The men in suits. Gentrification and race.

I grew up in Black Los Angeles and though I never saw a drive-by or even had a friend killed, I was often afraid. I watched the news I knew what happened in what they said was South Central or rather I knew what they said happened, because if it bleeds it leads.

If I had a date and the date was playing loud rap music in his car my father wouldn’t let me go. If the boy was dressed in hiphop attire my father wouldn’t let me go. I had to give boys strict instructions on how to come to my house, how to dress, and how to even talk.

“You must come to the door and ring the doorbell. Do not bang on the door, and if my dad asks you your musical taste, say something like New Edition or a safe R&B group and do not under any circumstances say you listen to KDAY (the station that played underground rap in Los Angeles).”

I remember when going on college tours we went to visit Humboldt State University. Humboldt was an all white school, but it was an area that Jesse Jackson had won during his presidential election, and us, the Black Kids, we knew that. We viewed Humboldt as a place that even though it was 99% white, it might be a place that we could spend 4 years at, because if they voted for Jesse Jackson, that meant they liked Black people, right?

I remember during that tour, a car backfired. All of us Black Kids from South Central, Oakland, and the Inland Empire we all hit the ground. The white kids looked at us weird and we all looked at each other and laughed, because we thought how foolish we were. We were in a place that was safe. As a Black Kid from a Black neighborhood in L.A. we thought the worst thing that could happen to you as a Black Kid was to be shot and the most scary thing that existed (outside the LAPD) were gang members.

As the 90s drew to a close, I remember being happy. The gangs were gone, well it seemed like it, the drive bys became less frequent, the shootings (at least on the Westside of South Central) seemed to stop, and the aughts from 2001 were peaceful and then it started.

Redevelopment started, people began to get pushed out their homes, but it only happened in Hollywood, Venice, and I laughed, I thought you know, no one is going to come to a Black neighborhood and push us out our homes. White people are scared of us. I made jokes that the best way to prevent being pushed out your home owing to rising rent was being in a Black neighborhood, but then it started.

The beginning was when they built the 105 freeway and took Black homes through eminent domain in the early 1990s, but we didn’t see it, well we didn’t realize it, we didn’t realize that it was the laying the groundwork to take Black L.A.

By 2010 rent was beginning to rise around USC (a traditional Black neighborhood, that was now Latinx, but Black people still owned many of the houses,) West Adams and by the time I left in 2016 one the first Black suburbs in Los Angeles, Inglewood, houses were going for half a million dollars and you know what I realized? I realized the whole time who I should have been afraid of weren’t the boys who dropped out of high school in red and blue, but the men in suits and ties with fancy degrees.

As I watched my LA disappear. My Hollywood, my Silver Lake, my Venice, my Inglewood… I missed the days of L.A. gangs, at least with gangs –if you just didn’t leave the house, you’d be OK.

by Lark Lo

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