One of the big questions that has arisen out of the discussion on race in Davis has been, “Do persons of color have a bigger problem in Davis than in other cities?” That may or may not be the right question, but it is a reasonable question to ask.
One of the points I have made is that Davis has a bigger problem than one might expect, given the general heavily progressive bent of its politics.
As pointed out previously, Davis has never been as progressive as its reputation on issues like race. For example, as UC Davis Sociology Professors John and Lyn Lofland wrote in the 1987 publication of “Lime Politics,” the politics in Davis has never been “that” progressive.
They looked in that publication at the 1984 council and district attorney elections and what they found is “a distinctive and distinctively selective variety of local progressivism” that they term “lime politics,” which they contrast with more traditional liberal concerns (they call “red”) and a newly emerging “green” perspective.
Indeed, in 1984 we saw a battle for DA between longtime Davis activist, former Mayor and Supervisor Bob Black, and David Henderson, who would become a longtime district attorney until he was replaced by his deputy Jeff Reisig.
Professors Lofland note that not only did Mr. Black run behind Mr. Henderson, a deputy DA, in the rest of Yolo County which was more conservative, he “did not even carry Davis, losing to Henderson 49 to 51 percent.”
With respect to the 1984 city council race, they found: “The revealing facts of the 1984 city council election were the failure of the quintessentially green candidates to win and the widespread appeal of the two candidates who watered down the green ideology into lime.”
The professors therefore concluded that in “the political life of the city of Davis, California, progressive political culture is composed almost exclusively of a green orientation.”
I have argued recently that politics have started to shift of late, and indeed, in the last DA’s election, Dean Johansson won in the city of Davis by a comfortable 56-44 margin – wider than both the 1984 race as well as the 2006 race where Pat Lenzi received about 52 percent of the vote in the city of Davis as she lost countywide to Jeff Reisig.
However, it turns out that Davis is not necessarily that unusual among other progressive cities. In September 2015, Madison 365 published a piece that looked at Madison, Minneapolis, Austin, Portland and San Francisco.
They conclude: “These are America’s most progressive, forward-thinking, open-minded, and social-justice-focused cities. They also have the worst racial disparities in the nation and some of the worst racial segregation.”
They continue: “It just doesn’t make sense on paper. It’s not supposed to be this way. But the statistics don’t lie. Rampant black and brown poverty within blocks of white affluence. Eye-popping racial disparity numbers in employment, education, health, housing, and more. Black and brown people of all socioeconomic backgrounds feeling uncomfortable and unwanted in progressive cities that are often segregated as bad as Jim Crow Deep South.”
Tim Wise, described as “one of the nation’s most prominent anti-racist essayists, educators, activists, and pioneers,” told the story about talking to a man in his 50s about San Francisco. Mr. Wise explained, “This man was in his 50s and had lived in Birmingham, Alabama. He’d lived in Dallas. He’d lived in St. Louis. He said that San Francisco to him was the most racist place he had ever lived.”
“At least if you’re in Birmingham, you know you ain’t X and you know how to protect yourself and prepare yourself,” Mr. Wise adds. “This guy was like, ‘It’s amazing living in San Francisco all the crap I experienced that these white liberals just didn’t see at all.’ He ended up moving back to the South, too, because it was so much easier to deal with the overt racism than the covert, colorblind racism that you deal with in liberal cities.”
That would jibe with my conversations with people of color in Davis as well.
Here is the snapshot of the five progressive communities:
◆ Austin is top-10 in the most segregated cities in the United States … described as “a rich Texas town that holds on to its whiteness for dear life.” Austin is the only fast-growing United States city losing African Americans.
◆ In comparison to their white counterparts, black adults in San Francisco are much more likely to be arrested, booked into county jail and convicted, according to a racial and ethnic disparities report
◆ Portland shows a persistent disparity between how often whites and blacks are stopped and searched.
◆ Minneapolis has seen the formation of the some of the nation’s widest racial disparities,and the nation’s worst segregation in a predominantly white area
◆ … in Madison, African Americans in Dane County are 5.5 times more likely to be unemployed than their white neighbors. African American families are 6 times more likely to be poor with children 13 times more likely to live in poverty than their white classmates. This disparity in child poverty was the largest among any jurisdiction in the United States. Nearly three-quarters of black children in 2011 were poor compared to 5.5% of white children.
Mr. Wise told the publication that “Madison, like over progressive cities, has been lulled into complacency that pretty much renders the entire city complicit in the segregation and racial disparities they face.
“I think that white progressive liberal folks outside of the South almost always got politicized and radicalized around issues other than race,” Mr. Wise told the publication. “So, if I’m a west coast, midwest, or northeast white liberal, I might be really progressive on the issues that I got politicized around which might have been the ecology, war, schools, health care, or LGBT issues. For most white folks, that’s their entry into progressive politics and race is oftentimes so far down the list of things that they get radicalized around that even for really well-intended people, it’s just a huge blind spot.”
That may explain things here as well. As the Loflands noted, Davis’ progressive roots are green, not brown.
But it also may explain the change we are starting to see. As I noted a number of times, when I started getting involved in 2006, the public simply did not want to hear that there was even a possibility of problems with the police department regarding race.
People of color, on the other hand, have anecdotes that go back for decades. We saw more of this during the 2012 Breaking the Silence discussion where 60 people came forward during public comment to relate their stories.
But now in 2018, we saw from the 2017 Picnic Day incident which divided the city, the council was able to push through reforms to police oversight that were outright rejected just 12 years ago.
Part of that is due to a new generation of activists coming forward with a more national orientation, having witnessed the last five years of discussions on police practices and officer involved shootings. The DA’s race outcome in Davis shows a small shift that has occurred in just 12 years and a broader shift in the last 30-40 years.
How that will transform politics in Davis remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting