I often feel a bit behind in terms of what is going on in the world. Like the other day, it was my mom in Seattle who informed me that there was snow a few miles away in Malibu! We don’t have cable (and network news is really heinous here in L.A.), we don’t get the L.A. Times (though I catch the occasional article online), and I rely on my Newsweek subscription that my dad continues to buy for me to remain remotely in the know. Doug regularly listens to NPR during his commute, and he does a good job of helping me stay on top of some of the significant things going on in our world. We also now receive Wired magazine (thanks, Dad!) so I expect to be much cooler and more informed in the near future.
All that to say, I was a bit surprised the past few days to read a collection of blog posts and articles about race-related gang violence here in L.A. There have been a series of incidents in a specific community that are tragic and that very clearly demonstrate the evil of racial hatred expressed through gang violence. Children are dead because of it. What surprised me was not that there was considerable press being given to these tragedies, but that everyone was talking about it as if it was this very new phenomenon and threat.
For the past year, our neighborhood has seen a series of killings that have been racially motivated. After a young (Latino) boy in our youth group was shot and killed by gang members (African American), it was a matter of weeks before a young African American man (homeless, with no known gang ties) was shot and killed on the street behind our house (the word on the street is that it was done by a group of Latinos). This one instance describes a cycle that we see played out regularly where we live.
I have come across a fair number of people of late who are tired of the conversation about race (can you guess their ethnicity?). They would much prefer to talk about class (which I totally agree is central to any conversation about race and power) and many of them believe that by and large we have moved past outright racial hatred and discrimination. I would love for that to be true. But the things going on in the streets of L.A. remind me of our capacity for evil in how we think about and value people whose skin differs from ours. And I do not think my neighbors are somehow radically unique and especially fallen. I believe that in their desperation, they are acting out what we all silently battle.
I will never forget watching the firefighter whose job it was to wash the blood from the ground where our African American neighbor had fallen. Bucket after bucket of water was thrown, and the blood did finally wash away. Yesterday Doug and I walked to Ralph’s with the kids, a route I take regularly, and we passed over that place that was once marked by blood. The blood is of course gone, but I would be foolish to believe that the hatred is.