Musings on the Coast

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By Michael Ray

In Laguna Beach, we like to think we are different. We welcome all types of people: old, young, gay, straight, male, female, black, brown—everyone.

But we are wrong.

Racism still is very much alive in Laguna Beach. Some of it is the casually passive kind, unstated and not seemingly pernicious. But that is only some of it. Other parts are as vicious as a deep Southern 1910 hanging of a black man seen looking the “wrong way” at a white girl.

Witness:

The date was June 13, 2019, and I was watching the NBA finals from my home in north Laguna. It was to be the last game between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. With me were my long-time girlfriend, Kim Bowen, and a new couple we had recently met at a local pub. We liked them, and they were basketball freaks too, so we invited them to watch the game. The husband also brought his brother.

The game was more than thrilling: 18 lead changes, nine ties, and not decided until the last seconds. The final score was 114-110, Toronto, with all five of us screaming our heads off. Here the players were, men who had trained their entire lives for moments like this, moments denied most mortals. The players were there because they had work ethics second to none, practice, practice, weight lifting, over-coming injuries and surgeries, concentration and sacrifice.

At the end, both winners and losers were interviewed. One winning player, towering over the petite female interviewer, was utterly spent. He was covered in sweat and raw with emotion, but managed to speak through his panting breaths. “Man, we laid it all on the floor. Know what I’m saying? Know what I’m saying? We kept workin’, kept workin’.”

Then suddenly from one of the two brothers with us, “Listen to that guy, it’s eh eh, oohf ooh, eh eh.” Then both brothers mimicked chimpanzee behavior, thrusting their fingernails into their armpits.”Ooh ooh, eh eh.”

Another moment like that: my home, a Laker game, watching with friends, the camera kept panning to Magic Johnson as he cheered on his team. Then from one of my friends, “For a n*****, Magic sure is smart.”

“Jim, what did you just say?”

“Magic is a smart n*****. He knows to hire smart Jews to manage his money. That’s how he got rich.”

Similar moments:

  1. A local black friend will not eat bananas in public, ever, or buy or eat watermelons, ever. His explanation: “They’re racial stereotypes. I have kids. You think I want them to go through this?”
  2. Eighteen months ago, a group of Laguna teenagers bought a watermelon, drove up the street where a black teenager resided with his parents, and threw the watermelon at their house while shouting racial slurs.
  3. From my friend Kerwin, executor of my estate, when I asked wouldn’t it be fun to just take off, drive all over the country, maybe end up in DC or NYC; he said, “Are you crazy? I can’t do that. As a black man, I can’t even get across Arizona without being stopped. Forget Texas entirely and for that matter, any southern state. If I go north, say through Wyoming or Wisconsin, you think it would be much better? And you think Laguna is better? Notice how I almost always wear a suit and tie, and drive below the speed limit. Notice that?”
  4. At a the end of a recent presidential fundraiser in Laguna for a black candidate, the young white valet who got my car said, “Jesus, you think they’ll elect another n*****?”

I could cite more of this behavior, but I will end with a statistical fact: Laguna Beach has the least racial diversity of any city in Orange County. It is almost pure white.

My friend Kerwin has two little girls and lives elsewhere, but could afford Laguna. I asked him why he just didn’t move here. You know, I said, the beach, hiking, life style, and all that. His response, ”You think I want my girls growing up in an all white neighborhood? That they should copycat whites? What does that teach them?”

