No Fire Next Time: Black-Korean Conflicts and the Future of America's Cities

No Fire Next Time: Black-Korean Conflicts and the Future of America's Cities

No Fire Next Time: Black-Korean Conflicts and the Future of America's Cities

No Fire Next Time: Black-Korean Conflicts and the Future of America's Cities

Synopsis

Why did Black-Korean tensions result in violent clashes in Los Angeles but not in New York City? In a book based on fieldwork and on a nationwide database he constructed to track such conflicts, Patrick D. Joyce goes beyond sociological and cultural explanations. "No Fire Text Time shows how political practices and urban institutions can channel racial and ethnic tensions into protest or, alternatively, leave them free to erupt violently. Few encounters demonstrate this connection better than those between African Americans and Korean Americans. Cities like New York, where politics is noisy, contentious, and involves people at the grassroots, have seen extensive Black boycotts of Korean-owned businesses (usually small grocery stores). African Americans in Los Angeles have sustained few long-term boycotts of Korean American businesses--but the absence of "routine" contention there goes hand in hand with the large-scale riots of 1992 and continuous acts of individual violence. In demonstrating how conflicts between these groups were intimately tied to their political surroundings, this book yields practical lessons for the future. City governments can do little to fight widening economic inequality in an increasingly diverse nation, Joyce writes. But officials and activists can restructure political institutions to provide the foundations of new multiracial coalitions.

Excerpt

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!

—Prophecy re-created from the Bible in a song by a slave (Baldwin 1962, 106)

In 1962, James Baldwin invoked these words in a clarion call to the nation. As he saw it, America's resistance to racial equality threatened to provoke a terrible vengeance by blacks. White intransigence deepened black despair and fed the racial pride of black nationalism. As African Americans came to believe that only power, and not goodwill, could improve their position in American society, they would see little choice but to answer the sins of whites with violence.

Racial warfare would assume biblical proportions, and the fate of the nation hung in the balance.

Baldwin's words appeared prescient. in a few years, racial violence ripped across American cities, as blacks rioted in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, and scores of other places. By the end of the 1960s, the storm had subsided, only to return again in the 1980s and 1990s to cities like Miami, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati.

As Baldwin feared, racial violence did not alleviate the senselessness of America's oldest tragedy but compounded it. However, the violence did not come as warfare between blacks and whites, as Baldwin expected. Instead, it took its toll in ways he might have found puzzling. First, the flames devastated black communities more than white, leaving society's dominant institutions intact. Second, the flames touched newly arrived immigrants who were neither black nor white, further complicating American race relations.

The worst episode struck Los Angeles in 1992 and enveloped mostly black and Latino communities. Although the violence began with black rage at the implausible acquittals of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, it was fueled by tensions between African Americans and Korean Americans. a string of highly publicized shootings over the years had culminated in the senseless killing of a black teenager by a Ko-

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