multiracial resistance and cultural production, my work is in step with these exemplary studies. But I also try to push the theoretical framework of interracial politics further by offering new perspectives about space and representation that utilize historical and cultural examples with enormous relevance to the present.
My history of inter-ethnic affiliations and coalitions between African-Americans and Chicanos in Los Angeles blends evidence about expressive culture with the story of social movements. I argue that while the institutional records of inter-ethnic alliances in politics in Los Angeles are sparse, the rich repository of evidence contained in the memories of cultural workers and activists offers important insights into the infra-politics that informed and shaped a common urban anti-racist culture of struggle within these two communities of color. Recognizing the value of anti-racist struggle requires a belief in the significance of cultural politics, both as a tool of scholarly inquiry and as a means of community mobilization. This book focuses on cultural histories and memories because I believe that they are an invaluable terrain where social, economic, and political values and meanings are created and contested. By arguing for a new framework with which to view the history of excluded populations in urban areas, I emphasize the significance of studies that interpolate race, memory, class, gender, and popular culture to understand social change. Because Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles were engaged in struggles with and in opposition to other minority groups, the history I offer challenges traditional perspectives on the history of Los Angeles - as well those about its future.
This story draws from different kinds of archives - those found in the valuable work of Vicki Ruiz, Robin Kelley, and Robert Lee - and also in the practices that Robert Farris Thompson describes as the "alternative academies" of aggrieved people - their music, dance, and art. While this book begins in 1940, it is important to explicate a partial history of Black-Brown affiliation and struggle, both to establish the "past" that I spoke of as so vital to the future, but also to delineate a mutual and enduring pattern of resistance among these groups.
Though there are many cities with important traditions of Afro-Chicano interaction, the development of Los Angeles is an Afro-Mexican story. Afro-Mestizos comprised the majority of those recruited to establish a civilian settlement between the mission in San Gabriel and the Presidio of Santa Barbara by the governor of Alta California in the 1780s. The majority of settlers were recruited from Sinaloa (one third of whose residents were of African ancestry) and Rosario (two-thirds of whose residents were listed as mulattoes in the census). Lonnie Bunch's history of Afro-Mestizo settlement of Southern California reveals the racial composition of these first Angelenos: eight mulattoes, two mestizos, two blacks, and one Mexicano.20
For almost fifty years Afro-mestizos were an important component of city and state politics. Pío Pico, an Afro-Mexicano from Rosario, was the last Mexican national to govern California. His brother Andrés Pico represented California at the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga (which ended the Mexican War in California) and twice served as a state senator. Until mid-century, many Afro-mexicanos received land grants which established them as a landed elite: between them they controlled vast amounts of land in the San Fernando Valley, Topanga Canyon, Eastern San Gabriel Valley, and Simi Valley; by 1820, Maria Rita Valdez was granted Rancho Rodeo de Las Aguas, which is now Beverly Hills.21 Beyond California, Afro-Mexicanos founded Albuquerque, San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Laredo, and the Presidio de La Bahia.22
The early contributions of Afro-Mexicanos in California are singularly extraordinary, but also represent an enduring legacy of a particular embodied radicalism. The African-, Native-, and Mexican-American revolutionary anarchist and labor activist Lucy Parsons gained fame among workers during the Chicago Haymarket strike of 1886, and fought against poverty, racism, capitalism and the state her entire life. Vicente Guerrero, born to an impoverished Black indigenous family in Mexico, taught himself to read and write as he trained troops in the Sierra Madre Mountains. He contributed to the writing of Mexico's constitution, freed its slaves, and endorsed the education and elevation of its poor and people of color, serving as Mexico's first president of African and Native American descent.
Africans, African-Americans, Mexicans, and Indians have co-created communities with radical legacies for centuries.23 As early as the mid-1500s, marronage communities near Veracruz such as San Lorenzo de los Negros, San Lorenzo Cerralvo, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Morenos de Amapa, and Yanga functioned as nuclei of the African legacy in Mexico, but also as sources of rebellion and resistance.24 From 1560-1580, a group of escaped Black miners from Zacatecas joined with free Chichimec Indians northwest of city, and waged rebellions against the settler communities for two entire decades. As Cedric Robinson has demonstrated, maroon societies in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Texas supplied a radically alternative picture of slavery, race, class, and history by establishing communities that "frequently acquired the multicultural and multiracial character that liberal historians of the early 20th century had expected of the whole nation."25
Once Mexico outlawed slavery in 1836, Blacks inhabiting regions in ambiguous reach of Mexican law demanded their freedom: Prefiguring the Dred Scott case, a woman known only as "Mary" became the first western slave to win her freedom through the legal system in 1846. Mary was brought to San Jose by her owner. When she learned that Mexican law prohibited bondage, she sued for her liberty by arguing that her enslavement was void.26
African-American artists, intellectuals, athletes, and ordinary citizens have historically identified Mexico and the border region as places of refuge from racism and inequality in the U.S.27 In 1937, Nannie and Carl Hansberry deliberately challenged the legal system of restrictive covenants in Chicago, which precluded the sale of property to blacks by white owners. With the help of several white realtors and Supreme Liberty Life Insurance President Harry H. Pace (who did not disclose the race of the home loan borrowers to white property owners in the area) the Hansberrys secretly bought two properties in white neighborhoods on the East and South sides of Chicago. Their daughter Lorraine (future author of prize-winning play A Raisin in the Sun) described the area around their home on Rhodes Avenue as "a hellishly hostile white neighborhood in which literally, howling mobs surrounded our house." After a prolonged court battle, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the legality of the covenant and forced the family to vacate their home. Although the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision on a legal technicality, this turn of events did not curb white hostility toward the Hansberry children, who were, as Hansberry recounted,
"spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school...The fact that my father and the NAACP 'won' a Supreme Court decision, in a now famous case which bears his name in the law books, is - ironically - the sort of 'progress' our satisfied friends allude to when they presume to deride the more radical means of struggle. The cost, in emotional turmoil, time and money, which led to my father's early death as a permanently embittered exile in a foreign country when he saw that after such sacrificial efforts the Negroes of Chicago were as ghetto-locked as ever, does not seem to figure in their calculations."28
In 1944, Carl Hansberry moved to Mexico to make a home for his family, but died of a cerebral hemorrhage before they could join him. The tragic example of Hansberry and his family demonstrates the severe social and psychological costs of the brutal racism exacted upon Black Americans, and the prominent position that Mexico occupied in the mid-century Black imagination.
Novelist Richard Wright's travels in the 1940s led him to write that in Mexico, "people of all races and colors live in harmony and without racial prejudices or theories of racial superiority."29 During his own stay in Mexico, Langston Hughes reported, "here, nothing is barred from me. I am among my own people...for Mexico is a brown man's country."30 Willie Wells, three-time U.S. Negro League batting champion remarked, "not only do I get more money playing here, but I live like a king...I am not faced with the racial problem...I've found freedom and democracy here, something I never found in the United States...Here in Mexico I am a man."31
When Lorraine Hansberry attended the University of Guadalajara, she followed a strong tradition of Black American education in Mexican institutions: between 1930 and 1960, African-American artists Charles Alston, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Sargent Claude Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, John Wilson and Hale Woodruff reinvigorated the concept of the "New Negro" by studying in Mexico or with Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, David Siquieros, and José Clemente Orozco.32
Hughes' and Wells' characterizations of Mexico demonstrate something worth noting here, that the desire for a homeland free of Jim Crow has sometimes generated descriptions of race relations in Mexico that are too generous and uncomplicated. Racism was and remains powerful in Mexico, though it has obtained differently from the U.S. in different historical moments. Yet for these early 20th century Black artists and athletes, the identification of the border and Mexico as an escape from U.S. racism prevailed despite Mexico's attempt in the 1920s to limit Negro emigration.33
Coalitions among oppressed minorities in California have always been present, even when they have not always ended in victory. As early as 1903, Japanese and Mexican beet workers collaborated against unfair working conditions in Oxnard. The Longshoreman's Union that emerged from the General Strike of 1934 in Los Angeles was racially integrated, as were the farm workers' unions of the 1930s. In the latter part of that decade, Mexicana employees at CalSan protested discriminatory practices in the hiring of African-Americans, so that by the early part of 1942, factory owners were forced to relent under union pressure, and hire close to thirty Blacks. As third world nationalism was at its height in Los Angeles, Réies López Tijerina and the Black Panthers co-authored a peace pact; César Chávez and Bobby Seale made visible efforts to demonstrate mutual support for each activist's constituents, and it was working-class women's organizing that inspired the coordinated efforts of Ralph Abernathy and Corky Gonzalez for the Poor People's March to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. in 1968.34
I have chosen to write about blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles because they have long been pitted against each other in debates about civil, economic, and immigrant rights. These narrow depictions undermine collective memories of interracial solidarity by denying existent material and ideological connections between these communities. It is important to acknowledge the power of racial and economic divisions between these two groups, but given all the efforts to divide them, instances of unity and cross-pollination become all the more important.