I had no answer. No one has an answer. We have a long way to go.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t really read this paper but was asked by a neighbor in the street, “have you seen the recent paper and the article about you and your wife that was written? It is about racism!” So I searched for the article on us by Michael Ray and read it. I was hoping that it was an article taking our side, highlighting the challenges new community members like us have had adjusting to the many rules and rigid unwritten neighbor opinions which we had struggled with since moving here in June. Since June our neighbors have called the police on us twice and the city has been out 4 times for code violations based on false accusations. We don’t have guests over, don’t play loud music, and are often away on travels, so I truly was beginning to feel harassed and had expressed this to our last city inspector. This inspector performed a very invasive, last minute visit scouring our property taking pictures of closets and bathrooms searching for violations, even requiring us to get our tenant out of the shower so she could take pictures of the unit, while our tenant stood on the deck in her towel. So,it was with hope that I picked up this article and read it, but wow was I surprised.
    Our names weren’t used in the article, so the only reason that our neighbor had to know it was me is because we are new to the neighborhood and stand out. Me, a white man with my non-white wife.
    After reading this “musing”, I agree with Michael that racial bias (a much less explosive term than he uses – RACISM!), is still alive in Laguna Beach, but not for the same reasons and experiences. In his article Michael cites an event that happened over 3 months ago with vivid detail to prove to his readers how racist people still are, but while his point is made, it is done so with a recollection that is just not accurate. I know as I was there, and I was one of the “brothers” referenced that came to his house to watch the NBA finals. It was a terrific game. I sat with my wife on one side of the room drinking wine from a nice bottle I brought over while my brother sat on the couch with Michael, drinking wine and smoking with Michael a recently legalized substance – something my wife and I didn’t partake in.
    At the end of the game, there were the post-game interviews and presentation of the MVP award to Kawhi Leonard, with lot’s of different players interviewed, including Marc Gasol. No player was out of breath as there was a lot of time between the end of the game and this moment. As we watched the interviews, my brother likely imitated some of the filler words some of the players were using… Um, yeah man, uh…” Unfortunately his criticism is a product of our childhood and my father zealously participating in Toastmasters an organization focused on improving public speaking. Due to this common upbringing, I am likely to observed along with him, “yes wow, there are a lot of ums there”. Now what Michael claims to have happened next, never happened, that my brother and I started jumping around his house acting like monkeys. I have never behaved in this manner, let alone at the house of a new neighbor whom I just met and had graciously invited us into his home.
    The next time I saw Michael at his house, he approached me and was genuinely concerned telling me, “wow man your brother is really racist”. My wife was there again with me and we were both surprised. I asked why. He did not give me any specifics, just saying that while watching the basketball game he said some things. I was concerned, as I don’t know my brother to be racist, but dismissed the comment as I knew that evening that there were at least .08+ reasons and weed that would make both Michael and my brother’s recollection of details questionable.
    Regardless of the events, here is the sad part. There is a difference between an observation and a judgement. The observation that was likely made that evening, was several of the players were using a lot of filler words when being interviewed, the breaking of a Toastmaster’s first lesson. But with that observation Michael made the leap that the observation was made due to the players color or race. While Michael never tells us the race of the player being “made fun of” he embellishes the story to include the imitation of monkeys, leading the reader down a road of the “racist brothers” thinking the players are monkeys. And furthermore that these comments were as vicious as the hanging of a black man in circa 1910 for looking the wrong way at a white girl. WOW!
    Commenting on speech and imitating someone’s accent, filler and slurring words was something almost all of my generation grew up with. I can’t tell you how many times we saw Rocky Balboa in the ring slurring his words in a thick Philadelphia accent after he finished his fight – “ADRIAN…”, hard for a west coast guy to understand but we imitated often. Or us imitating the glory moments of the athlete in the interview, with the mic, sharing with the world their energy, their effort, stumbling for words. As kids we often imitated those moments, coming off the field, having scored the winning touchdown, scored the winning basket, and then the interview…. The glory moments and the stammering, a thick accent perhaps, or not. “Yah man, I like just kind of knew it was the time for me and my guys ummm you know to take this thing”.
    So an observation of someone’s speech and use of words is now racist? Then commenting on the slurring speech of a boxer in the ring like Sylvesters Stalone’s Rocky Balboa is racist? But wait, he is white, so can it be? My point is there is a difference between an observation and a judgement. There was no one that night of the NBA finals in that room that said anything about the filler words and stammering of the athletes being a result of their race. It is Michael, who is assuming his guests are making that connection and unfortunately casting judgement.
    If I tell my wife I hate Chinese food is that racist? If I make an observation that Asians seem to be better students than Whites is that also racist, or a fairly accurate or inaccurate observation? And if the observation is negative is that racist? Or only racist if it is directed to someone who is not white?
    My point is, this is the kind of media and language and vilification which polarizes individuals, and is very sad. We are creating a culture where people cannot make observations for fear of offending someone out there. Communication is healing, while suppressing communication creates tension and polarization.
    I wish Michael had crossed the street and sat down with me and talked and explained his concerns in the detail that he broadcast to the community. I would have debated his recollection of the key facts, along with my non-white wife who was there. We could have had a productive open conversation about what one considers racist and developed a fuller understanding on both sides of the situation. Unfortunately, I was directed to this article by another neighbor. Now I sit here, at 3 am writing this as I struggle to sleep, feeling alienated in my own neighborhood, for events that never occurred, in a medium that is not always productive but chosen by my neighbor.
    The message to our community: Talk, communicate, be open. I believe we all fundamentally want to do what is right, what is good, but sometimes through misinterpretation of events that happened, or didn’t happen it doesn’t look that way, (particularly under the influence). Healing and community happens with communication not condemnation. But for now, I will try to resume my beginning here in this predominately white community with my non-white white wife and try to do improve my residence with my non-white architect, and thinking to myself, how I now have experienced the polarizing behavior that makes people choose not to live in Laguna Beach.

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