January 13, 2007

SoCal Segregated Diversity

Southern California prides itself on its diversity. And it's true ... no other place in the U.S. contains such a mix of cultures. Ethnic communities give SoCal a unique flavor where you can experience the world just a short drive from home. But it's also no secret that southern California is one of the most racially divisive areas in the country. Visions of Rodney King (see picture, left) or scenes from the movie "Crash" come to mind. As Los Angeles developed into a melting pot of ethnic communities, competing economic interests and ingrained prejudices led to rising racial tensions. With such a diverse range of people living in close proximity, it's no surprise that racism rears it's head all too frequently. Long Beach is a prime example.

Do an internet search on "racism in Long Beach, CA" and you will probably come across a variety of articles and discussions about a current court case. On Haloween night 2006, three white girls were severely beaten by a group of black teens in an apparent racially motivated attack. (NPR report) Accounts of the event differ dramatically, but the accused attackers are now standing trial for the crime. Racial tensions are high in this potentially explosive situation. The case is unusual in that the alleged "hate crime" was perpetrated by the minority, and ethnic and community leaders have been slow to respond. Read the online discussions, and you will see underlying prejudices being revealed. Attempts at unity have been initiated, but many people are skeptical. (Press-Telegram Report)

Interestingly, on January 5th, a new movie opened that deals with racial tensions in Long Beach. "Freedom Writers" is a Hollywood account of a true story ... a story of a Long Beach teacher who stood up against racial hatred in a local high school and made a real difference in the lives of her troubled students. The movie reflects a situation that continues on today. In Long Beach, there are several ethnic minority communities ... the African American community, the Hispanic community, and the Cambodian community. Gang violence among and between communities is a very real problem. Racial and class tension may be hidden at times, but it is always simmering below the surface as the recent court case has revealed.

How long will we allow the violence to continue? SoCal is a microcosm of the world at large, and the issues of racial misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate are prevalent around the globe ... wherever cultures collide. The heart of man naturally tends toward mistrust and fear of those who are different. But who will stand for reconciliation? Who will make the sacrifice necessary for real progress? Leaders argue and debate, task forces are organized, and money thrown at the problem of racism ... but who is willing to love their neighbor as themselves? Racial reconciliation must move beyond words into tangible and sacrificial action.