To Live And Die In California: Why It's More Than A Sunken Place
A different take on blackness in Cali.
Today, I was reading through some articles on Blavity and there was one in particular that caught my eye: "Is California a Sunken Place for Black People?" I'll admit, the title itself was intriguing, especially after watching the movie, Get Out, and having multiple conversations with my students about the movie. The idea of blackness in California and moving through William Cross' Black Identity development is a conversation that I have with my black students many times throughout the academic year. After reading the article, I was taken aback by the generalizations and lack of context provided in showing the varying levels blackness in California. As a fellow higher education educator and recent Cali transplant, it's important to always provide different lenses of understanding to get a better picture of the whole picture:
1. I moved to Southern California three years ago from Washington, DC, affectionately known as Chocolate City. The home of go-go music, mambo sauce and the National African-American History Museum. D.C.is an amazing city where an individual looking to delve deeper into their blackness can visit and learn. Prior to moving to SoCal, I wasn't expecting the same experience I got in D.C., as I understood that it's an anomaly in the U.S. According to the 2016 US Census Bureau, Washington, D.C. boasts a black population of 47.7 percent, compared to the paltry 5.7 percent in the LA–Long Beach–Santa Ana metropolitan area (Data USA, 2015). Hell, the entire state only has about 6.5 percent of black people living here. I knew that my experience would be different than D.C., but I wasn't thinking this would be the holy grail for black people. I will note that the experiences of living in NorCal and SoCal are different, (weather, people, income, etc), but being black anywhere adds a whole other layer.
2. The author noted how the black Californians that they've met disown their ties to their black identity and ancestry, which I've found both saddening and hilarious at the same time. I believe we call some of those people "Black Hebrews," or the "enlightened ones". That isn't a California thing, I believe those types of black people are everywhere across the country. Trust me, definitely not a California thing because I've heard and seen them in many other places.
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3. The idea of black professionals in Cali experiencing microaggressions while working is definitely not a fact limited to the Golden State (no Warriors). It's part of the game with having wonderfully melaninated skin and working in either blue or white collar jobs. I've heard that "I'm too loud" or "too cynical" in the workplace when I was just expressing myself. I was told to calm down when someone yelled a racial slur at me in front of my coworkers while working at a grocery store in Florida. That's just being black everywhere.
4. Black excellence is an expression that is usually associated with a black person who does something awesome like going to or graduating from college, but what about the non-traditional route to success? I just had this conversation with one of my black males who graduated and I challenged his thinking about what black excellence actually means. There are many non-traditional examples of black excellence in California that don't receive a lot of recognition. Look no further than the Trap Kitchen founders. Former gang members turned caterers. Black excellence, no? Hell, what about the father who partnered with his fraternity brother to start a photography business to change the narrative of black fathers called, Focused Fathers? The black people that might be shown on TV aren't real, but these people (and others like them) are very much real.
5. I'm also in higher education and there is a true epidemic happening in the country when it comes to black students in college. The college going population rate of black students in California is dismal, however, what about the students that are attending out of state universities or colleges? Better yet, what about the black students attending community colleges, private universities or one of the 23 California state universities? Although Prop 209 mainly affected the University of California system's student body since passing in 1996, black students have found other places to call home. It’s not enough just getting these students to college; we have to get them through as well.
Finally, California has blackness ingrained in the various systems throughout the state. From being home to the initial black studies department in the country created at San Francisco State University, to the cultural impact of music and entertainment, to leaders in a variety of fields, I don’t believe that Cali is a sunken place for black people at all. California continues to contribute to the black experience more than we know, however, we cannot keep thinking about blackness as this singular experience. Quite the contrary, from the Bay to LA, I believe that similar to other places in the country, blackness is a spectrum that cannot be contained by what’s shown on television or in the media. You can’t go to Leimert Park, Oakland or Compton and say that the black people there are in a sunken place. Like Tupac says, “to live and die in LA, it’s the place to be.”