By Gloria Partida
After Darren Wilson’s non-indictment in the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014, I read an article by Brit Bennet in Jezebel titled I don’t know what to do about good white people. In it she described the challenges of sifting through nuanced racism in an era where most white allies are doing their best to support people of color.
It sums up that doing their best does little to mitigate the energy involved in deciding if a slight was due to your identity or the cluelessness of the person involved. Living 30 years in the heart of the most progressive city in our region I have certainly experienced my share of awkward encounters of people “doing their best.”
Maybe it is my background of growing up in the south, my experiences of knowing which restaurants would serve “us,” knowing that even in 1967, more then ten years after bus segregation ended, “we” did not sit in the front of the bus, my experiences of the hysterical parents boycotting our forced integration into “their” schools or maybe it is my natural proclivity towards optimism that allows me to give a wide berth to people that are “doing their best.”
I have always understood the forces we work against in accepting the other and have been a tireless advocate in patiently breaking down barriers and building bridges. Every now and then, however, my berth runs smack into a steel girder that underpins my basic and substantially grounded sensibilities.
Reading the tag line for the West Davis Active Adult Community Development, “Davis taking care of our own,” caused me to begin the familiar but annoying exercise of sorting where on the spectrum of cultural myopia this fell. Should I speak up? Sigh and chalk it up to people being clueless? Hold a community forum on cultural competency?
This tag line is an unfortunate choice at best. In the current political climate, it rings with a distinctly Trumpian tenor that effectively delineates “us” from “them.” Had I not spent eight months campaigning and listening to citizen after citizen complain about how people from outside of Davis were gobbling up real estate and turning it into rental property, how no one from Davis could actually afford to live here and how the high level of non-owner occupied properties was changing the social community investment, I would have definitely checked closets for white hoods.
Add to this the knowledge that the people moving into Davis were predominantly white upper class and that the people complaining were not protesting people of color moving in and I felt confident that the marketing move by the developer was one designed to meet a demand. While I still felt uneasy regarding the tag line it was when I learned of the lawsuit against this marketing plan that I truly felt the impact of misguided helpfulness.
The claim being brought against the developers’ marketing plan is that it illegally discriminates against minorities, perpetuates segregation, and has a disparate impact on members of protected classes.
The basis for the claim of illegal discrimination is that historical housing covenants skewed the population of Davis predominantly white and this unbalance has continued. Therefore, preferentially selecting residents for the development based on an association with Davis would continue to perpetrate this racial unbalance. Further it points to the difference in the racial make-up of our neighboring city, Woodland. Woodland has a much higher racial diversity. I will attempt to unpack my unease with this lawsuit.
Historically, housing covenants were a common practice. Many cities used them to exclude people of color. Why have some cities overcome their history and racially diversified while others have not? Woodland, which tends to be much more conservative then Davis, ironically is much more diverse. What has kept Davis so white even though we proudly champion diversity?
With exceptions for places that stay white, poor and tend to be racially intolerant, a quick un-statistical analysis of cities that are predominantly white rapidly unveils a huge difference in the price of housing and growth practices.
One of the reasons Davis’ racial diversity has remained low is that Davis’ sensible growth practices have essentially priced people of color out. The irony of this lawsuit is that it brings forward many of the ways our slow growth policies, which are really at the crux of why people are protesting this development, perpetuate segregation and impact members of protected classes.
Slow growth has kept prices of housing so high in Davis that many people, not just people of color, can not afford to live here. Many people that have been born and raised in Davis can not live here. These are people that volunteer in our community, care for our children and elderly. People that have real investment in the quality of our community.
As to the racial makeup of these people. I have a Nephew and Niece growing up in Davis who are linked to two multi-generational Davis families of African American and Filipino American ethnicity respectively. My Nephew and Niece will likely not be able to buy homes in Davis at the rate housing prices are going.
Having grown up in the mega sprawl of Los Angeles. I certainly understand the need for sensible growth. What I don’t understand is how this city wants to actualize it. Almost every development has met opposition.
Lawsuits have become a norm, adding expense and time to every new development. I believe in holding developers accountable to sustainability and affordability standards. I believe we should expect well planned developments that fit the needs of citizens.
This development fits a need for some of our seniors. Not all seniors want to be Downtown. Downtown is not the Mecca for all seniors. Walkable communities can be incorporated in all areas of our community.
This lawsuit is the perfect embodiment of the good white people problem. This lawsuit is not helping me or other people of color that need housing. It is not helping seniors that need specialized development. Worst of all is the bald face appropriation of civil rights issues to negotiate a desired outcome for a land use issue.
I understand trying to find a handle to best champion a belief. This is the wrong handle. Conflating what people were willing to die for on the Edmund Pettus bridge for walkable communities is nauseatingly wrong. I can still feel the force with which my mother yanked me out of the second-row seat on the bus we were riding. I remember the speed with which she ushered me to the back. That was a civil rights moment that needed addressing.
I do not deny that we need to continue the fight and that language is important. My son fought for a hate crime conviction, because his attacker claimed that he his words meant nothing. This misguided tag line and marketing program require deep community dialogue and engagement to ensure no lines are crossed but to prevent much needed housing, a large amount of which is affordable, is a much bigger affront to diversifying the population of this city.
Gloria Partida is the Mayor Pro Tem of Davis and the first Latina elected to Davis City Council