Do Black lives matter in Manhattan Beach?

That’s the question that’s been discussed for weeks since the death of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality that occurred around the world, and here in the beach cities.

In July, the Manhattan Beach City Council held a community meeting to discuss police policies and practices and whether they reflect implicit bias against Black people. Signs endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement have popped up in windows and on front lawns throughout the city.

The topic of race relations in Manhattan Beach has been debated on Facebook, Next Door and in letters to the editor. Some have defended the city as a welcoming place for all, while others have harkened back to the municipal history of Black people being pushed out of town in the 1920s when the city—acting on complaints by white residents—condemned the land around a Black-owned resort on The Strand between 26th and 27th streets, claiming the area was needed for a public park.

The Bruce family and other Black property owners were paid a pittance for the land compared to what it would be worth decades later. If you had asked them whether their lives seem to matter to Manhattan Beach, it’s hard to imagine them answering affirmatively.

Today, I don’t think the question is, “Do Black lives matter in Manhattan Beach?” A better question is, “Are Black lives relevant in Manhattan Beach?”

Black people make up just 0.5 percent of Manhattan Beach’s 35,991 residents, according to 2018 data from Southern California Association of Governments. Manhattan has the smallest concentration of Black people among the three beach cities, with Hermosa coming in at 1.2 percent and Redondo at 2.8 percent.

All of those numbers are pretty small, but they are shaped by forces very large. For decades, banks practiced red lining—refusing to provide mortgages to Black people and covenants built into land deeds barred sales to non-whites. These factors and many others—social and economic—led to the demographics we see in the beach cities today.

Black people—indeed anyone—who chooses to move to Manhattan Beach today needs a lot of money to buy a home. The median existing home sales price last year was $2,350,000.

That’s a huge financial hurdle for people of all racial backgrounds, but particularly high for Black families when you consider that Black workers earn just 73 percent of what white workers do, and Black college graduates earn 22.5 percent less than white college graduates, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The institute also reports that in 2018, the median household income for white households was 70 percent higher than for Black households: $70,642 versus $41,692.

I have lived in Manhattan Beach for 18 years now, after 12 years in Redondo and a childhood spent in Hermosa.

I couldn’t afford to buy a house here now, but my father and my wife’s parents both own homes in the area. When they pass away—many, many years from now, God willing—we will inherit portions of those homes, and when we die, our sons will get the house we live in now. Counting the value all of those properties together, we are talking about millions of dollars. 

When you want to enumerate the devastating effects of systemic racism, the generational wealth gap has got to be at the top of the list. The typical Black family has just one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family, according to a 2017 report from the Federal Reserve. Real financial security is built up over generations, and Black families in general never got the head start enjoyed by so many white families.

Would a Black person who could afford to live in Manhattan Beach want to live here? Clearly there are those who do, but do they always feel welcome? A woman who has lived in Manhattan Beach for 12 years posted recently on social media that she “loves our city” and “wouldn’t live anywhere else.” But she also described how her husband, who is Black, has been pulled over multiple times and been asked to show his driver’s license.

“No reason for being pulled over, just to be asked where he’s going,” she wrote. “He recently was given a ticket for supposedly not using a turning signal (though he was in the turning lane) after police had followed him for several blocks, I guess they finally found a reason to pull him over.”

Is her husband being profiled? It’s hard to be certain, but I have had a very small taste of how he might feel.

I am a little brown man. I have always thought of those three words as defining my self-image. I am half Mexican and half Norwegian. I have been asked many times in my life whether I was Black. In the summer, I can get pretty dark. 

About 10 years ago, I had just returned home from a run. I had my shirt off and was wheeling my trash cans up my driveway and into my front gate when a police car came cruising down the street. The police officer pulled up to my house. I asked him what was going on and he said that a burglary suspect was being sought in the area. He asked me if I had seen anything and I said no.

Then he asked me, as I stood on my driveway with my trashcans in front of my house, “Do you live here?” I told him I did and promised to keep my eye out. After he left, I was a little ticked off. Did he think I was a shirtless burglar just pretending to take in trash cans? Did he think I was the gardener? Would he have asked that question if I had been a white guy?

Again, it’s hard to be certain of the answers, but I can’t imagine how exhausting it is for Black people to ask themselves those kinds of questions regularly over a lifetime.

I don’t think Manhattan Beach is a racist city today any more so than countless other towns whose majority whiteness evolved over decades of exclusion, economic disparity and ingrained social patterns. The city has come a long way since the Bruce family and others were pushed off their land.

When I was growing up, there were no Black police officers in the beach cities. Now there are many, and in fact the chief of police in Manhattan Beach is Black. I live near Mira Costa High School. The kids I see walking to school are far more diverse than the student body was when I graduated from Costa 40 years ago.

In a recent tweet, President Trump boasted about undoing an Obama-era rule that made it easier to build low-income housing, writing “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood.”

From the master of the dog whistle, this was a blast from a bullhorn. He can blow it all he wants, but I don’t think that kind of message will resonate with the students who attend Mira Costa today. They have a different dream and they are the ones who will propel the future of Manhattan Beach and thousands of other town and cities.

When Black lives become more relevant—and more importantly, more rewarding—in places where they have been practically non-existent for generations, communities are enriched, and we inch ever closer to that more perfect union America has always aspired to.

Progress is slow, but it is moving along in marches and minds. It’s enough to give this little brown man hope.

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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