Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Driven Out: A Black Family's Battle with Housing Discrimination in the O.C.

It's pretty late on Black Friday (at least for me).  I feel compelled to write this post because of two things:  1. A terrible act of racism which recently occurred in my parents' home town of Yorba Linda, California; and 2. The new movie, "Lincoln," which I just got back from seeing with my wife on our date night. 

Driven out:  in a terrible act of racism reminiscent of the 1920's ands 30's, an African American family was just driven out of my parents' town of Yorba Linda.  They moved to Yorba Linda in 2011.  Both the father and mother are police officers and they have two children--a college-aged and  six year old son.  They moved to Yorba Linda last year hoping to enjoy the peace and quiet of this suburban O.C. town of 65,000.  Their ambitions were shattered by deplorable acts of racism which they experienced.  Racists threw rocks through the windows of their house and slashed the tires of their two cars.  Their six year old child was told by other children at school that they would not play with him because he was black.  Their college-aged son was called the N-word and other racial epithets when he road his bike to work at the local Home Depot.  The last straw was when someone shot acid pellets at the father's car when he was pulling into his own driveway! Before this final act of racial violence had occurred, the family had filed two complaints to the police department, but the police did not feel it was appropriate to categorize the racially-tinged acts as hate crimes.  The mayor of Yorba Linda seemed sincere when he said on Wednesday that city officials "deeply regretted" what had happened and that they did not condone what had occurred. 

"Deep regret" and "not condoning" does not seem adequate in this case, however.  How about "deeply condemn"?  That seems more appropriate in this situation where racists acted violently and with impunity against an African American family of police officers and their two children.  I am enraged by what this family has suffered, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for the past day and a half. 

As I process what occurred, I am reminded of my historical studies of Yorba Linda and the state of California during the first half of the twentieth century.  During this time period, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans were segregated in housing, parks, pools, education, and even in death and burial.  In fact, Yorba Linda was one of the worst offenders, even then.  Many cities segregated people of color, but Yorba Linda would not even allow a segregated Mexican community to exist within its borders! 

It gets worse.  When California state legislators outlawed race and gender-based discrimination in housing as part of the Rumsford Fair Housing Act in 1963, guess what happened?  By a 2-1 margin, California voters repealed the Rumsford Act with a ballot initiative (Prop 14)! It wasn't until the National Housing Act was passed by Congress in 1967 that racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in California once and for all.   

Lincoln:  I went to see the movie,"Lincoln," with all of this spiralling around in my heart and mind. I was greatly surprised, however, by the spiritual insight I gained about these events from watching the movie. There was a line in the movie where President Lincoln said something to the effect of, "Slavery had for centuries hardened the hearts of Americans against the biblical truth that all human beings are made equally in the image of God."  That's a very rough paraphrase (with some Robert Chao Romero artistic and spiritual license thrown in).

I realized that Lincoln was absolutely right.  250 years of slavery had darkened the collective heart and mind and soul of America.  Many Americans convinced themselves--absolutely contrary to all biblical teaching--that some human beings were made more in the image of God than others.  Africans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Latin Americans, and Asians were viewed as unequal to whites, because, presumably, they somehow failed to reflect God's image or reflected God's image in a diminutive fashion.  This unbiblical logic made it ok for whites to enslave blacks for 250 years, kill millions of Native Americans, and seize Native American and Mexican lands based upon the far-fetched theological concept of Manifest Destiny (the idea that God had ordained for Anglo-Saxon Americans to seize control of all of North America so that they could propagate their brand of Protestant Christianity and democracy).  This twisted logic also provided the immoral basis for racial segregation and apartheid.   

It is my belief that a residue of this unbiblical reasoning continues to darken the collective heart and mind and soul of America to this day.  We've definitely come a long way since the abolition of slavery in 1867, but the  deep residue of racial sin in the United States still remains.  The evil ouster of an African American family on the eve of Thanksgiving in 2012 evidences this.  So does all of the anti-immigrant and "blame the poor for being poor" rhetoric that we heard from political campaigns this past year.  A lot of people will not like me for saying this, but I also think that all of the harsh anti-ObamaCare and anti-affirmative action rhetoric of recent months also falls into the same category.  Despite the fact that 50 million human beings made in God's image are suffering in the United States for lack of adequate health care, and millions of students of color have limited future financial prospects because of inequality in our public education system, so many people in this country are unwilling to give up even a small amount of privilege in order to help those who are less fortunate than themselves. 

I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus 2,000 year ago: 
"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-25.

In 2012, almost everyone in America can agree that slavery was wrong and that it was right for Abraham Lincoln to forcefully pursue its abolition.  But that was not what many people believed in his day.  Many condoned slavery and were "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that [was] in them due to the hardening of their hearts."  America's collective heart was hardened by slavery and the sin of racism which had permeated American culture ever since the earliest English settlers set foot on the continent. We've been recovering ever since.  We've made some good progress, but we have a long way to go.  I've got a long way to go.

Join me in speaking out against this 21st century Jim Crow racial prejudice in Yorba Linda.   Let others know about what occurred and write or call the Yorba Linda City Council.  Let's express to the city council how deeply concerned we are about how this family was treated.  Let's share with them that we are hopeful that they will act to right the wrong and act to ensure that it does not happen again: 

Yorba Linda City Council
(714) 961-7110

Let's also pray.  Pray for the family who experienced the injustice.  Pray that the city council would have wisdom to act in an appropriate way. And, pray for those who committed the injustice as well--that God would change their hearts.  

In solidarity,

Robert Chao Romero


 P.S.,  Here is the letter which I just emailed to the Yorba Linda City Council:

November 28, 2012

Dear Yorba Linda City Council:

My name is Dr. Robert Chao Romero and I am an Associate Professor at UCLA.   I recently read about the disturbing  racist events in Yorba Linda which led to an African American family being driven out of town.  As a former Yorba Linda resident, and as someone who has six family members who are current residents, I am deeply disturbed by what occurred.   When I lived in Yorba Linda I also experienced some racial tension, and one of my family members has also told me about experiences of racial discrimination at the local supermarket as well.  I am concerned for my family members and for other African American, Latino, and Asian American residents of Yorba Linda.

 I am sure that you are deeply disturbed by these recent events, too.  I am hopeful that you will act to right the wrong which occurred and act to make sure that this hostile racial climate does not continue in Yorba Linda. 

I have been so disturbed by what occurred that I have spoken to my UCLA class of 400 students about it.  Sadly, I was told by one of my students that she was not surprised by what happened.  She says that she has Latino family members who live in Yorba Linda and that they have also experienced a hostile racial climate, specifically at Canyon High School. 

In my personal capacity—not as a representative of UCLA—I have also written about what occurred in my personal blog:

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.  I am hopeful that the Yorba Linda City Council will act with all of its power and authority to remedy this hostile racial climate.   The eyes of many are watching. 

Should you have any further questions, please contact me by phone or e-mail at:  xxxxxxxxx or xxxxxxxxx.


Robert Chao Romero, J.D.,Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Chicana/o Studies & Asian American Studies

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