Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

By Darnell Hunt; Ana-Christina Ramón | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Looking for the ’Hood and
Finding Community
South Central, Race, and Media

Dionne Bennett

“This is the worst neighborhood in Los Angeles?!” my friend shouted as we drove through Watts. In the mid-1990s, I took a visiting friend on my own political tour to show her some of the race and class segregation that quietly divides Los Angeles. We began in Bel Air and ended in Watts. She had seen John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood1 (see fig. 8.1) and other films that claimed to authentically represent blacks in South Central Los Angeles.

As we traveled through the area, I reminded her that Watts was considered by many to be one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. When we arrived in Watts, she laughed, noting how lovely the houses were. We watched elderly black men and women tend small but well-kept gardens and black children play on their bicycles. I explained that we were looking at black- and Latino-owned homes that in many cases belonged to families who had resided in the community for decades. Watts looked not just normal but attractive and intimate, the kind of black community for which privileged blacks of our generation often longed. I was relieved that an outsider confirmed my long-held, positive view of the undervalued area.

We did not miss the challenges facing Watts. We discussed the complex history of the area, the disturbing signs of economic neglect, the drugs and gang violence. We noted that all neighborhoods, especially economically distressed ones, take on a different character at night. We addressed the ugly race and class politics of American cities and how South Central

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