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Leimert Park. Why?

Black Americans in the United States now have unprecedented
access to cultural and economic capital "by fair means or foul,"
as bell hooks points out. We must therefore, begin to analyze the relative power
derived from our position as citizens, however unsatisfied, of these United States.
-Gina Dent, "Black Pleasure, Black Joy" in Black Popular Culture

The study of daily language as it manifests itself in an urban, African-American inscribed space by African-Americans is the root of this project. Interviews from local inhabitants and employees are the basis of the study. They are offered in both their unedited and edited versions. The edited versions have been analyzed from a variety of perspectives, including urban politics, popular culture and local pamphlets. Included also in my portion of this project is a brief review of the interplay of local politics, economics, education and non-profit efforts are impacting this area as site being constructing primarily for African-American owned businesses and cultural expression.

I have chosen Leimert Park Village for three reasons. The first being that of curiosity about this lively area that seemed to inspire vitality among recent memory of surrounding urban blight. Its presence and energy have played parts in the mental and physical urban landscape I encountered while growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Inglewood. A neighboring city comprised mostly of large, intersecting streets that join well hidden residential blocks to the more well known attractions of Great Western Forum, and Hollywood Race Track and Casino as one traveled to LAX or a near by freeway. Unlike the Inglewood I grew up in, a protective area wherein quaint rows of houses lived African-Americans who recently joined middle-class mostly from civic professions and whose aspirations were in part shaped by the imagined paler counterparts watched on television, Leimert Park appeared undeniably different.

It was distinctly African-American from the generations of brown bodies that filled its immediate streets with soul food restaurants and wig shops to signs in windows declaring like "Black-owned business" set against the backdrop of funk, rap or latest R & B. Degnan Boulevard, the main Village street with it’s shops and galleries and the park with its constant working fountain, in particular held interest and were occasional pit stops of my first days as a driving teenager. Crenshaw Boulevard, a major vein of Los Angeles and a border street to Leimert Park appears never to be empty of travelers in car, bus or on foot, or those decided to visit awhile. Crenshaw’s reputation, especially in this part of Los Angeles, is often synonymous with the now worn-out signifiers of urban African-American space: drug infested; drive-bys and high school drop-outs. An (in)famous local wall on Crenshaw flaunts graffiti by urban natives with perhaps too much time to spare, yet it also is a readily available billboard for social commentary by aspiring street artists and grade school children alike.

The second reason for pursuing study in this area was to expose with greater accuracy of the necessity such a community from those who know and experience daily against negative one-liner stereotypes of predominantly African-American urban areas heard from within and on the outside of these areas. Cornel West speaks of a disturbing and growing trend of nihilism in Black America. He suggests that
 

The genius of our black foremothers and forefathers was to create
powerful buffers to ward off the nihilistic threat, to equip black
folk with cultural armor to beat back the demons of hopelessness,
meaningless, and lovelessness. These buffers consisted of cultural
structures of meaning and feeling that created and sustained
communities; this armor constituted ways of life and struggle that
embodied values of service, sacrifice, love and care, discipline
and excellence. In other words, traditions for black surviving and
thriving under usually adverse New World conditions were major
barriers against the nihilistic threat.
I propose that the galleries, shops and places existing simply for people to rest in Leimert Park serve as present day "armor" for this African-American community. The area itself is a part of the lesser known Los Angeles history that spans decades and illustrates monumental occurrences; the end of legal housing segregation, the emergence of a stable African-American middle class and continuing tradition of African-American influence in commerce and culture.

Finally, I am interested in how this space permits contested definitions and exhibitions of "Blackness" by those who inhabit it. Robin D.G. Kelley suggests that social scientists fail in their inability to recognize what inner cities mean "to the participants and practitioners."
 

Black music, creativity and experimentation in language, that walk, that talk, that style, must also be understood as sources of visceral and psychic pleasure. Though they may also reflectand speak to the political and social world of inner city communities, expressive cultures are not simply mirror of social life or expressions of conflicts, pathos, and anxieties.
Kelley's words are futher complicated by the fact that the presummed and seemingly unpredictable sites for expressions of African-American culture given to and embraced by South Central are shifting. Demographically, South Central's population has undergone changes which strongly imply the image of African-Americans as being the majority in this region of Los Angeles is a false and dying one. Comparisions between the 1980 and 1990 census show that the African-American popluation dropped from 729,449 to 682,331, while Latino and Chicano population grew from 772,160 to 1,280,220. Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups also grew from 172,741 to 254,033. These statistics make the statements of the interviewees more compelling as the diversity within a once segregated area increases.

One final note, the terms "African-American" and "Black" are used interchangably in the interviews and throughout the interview analysis.


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