Opinion: Left of Center

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Black Current Events Month

By Jean Hastings Ardell

At the annual Año Nuevo Retreat my husband and I attend in Pacific Grove our group likes to talk about the books we’ve recently read, the issues of the day, and offer predictions for the upcoming year. At December’s gathering on Zoom we considered this question: Would the Black Lives Matter movement, and with it the dialogue about systemic racism, continue its momentum or would it prove to be a blip on the 2020 calendar? The majority agreed that the issue would continue to be in the news and on people’s minds.

Now it’s February, aka Black History Month, and the debate continues over how Blacks have been and continue to be treated in our “land of the free, home of the brave.” Some say, “Enough is enough.” In a letter to this paper last week, Douglas Warren questioned the “assumption” in my previous column that racism exists in our town, pointing out that “No racists nor acts of racism in Laguna were named or described.” Warren’s comment is accurate, though I have presented several examples of local racism in other columns. So here is an update:

Dr. Rebecca Washington Lindsey is a retired Black professor from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her terminal degree, one of five degrees, is in Interracial-Intercultural Ethnic Studies and Cultural Diversity from Howard University. Since moving to Laguna Beach in 2017, Lindsey has volunteered at the Food Pantry and Laguna Presbyterian Church. Like many of us she likes to walk around town. “I’m everywhere,” she said in a telephone interview. Here’s what it’s like to walk in Lindsey’s shoes: one day she was walking with a friend on Nyes Place when a patrol car pulled over. The officer rolled down his window and began to inquire why she was in the neighborhood, when he stopped. “Hey, I know you – you’re the doctor,” she recalls him saying. “You’re OK.” Lindsey believes she was stopped for the “crime” of walking in her neighborhood. She calls it “crossing boundaries…. Meaning, I was in a neighborhood where, according to the individual that called the police on me, I was not welcomed. This is very much like African Americans in the South were treated. They had to live across the tracks and could not pass over unless it was for work… A perfect example of racial stereotyping and the double punch of racism.”

On another morning Lindsey was walking past the Montage resort when an elderly white man approached from the opposite direction. As they drew closer, she recalls his words: “You need to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street.”

Lindsey names that another “Southern mentality.”    

There’ve been other incidents, but you get the picture. A person of color in Laguna Beach can find themselves uncertain of their welcome. “I think your readers need to know that there’s healing that needs to happen,” added Lindsey, and it needs to happen now.”

If Warren thinks Lindsey’s experience as a Black person in town is unique, I suggest he talk with Blacks friend or colleague about their experiences. Or with one of the Laguna Beach High School students or recent grads about why they felt obliged to petition the LBUSD to forge a more inclusive and accurate history curriculum. And why the LBUSD Board unanimously adopted the petition. The Board has since organized its Equity Task Force, which Supt. Jason Villoria explained in an email exchange is in its second phase of planning. Look for it to be implemented for the 2021-2022 academic year, after input has been received from all the stakeholders, including the community. That’s a good opportunity for everyone’s opinion to be heard.

Meanwhile, Trudy Josephson plans to form a Citizens’ Committee to address what else might be done locally to foster racial justice. Josephson is a good bet to get this going: Since moving here in the 1970s, she’s been active in organizations from the Laguna Playhouse to the Laguna Beach Historical Society to the Susi Q Center. “I always thought Laguna was tolerant,” she said in a telephone conversation. “But not so much anymore.” Warren might speak with Josephson to understand why she feels that way.

Lindsey, Josephson, Villoria, and the student coalition are part of the local imperative to foster what Lindsey calls improved “racial literacy… It’s not about a February celebration of Black History – and let’s remember that February is the shortest month of the year – it’s about respecting one another in our own backyard.”

Perhaps a more accurate designation for Black History Month would be “Black Current Events Month,” because our nation’s past racial injustices continue to reinvent themselves.

Douglas Warren also disagrees with my stated “shame over the white church’s abetting of `racial injustice.’” But that’s worthy of a whole other conversation. To be continued.

Jean Hastings Ardell is a member of Third Street Writers.

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