This past year I read the book, The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein. He writes about a forgotten history of how the government segregated America. The two most striking things about the book are that, first, many of these segregated housing developments occurred outside of the south, including in California, at the behest of the federal government itself.
The second is that the residential patterns that these programs helped to establish have persisted to the present day.
This book was what came to mind as I read Rik Keller’s account of the history of Davis. For those who wish to argue that we have beat this subject to death – in fact, we’ve never once touched the issue of formal covenants. The fact is that for years Davis restricted housing to exclude non-white populations from specific areas.
This was just part one of Mr. Keller’s story and I had wanted to sit back and allow him to tell the story before weighing in myself.
Mr. Keller maintains that the key point here is that discrimination did not end in 1968, and, just as we saw with Mr. Rothstein’s account, the patterns of discrimination were not undone and they persist to this day.
Unfortunately, the response from usual commenters was fairly predictable. One commenter denied the premise that Davis is more white than the rest of California. He posted data from a link that said Davis is 63.8 percent white, while California is 61.26% white.
The problem is that such data fails to break out the Hispanic population. In California the Hispanic population is 37.6 percent of the population. In Davis it is 12.5 percent. That is according to the 2010 Census.
Factor in the Hispanic population, and the California population is 40 percent white, 37.6 percent Hispanic, 6.2 percent Black and 13 percent Asian. Put it another way, in California the four categories account for about 60 percent of the population. In Davis, about 37 percent. While Davis is definitely not nearly as white as it used to be, it is definitely much more so than the rest of California.
The commenter never acknowledged his error.
Instead the argument was that “this was a long time ago.” He continued, “Maybe it contributed to the demographics we have today, maybe not. Is there a problem that Davis has a few more percentage points of white people than the state average?”
And then: “Why are we bringing this subject up now? Hasn’t this been beaten to death over and over through the years. It seems like it’s just stirring the pot.”
The second part of the story by Rik Keller is the connection from past practices to the present day and how those patterns and inequities remain with us. The story that Richard Rothstein told is that those initial patterns laid the grounds for current residential patterns and inequities.
And the story of the Vanguard has been the story of racial inequity in Davis across a host of lines, long after the legal boundaries went away.
What we have seen in Davis is a long history of racial strife. Some longtime residents, people of color, tell me about the 1970s and the pockets of white supremacy groups and racial incidents at Davis High. The murder of Thong Hy Hunh in 1982 at Davis High punctuates a period of racial strife and led to the initial Human Rights Commission.
We have seen over the years that the much more diverse UC Davis population has had problems with the more white population within the city of Davis. Students of color have often described various racial incidents, reported about being pulled over for biking while black, walking while black and, of course, driving while black.
Talk to any African American who has spent any time in Davis, and they will invariably have a story about being pulled over by the police or otherwise racially profiled.
In 2012, when the Davis Human Relations Commission held its first “Breaking the Silence of Racism” event, there were so many people coming forward to speak – more than 60 spoke in all – we extended our comment period by a full hour to accommodate them.
The biggest issue they raised? The treatment of students from mixed-race backgrounds and the treatment by both teachers and their peers in the schools that led many into counseling and many more to transfer to other districts.
And, of course, one of the most recognized and pervasive discrepancies in this community is the Davis Achievement Gap. For students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the scores resemble those in Woodland and West Sacramento. However, for advantaged students, mainly those who are Asian and white, they resemble their peers in Palo Alto.
The achievement gap at times in Davis has been among the largest in the state and it has been pervasive.
I have noted, however, that in recent years these patterns are starting to change. We are seeing one indicator of that in our schools where the white population is now just 54 percent.
Then there is the official census data. In 2000, the racial composition of Davis was 70 percent white, 2 percent black, 17.5 percent Asian and 9.5 percent Latino of any race. By 2010 that number was down to 65 percent white with 22 percent Asian and 12.5 percent Latino of any race. And by 2020, some expect that white number to be 60 percent.
We are still more white than surrounding communities, but that is a huge change in just two decades.
The question many will ask is what we can do about this – and that’s a fair question. But understand that the first step in diagnosing that we have a problem, is to acknowledge that we have a problem.
The first step is for people to acknowledge that there is a problem. After all, if there is no problem, what are we going to solve? I therefore await Part II of Mr. Keller’s piece and then we will see.
—David M. Greenwald reporting