Blaxit: An Exodus in Los Angeles

8 mins read

Through forced migration and gentrification, which promised a better life, Black folks in Los Angeles, in the early 80s, met resistance and suffered unintended consequences. In essence, we traded one type of community violence—such as gangs, drugs, and poverty—for the physical, emotional and financial violence of racism from dominant cultures.

During the early 80s to the late 90s, families throughout LA County began to flee the infamous inner city. In hopes of attaining their piece of the American Dream, they moved more inland. The “white flight” inspired exodus from the city to the desert had many Black families feeling like they “came up,” by exchanging small houses or little apartments for massive four-and five-bedroom homes.

Real estate in desert communities offered brand-new residences with green grass, fresh air and all the amenities you could think of—including the perception that perfection was available for well under $100,000. Many black families that made that move didn’t realize the push was by design. The promise of newer and cheaper homes, and “better” schools with planned, gated communities and an insane hours-long commutes back-and-forth from LA, made the American Dream attainable in the minds of many Black folk. As reverse social engineering, it was “Black flight” en-masse.

At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of this migration’s implications. Also, I was unaware of how crack took over in LA. I had family members plagued with drug addiction, but I didn’t understand it in terms of it being an epidemic. In fact, I didn’t realize gang warfare consumed the city and surrounding areas from around 1982 to 1993. Keep in mind, Los Angeles is county and a city with the county holding dozens of municipalities like the city of Inglewood, where I grew up in the early years of my life.

Blaxit from Inglewood

In my Inglewood experience, the devastation had not reached its apex, but it was definitely in motion in 1983. Hip hop became a force, and in particular, West Coast hip hop narrated stories of Los Angeles’ underbelly of gang culture. Gradually, ghetto tales of my city made it to the mainstream, and the listening masses sipped it up.

These issues were the driving forces behind what I affectionately term “Blaxit,” describing the fear-induced mass migration of Black families over a 15-year period from Los Angeles to areas like the Inland Empire, Palmdale, Lancaster, Apple Valley, Moreno Valley and other communities outside of the LA basin.

While Black folks were escaping the “ghettos” of LA, white folks were fully entrenched in its takeover. You see, what we thought was a voluntary shift in consciousness, a grab for a new life, was actually a very deliberate push with some pervasive “get the fuck out” energy that went unnoticed. To take back the city, Black folks were pied-pipered into the deserts of southern Cali.

My perspective is one of a person who left devastated by the process of being willingly displaced. The experience as a Blaxit participant altered my perceptions of race relations in the United States and forever colored my relationship with racist structures and people. Before this shift, negative life experiences were not at all based on my race, or the fact that I was a Black girl. After my encounters as a Blaxit, I was different.

White adjacent

When my parents settled in California from the south, my maternal line landed on the West side of LA, mostly in and around Venice. Whereas my paternal family landed in Carson, right outside of the South Bay and South Central, around 54th Street and Denker. But my parents hooked up on the Westside, so that area became my stomping grounds.

I grew up in Inglewood, on the north end near Centinela and LaBrea. The energy of the city had me thinking we were well-off, firmly middle class. As I grew older, I realized that Inglewood was mostly a transient city for “up-and-coming” Black families. My block on Victor Avenue was full of young Black households—single mothers trying to socially and economically advance for their kids; urban professionals; and the occasional dope man who was usually harmless and on the come up like everybody else.

Time allowed us to play outside in Inglewood. We’d swim, skate, ride bikes, be fast, act out, be too grown and have a childhood all at the same time. We all knew each other, and it was all love. I loved Inglewood and thought Inglewood loved us enough to keep us forever. But it couldn’t because everything we loved about Inglewood, everybody else began to love too.

Inglewood’s location offers the proximity to whiteness on the west side, all the while, the adjacency to the whiteness of beach communities such as the South Bay and Venice. As well, it gives access to LA proper and all of the culturally appropriate amenities one would need to fulfill their most lofty “boughetto” lifestyle.

We had the grocery stores and clothing boutiques nearby. The Fox Hills mall was only ten minutes away, plus Market Street and the Inglewood Swap meets were within walking distance. It was only a matter of time before people would infiltrate and dismantle a thriving, predominantly Black community, only to turn it into a shell of its former self.

The forum in Inglewood was the original arena for NBA team, the LA Lakers. Now it is a huge performance space owned by proprietors of New York’s famed, Madison Square Garden.

The “IE”

In 1983, at eight years old, my father took us on a family outing. I didn’t know where we were going, and I didn’t ask. We left Inglewood for less than 24 hours, but it seemed like days — through the valley, through the desert, and then more desert. That shit took forever.

On the way, I noticed long stretches of natural, untouched earth. Then, five miles up, the earth started to paint a landscape of huge yellow tractors, large pallets of wood, and cement trucks with the façade of homelike structures popped up along the way. I knew we were getting close to our destination when I saw the flags. Tall red, blue and yellow flags waved us in, indicating we made it “home.” After a long-ass, two-and-a-half-hour drive, we arrived in Perris, California, 80 miles outside of Inglewood.

