L.A. City Council racism scandal exposes holes in “Black-brown coalition”

"Los Angeles City Council chambers 2" by Mr. Littlehand is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Los Angeles City Council chambers 2” by Mr. Littlehand is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

If there was ever any doubt that one conversation could tank an entire political career, we needn’t look any further than the scandal involving former Los Angeles City Council president and member Nury Martinez.

She and two of her fellow city council members, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, and now-former president of the Los Angeles Labor Federation Ron Herrera, have been feeling the heat since leaked audio made the rounds on Sunday— and rightfully so. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of the racist and homophobic comments which I don’t need to rehash here. If you mistakenly thought you were listening to alt-right extremists, you’d be forgiven. As despicable and insensitive as the remarks were, there was something much more vexing than the insults. The topic of redistricting spoke volumes about what some Latino leaders honestly think about the so-called Black-brown coalition.

Without any consideration for the inroads and framework Los Angeles’ Black community pioneered to create the environment that made their ascension to power possible, these leaders were callous about attempting to diminish Black voting power. As a native Angeleno and Black America, my blood was boiling as I listened to this conversation. (Thank God the audio was leaked. Who knows how far their political ambitions would have taken them.)

RELATED: L.A. City Councilwoman resigns as president after leaked audio of racist remarks about Black child and indigenous people

The audio leak highlights how there are people in leadership roles content with ensuring Black people are the underclass in this country. Political leadership has shown it will cater to other racial and ethnic groups; the recent Anti-Asian hate crime bill comes to mind while Blacks remain target number 1 according to FBI hate-crime statistics. We’ve even seen Black homeownership drop, while Latino/Hispanic homeownership has jumped. Yet, Blacks account for most homeless population in Los Angeles, and many have had to relocate to other parts of the country because of California and Los Angeles’ notorious affordable housing crisis.

Black people were responsible for the painstaking, heavy lifting that served as the blueprint for minority groups and the LGBT community leading to the Civil Rights Act. I’ve been listening to much of the dialogue from the Black community since this scandal came to light and the the assessment is understandable: Why is everyone else thriving except us? The answer, in part, is as clear as the conversation Martinez, Cedillo and de Leon were caught engaging in: it’s not about “us,” it’s about the “us versus them” political rhetoric.

I’ve been heartened by the visibility of the multi-cultural community coming together and calling for the resignations of all of the city council members involved in the scandal. However, I’m not naïve, and neither is the Black community at large; the fissures in the Los Angeles multi-cultural coalition are present because there are people who don’t want to share, they rather take.

Moving forward, education and dialogue will be key to repairing race relations between Black and Latino communities, as well as reaching those who did not get the message the first time around.

As of today, Cedillo and de Leon have yet to resign. Los Angeles has made it clear they are not welcome back the council, and no real healing can begin until the lone, selfish holdouts come to grips with their mistakes by doing right by the city and stepping down.

Martinez, Cedillo and de Leon, your political careers are dead. But who knows, maybe you can resurrect them in the Republican Party — the expectations are lower on the other side of grass.