United States: Anti-Black racism lives on in ‘liberal’ California

June 12, 2024
young protesters
A Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC on November 10, 2015. Photo: @johnnysilvercloud/Flickr (CC By SA 2.0)

African American columnist Justin Phillips revealed in his San Francisco Chronicle piece on June 9 that “anti-Black racism” lives on in California, despite perceptions that the state is a bastion of liberalism.

“It was in one of San Francisco’s busiest tourist spots that Bay Area native Maya was called the n-word by a stranger,” wrote Phillips.

“Maya and a group of friends, several of whom were Black, were in a crosswalk near Pier 39 one afternoon two years ago, when a car almost barreled into them. Words were exchanged, then Maya said the driver threw a water bottle that hit her shoulder and shouted, ‘I should have hit you n—s.’”

Maya told Phillips: “It took me a long time to process what happened … It felt like something that would happen in the South, not in California.”

In fact, California was a so-called “free state” before the Civil War that ended slavery in the 1860s. California, like other states, returned runaway slaves back to the slave holders and African Americans in California continued to suffer extreme racism until the end of legal segregation at the end of the 1960s.

Black people never made up more than 8% of the state’s population. Most lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland — home of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s.

Anti-Black racism triples

A report published by the Public Policy Institute of California in May revealed that anti-Black hate crimes almost tripled between 2019‒22. This matches California’s Department of Justice’s data, which shows Black people were the most common targets of hate crimes back to the 1990s.

As the Chronicle noted, “Hate crimes motivated by racial bias rose by 11.4% from 1,165 in 2021 to 1,298 in 2022, according to state DOJ data. Most victims were Asian, Latino or Black.

“After reaching a 20-year high of 247 in 2021, anti-Asian hate crimes fell to 140 in 2022, which is still a higher total than any year between 2001 and 2020.

“Anti-Latino hate crimes increased from 197 in 2021 to 210 in 2022. Anti-white hate crimes rose from 83 in 2021 to 103 in 2022. [At 41%, whites are the largest racial/ethnic group in the state.]

“Add together all of the anti-white, Asian and Latino hate crimes in 2022, and the total is far less than the number of anti-Black hate crimes that year — 652, a 27% increase from 513 in 2021.”

The mainstream media rarely focuses on these figures. There is more talk in the media today about the rise of antisemitism — a broad label applied to anti-Jewish sentiments and criticism of the Israeli regime’s genocide in Gaza.

A growing number of hate crimes across the state are perpetrated by white supremacists. They allege there are too many “diversity” and affirmative action programs being carried out by the government, universities and corporations to deal with historic discrimination.

California’s image as a bastion of racial diversity and equality is a fraud. The truth is in the treatment of a Black community that government census data shows has been shrinking for decades.

In northern California’s Wine Country, where African Americans are a small number of the population, discrimination has always been rampant in employment and the housing market. Covenants were once written into contracts saying only whites could buy a property when sold.

Not an outlier

University of San Francisco political science professor and reparations advocate James Taylor told the Chronicle: “What’s true for California is true for America.

“Anti-Blackness is the baseline of hate in the U.S. … The idea that California is some kind of liberal bastion that is above pedestrian racism is wrong.

“Slavery was never officially sanctioned in California, but the California Fugitive Slave Act in 1852, which allowed slave owners to recapture their slaves that had escaped to California, shows the state was more of a haven for white slave owners than a sanctuary for Black people seeking freedom.

“In the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan chapters throughout California influenced housing policies and law enforcement practices.

“Fast-forward to 1966, a century after the abolition of slavery, when the Black Panther Party emerged in Oakland to combat the kinds of oppression Black communities had faced since the country’s founding.

“The party’s struggle for equality was reignited in 2020 in local George Floyd protests, along with movements to reimagine policing and to provide reparations.

“Meanwhile, Black people across California are racially profiled in clothing stores, have the police called on them for selling water or entering a business they own or barbecuing at a lake.”

Similar data was reported in 2021. According to San Diego’s public broadcaster KPBS: “Hate crime in California surged 31% in 2020, fueled mainly by a big jump in crimes targeting Black people during a year that saw the worst racial strife in decades…

“Overall hate crimes increased from 1,015 to 1,330 [in 2020], while the number of victims increased 23%, from 1,247 to 1,536. Black people account for 6.5% of the state's population of nearly 40 million people but were victims in 30% of all hate crimes — 456 overall, up 87% from the previous year.”

State Attorney General Rob Bonta said at the time: “What we see from these reports is what we have seen and felt all year — we are in the midst of a racial justice reckoning in this country. It’s multi-faceted, and it cannot be solved overnight.”

Mass action as a pushback

California experienced some of the largest protests against anti-Black racism in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate as well,” Bonta said.

California defines hate crimes as those targeting victims because of their race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or a disability.

The definitions have been expanded at various times in recent years. Each hate crime event can include more than one related offense against more than one victim by more than one offender.

“The quiet kind of racism can be really loud in California,” Shawneequa Badger of the Badger Real Estate Group in Oakland told Phillips.

Tinisch Hollins, co-founder of San Francisco’s SF Black Wall Street, an organisation that focuses on improving Black economic mobility, told Phillips that as a seventh grader in the late 1990s, she and her brother were subjected to racist taunts while walking home from school, when non-Black students in a school bus “put the windows down and started throwing paper at us and calling us n—s”.

“That experience felt like an exception at the time, but it’s far more common now. It’s why we have to literally curate safe spaces for Black people to exist and just be Black.”

As the Chronicle’s Phillips concluded in his column, “Recent hate crime data illustrates how these spaces are needed, because it simply isn’t safe to be Black in California. Past hate crime data says maybe it never has been.”

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