Five chapters reveal the spatial struggles and cultural expressions that comprise a rich record of Black-Brown affiliation in Los Angeles since the 1940s. In Chapter One, I examine two historically important yet still understudied activists, Charlotta Bass and Luisa Moreno, who deployed spatial entitlement as a mechanism for fighting racial subordination and spatial exclusion in this era. They laid claim to physical and symbolic spaces in forging networks of political and cultural resistance among Blacks and Mexican Americans. Charlotta Bass's attempt to move across space to participate in an international congress of women meeting in China and Luisa Moreno's efforts to stay in the U.S. by resisting deportation provide a generative point of entry into the politics of space and sound.
Bass and Moreno advanced cultural pluralism, integration, and intercultural understanding in the 1930s and forties, prior to some of the more renowned interracial activism of later periods. Moreover, the strategies of cultural pluralism these women employed shaped and reflected unprecedented neighborhood and workplace sensibilities that incorporated a mosaic of racial and ethnic groups, a precursor of urban activism in the fifties in Los Angeles. This chapter delineates the relationship between the formation of interracial alliances in the thirties and the repression of interracial spaces in the forties and fifties. It also fills a gap in recent scholarship on Los Angeles: a gender analysis in the history of interracial politics.
Chapter Two reveals how Los Angeles African-Americans and Chicanos managed to deploy cultural resources to survive in the midst of racial backlash and the evisceration of working-class neighborhoods during the urban renewal period in Los Angeles. It is here that I explicate in more detail my theory of spatial entitlement. Though both African- and Mexican-Americans achieved broader geographical opportunities for housing and employment in the postwar era, and though both subsequently observed a modicum of progress in integration and employment, both were also witness to pointed and devastating disregard for their communities, even when the physical space of their neighborhoods expanded. I show how as the boundaries of segregated Black and Brown neighborhoods were expanding incrementally, the social agencies and institutions that served these areas were under persistent attack by city and federal policies in the post-war era. Facing the evisceration of historically Black and Brown neighborhoods under urban renewal, and restricted from accessing the rights of full citizenship, Black and Brown youth claimed alternative, often discursive spaces in which important democratic and egalitarian visions were fashioned. These spatial claims were manifest in temporary locations and ephemeral pronouncements that proclaimed the relevance and rights of Black and Brown people in Los Angeles.
In Chapter Three I show how third world internationalism - often mischaracterized as simply ethnic nationalism - among Blacks and Chicanos culminated differently in LA than in other parts of the country for demographic and historical reasons, and resulted in a moment of radical transformation in the meanings of race and community, despite the material and ideological divisions engendered by War on Poverty funds disbursement in LA. This chapter underscores themes of solidarity among working class minorities, such as coalitions between Réies López Tijerina and the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party; between La Raza groups and the LA Black Congress; and among working class organizations and churches in South Los Angeles. It also examines the divisions engendered by local and national developments in the realms of racial and cultural politics. I use the music and performances of WAR and The Mixtures to demonstrate the complexity of interracial politics and memory in the midst of changing racial and spatial identifications. I show how some of the most significant articulations emerged from inter-ethnic coalitions, which held city officials and the federal government accountable for the rights of poor people and workers.