It was hot that day, blazing. We were in the damn desert. And I had never been. We went into the sales office to view the model community encased in glass, giving a face to one of the first planned communities constructed in the deserts—soon to be named Inland Empire, or was we call it, the “IE.”

Looking back, I now see this trip as the first step in my family’s attempt at a better life. Now, as I move with my family, seeking a safe space to land, I often remember that trip to Perris and the promise of a fresh start. But along with those memories, I must endure the next set of memories, the reality that the move had an impact on me as a child at the time.

For Angela

My family first ventured out east of Los Angeles about six months after our Perris trip. We moved to a city called Baldwin Park in 1984, a shitty little racist town that was also a newly constructed planned community.

I had a friend. A Black girl named Angela, whose mom was a cop. Together and carefree, we rode our bikes throughout the huge complex. People of all races also lived in this complex. I befriended many. I guess in a child’s world they would be called friends. But, even with plenty of children in the community, we were the only Black girls.

In my experience, the white and Latino children were most vicious. When my cousins visited, you could count on a fistfight between us and them. One day, Angela and I, again on our bikes, ran into a young Latino boy who stopped us. His name was Anthony; we had ridden our bikes together before. And although, I don’t remember what prompted the altercation, but Anthony began to fuck with Angela by talking mad shit.

With Anthony being small for his age, Angela towered over him. They exchanged words and Anthony, of course, called Angela a nigger, with the hard “er” and everything. He then, almost immediately after, hocked a loogie and spit in Angela’s face.

The pain on Angela’s face as she endured the ultimate humiliation brought out the strength of a thousand ancestors in my soul. I swear on that day, I reached back into the antiquities when I smacked the shit out of Anthony. But Angela, still silent, got on her bike and went home.

I cried for Angela that day. At nine years old, I wept for my sista-friend because those types of hate-filled incidents changes people. All of the peace and happiness that families leave the city for, in an effort to attain this “better life” is often wrapped in painful, identity-altering experiences that can make or break anyone. The saddest part, I can tell a hundred similar stories over my family’s continued displacement.

After that incident, my father decided we would move back to Inglewood. We did in 1986. Back in my old neighborhood, life as I knew it lasted six years when my parents decided to move again, but to the bigger and better IE, in Ontario, California. However, this move wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm, it was a means to an end. Purely out of economic necessity, this move was due to rising rent prices and unattainable homeownership in Inglewood. We had been priced out of the city.

As a teen, the move to Ontario ushered in a type of racist hatred from whites that I could not have prepared myself for . . . still today, those stories are still too hard to tell …

Back to Black

Whereas, the trek from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire showed the racial impact of African Americans seeking a better life, their migration trigged a new “white flight” that corresponded with Blaxit.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Many places that experienced dramatic growth among African Americans in the 1990s also have seen striking departures of whites: Moreno Valley gained 27,500 Blacks and lost nearly 22,000 whites. Long Beach grew by 66,800 Blacks and lost nearly 60,000 whites.”

Moreover throughout, “the state, the black population grew by 4.3%, compared to 13.8% for California’s population of all racial and ethnic groups. In all, about 2.5 million blacks call California home–a number that makes California host to the most blacks in the nation.”

But it is in the Inland Empire area where Blacks increasingly chose to live in the 1990s. “At least for the last 20 years, from 1980 to 2000, there has been a shift of African Americans from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire,” said Max Nieman, a political scientist at UC Riverside, in an interview with the Times.

The NFL franchise team the LA Rams now build a stadium in the heart of the Black Inglewood community. Now prices skyrocketed in the area.
Down the street from the Forum is the new sports arena for NFL franchise, the LA Rams. In the heart of Black Inglewood, many residents are being displaced with the rise in rents and property taxes.

From my experience with Gentrification, the process first garners hope from the displaced and gentrifiers alike. Both are looking for a better life. Both are taking advantage of financial opportunities that may not present themselves at another time and each believes they are getting over.

But you also can’t forget the outpour of subsidies and tax breaks offered to the displaced in exchange for this experiment in the middle of the desert. Black folks, charged by the “opportunity” to become firmly middle class, experienced all of the trappings of wealth without actually being wealthy.

They traded trauma-induced lifestyles of the city for the trauma-induced racist tyrannies of suburban planned communities. What was supposed to be a better life ended up turning into the “same ole shit” with the bonus of the loss of political voice, loss of community, and, oftentimes, the loss of dignity that comes along with the attempt to assimilate into communities that never meant to include them.

As Ark Republic explores the various narratives around gentrification, my story only serves to provide some context while we explore potential outcomes from those who are displaced by the process. Some of the stories published are of success, others are of contemplation, but all of them further the question … Whose block is it anyway?

Dr. Rolanda West is a journalist and professor who focuses on social justice and prisoner re-entry.

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