Los Angeles is one of the most ethnically divided cities in the United States. While it represents one of the most diverse counties, data shows that racial groups tend to live in separate neighborhoods and interact with mainly those within their communities. Regarding politics, racial representation is the pinnacle of Los Angeles. It creates a swath of tribalism that reflects racial tension commonly seen amongst their neighborhood gangs. Los Angeles’s most notorious gangs, MS-13, Crips, Bloods, Avenues and ABZ, encompasses Latino, Asian, and Black communities that represent and sometimes “protect” their own communities.
In similar tribalist ways, the theoretical framework of race politics assumes that racial groups share the same political interests and will thus, vote in unison with one another. Politicians sometimes act as racial safeguards of their own. We’ve seen our nation become fascinated with race as multiculturalism and critical race theory infiltrated mainstream news media and academia. A society that viewed most avenues of life through racial lenses was surely cultivating. In that process, race-based policies, which are developed with the intention of benefitting one racial group, came to the forefront of American politics. Bills centered around affirmative action, reduced sentencing, reparations, and anti-hate crimes were enthusiastically touted by politicians as they strived toward racial and civil equity.
Los Angeles, in particular, has become a race-competitive political playing field where constituents are even more incentivized to vote by race. Local government ideas around reparations and business stipends have been used to lure Black voters to offset the thousands of black residents who have left the city over the past decade. In California, Black voters had the highest minority turnout rate followed by Asian and Latino voters who were 20% lower. This discrepancy in voter participation results in severe racial under-representation amongst Latinos and Asians, which make up the majority of Los Angeles (Latinos 48%, Asians 12%). They only comprise a third of 16 representatives, whereas White and Black council members are, in fact, over-represented with 6 White representatives and 4 Black representatives.
The nation got a taste of this representation debacle when racial remarks, which highlighted division between Black and Latino politicians, were exposed from the offices of council member Nury Martinez and Kevin De Leon. This serious obsession with race will likely draw Latino and Asian voters away from the voting booth considering that they’re made up of immigrant groups that have a more traditional and less racially conscious view of politics. Like the general Angeleno, safe neighborhoods appear to top their list.
Los Angeles wasn’t unique in this case. Elected leaders across the nation stabbed at the mission of diminishing racial disparities by attempting to mitigate the wrongs of the past. Ironically, most marginalized groups express neutrality to these types of policies. Clarence Thomas led the overturning of the legal precedent on college affirmative action programs after the Asian-based Students For Fair Admissions sued Harvard admissions. This is only one case in point where narrow race policies benefit one group at the indirect cost of another.
Policies centered around racial prioritization will leave people feeling excluded, which could stir up jealousy or envy towards beneficiaries. Fortunately, in this case, Angelenos have only shown a disinterest in local politics. Of nearly 6 million registered voters, only 14% voted in the race between Mayor Karen Bass and Rick Caruso.
As Los Angeles watches first and second readings of the Reparations Program in San Francisco, they should strongly consider abandoning these types of race-based policies. It’s become even more crucial to have a policy field that engages the general Angeleno. They’re waking up to the idea that nuanced ideas like ‘Social Equity’ and ‘Race Consciousness’ won’t remedy their more stringent policy concerns—homelessness, crime, and employment.
Cruz García is a research fellow at the Urban Reform Institute. He received his masters degree from the Pepperdine School of Public Policy and his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan College of Literature Sciences and Arts. His past research has focused on domestic politics and economic mobility in low-income communities.