Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

There's No Sunshine: Spatial Anguish, Deflections, and Intersectionality in Compton and South Central

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

There's No Sunshine: Spatial Anguish, Deflections, and Intersectionality in Compton and South Central

Article excerpt


Research on "territorial somatization" analyzes how residents of stigmatized spaces negotiate their blemished reputations. It reveals their distress, despondency, and resistance as they encounter the space's negative imagery. Building on this research, this paper introduces the concept of spatial anguish to capture the shame and embarrassment residents feel because of their stigmatized space. To do so, it uses an intersectional analysis to show how anguished residents try to deflect the stigma through reinforcing racist and sexist imageries of their neighbors.


Intersectionality, race, gender, space, Los Angeles, ethnography


Change is in the air in Los Angeles County, which lies in sunny Southern California. Change is particularly in the air of two of its spaces: the city of Compton and a Los Angeles subsection called South Central. Both spaces feature Spanish-style, concrete single-family homes and low-rise affordable housing projects--the once-upon-a-time sites for gang violence and open-air drug markets. Local and national officials had neglected these spaces, a neglect that increased its poverty and crime (Davis, 1992). They also used paramilitary tactics to police those communities, turning them into virtual war zones (Parenti, 1999).

Today crime has dropped in both areas, which mirrors crime declines in cities across the United States (Blumstein and Wallman, 2000; Zimring 2006). Since the early 1990s, the new generation of youth has shifted their attitude toward certain drugs, mainly in its rejection of crack use and sale (Contreras, 2013; Curtis, 1998). As a result, drug-related crimes, violent crimes, and property crimes have decreased, especially in Compton and South Central (Rubin, 2012). Los Angeles street gangs have also gone in hiding, curbing their public presence to avoid violating harsh gang injunctions (Quinones, 2015).

The crime decline has local politicians touting the areas as spaces of promise and have pushed for more business activity (Jennings and Esquivel, 2015; Lewis, 2008). For instance, the city of Compton now uses social media to describe its turnaround from a crime-plagued city to one with improved job opportunities, police-community relationships, and infrastructure. (1) South Central residents also lobbied the city to rename the district, and in 2003, the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to change it to "South Los Angeles" (the name "South Central" has now disappeared from official city maps-- see Sims, 2003). (2)

Demographic shifts illustrate the change as well, with African Americans no longer predominating in number (Castro, 2013; Medina, 2012). In search of better work and safety, African Americans have been migrating out of Los Angeles to the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster to the north and in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to the east (Robinson, 2010). Their exodus has paved the way for Mexican and Central American immigrants: in Compton, Latinos now make up about 65% of the population, Blacks only 33%; and in Southeast Los Angeles, Blacks and Latinos now makeup, respectively, 19% and 80% of the population (U.S. Census, 2012).

In all, the changes have transformed the texture of life in Compton and South Central. Yet one thing remains the same: both spaces retain their negative reputations. They still evoke images of gun-toting gangs and bloody sidewalks; of burglars and robbers, waiting to break into a home or pounce on a mark. However, many Compton and South Central residents feel that such negative images unfairly depict their neighborhoods. They then feel a hurt that they wish relieve. They experience what I call a spatial anguish, or a shame that comes from living in a stigmatized space.

Spatial anguish comes from the shame one feels at having outsiders fear, condemn, or ridicule their place of residence. It also comes from one's perceptions that outsiders will attach the space's stigma onto them. …

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