Chapter Four examines Chicano, Latino, and Black punk music, arguing that the emergence of a multifaceted resistance in the 1980s is akin to what Louis Althusser (in another context) has called "teeth gritting harmony."35 In the 1970s and 80s, supply-side economics exacted devastating fiscal damages upon working-class people. In response, a radical new cultural form emerged. Punk music and its subcultures created new categories of identity through dreams of colorless solidarity, but in the process predicated these categories upon a color-blind anarchy that demanded the subversion of all other forms of identity before it. One of the most illustrative examples of the articulation of the right to retain spatial and cultural identities rooted in meaningful history is registered in the cultural creations of Black and Latino punk musicians and their audiences from the late 1970s to the 1990s.
These punk subcultures reveal more than the damaging effects of economic downsizing and deindustrialization upon communities of color: they reveal new social identities adopted under the press of damaging social realities. These punk musicians and participants created a liminal space where new social relations were possible.
In Chapter Five I show how the militarization of urban space, anti-immigration policies, loss of assets, and disenfranchisement all contribute to what I term "spatial immobilization" among the Black and Latino urban poor.36 I explore the ways that Black-Brown led movements have countered that immobilization since the 1990s, and consider the spatial entitlements expressed and enacted by cultural workers and social activists.
Struggles for freedom and equality presently engaged by multiracial social justice movements emerge from the enduring historical relevance of Black-Brown spatial struggles and coalitional politics. It is a past whose legacy has too much power to remain unacknowledged and unexamined, particularly as evidence of what cultural workers and community activists have already accomplished on the road to a just future.
History has shown that the record of interracial coalitional politics can be as demoralizing as it powerful. The social problems and internal tensions that plague us in separate struggles can feel - and be - more complex when we form movements and share dreams with other collectives. If we wish to envision and enact a future in which mutual and separate struggles will come to just fruition, we have to rewrite the story we've been told about who we are and about our value to each other. Many of the activists and cultural workers whose stories comprise this book testified brilliantly to that future in their practice of coalitional politics, but those of us who are subjected to the constant characterization of Black-Brown relations as unproductive have forgotten that this future has a past.
The roots of universal solidarity, as Lorraine Hansberry wrote, are here. They are realized in the actions and cultural productions of freedom seekers around the world. Even when struggles for human dignity and social justice take place in one locale in which all participants work and live, they increasingly take on radical practices exchanged across figurative and regional borders. The articulation of spatial entitlements by cultural workers, activists, and ordinary people flow from the knowledge that meaningful space is essential for the survival of communities, but also for the discursive practices encoding the stories that define and redefine who people are, where they fit into the world, and what they envision for the future. Like the practice of beat juggling, this book benefits from the rich repository of histories and cultural productions enacted by Black and Brown people; tries to find where expressive culture links up with radical struggle, and presents one version of a critical historiography of Black-Brown spatial struggle and cultural expression in post-war Los Angeles.
About the Book
"Magnificently written and researched . . . lays fertile ground for future scholarship by offering a rich and nuanced account of the shared struggles and victories of Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles."—American Studies Journal“Johnson's book illustrates how sonic affinities between black and brown provide a way of thinking about urban race relations that transcends the limited categories of conflict and cooperation.” —Daniel Widener, author of Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Black Los Angeles, 1942-1992
“From record stores to radio, from East L.A. punk to South Central hip hop, Johnson puts her ear to the post-WWII city and in a lucid, impassioned voice tells us what she hears: invaluable stories of struggle, conflict, and alliance that continue to shape the political stakes of the contemporary moment.” —Josh Kun, author of Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America
"Gaye Theresa Johnson had to ignore all the noise about black-brown conflict, seek out archives that were never supposed to be found, and develop new ways of seeing and hearing. In so doing, she has produced a truly magnificent account of the world African Americans and Chicano/as made together—a world of sound, style, and subversion that serves as both a window into social crises and a vision for social change."—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Future Has A Past
Luisa Moreno, Charlotta Bass, and the Constellations of Interethnic Working-Class Radicalism
Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Sonic Reclamation in Post-war Los Angeles
Cold Wars and Counter WAR(s): Coalitional Politics in an Age of Violence
“Teeth Gritting Harmony”: Punk, Hip Hop, and Sonic Spatial Politics
Space, Sound, and Shared Struggles
The Future Has a Past