Social Distancing: On the Ontology of South Central Los Angeles
1939 HOLC "redlining" map of south Los Angeles, courtesy of LaDale Winling and urbanoasis.org.
When one examines the 1939 Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) map for Los Angeles in conjunction with the “findings” of its appraisers and housing experts, the stark racism of the project appears undeniable. As Robert K. Nelson succinctly puts it, HOLC maps were “explicitly racist . . . the racism isn’t subtext. It’s just text.” --Robert K. Nelson, 2016
You see, ontology is the
Metaphysics on the nature of being
We have been social distancing
For over 15 generations,
For over 500 years,
Distancing by force
And juridical Aristotelian categorical exclusion.
We should not confuse
This with “physical distancing”
A health guidance,
Not semantically loaded
With coercive “social isolation”
We are still the subjects
Of group-based oppression.
The extreme historical trauma;
Conflict grounded in the concept of difference and
A police and identity logic
According to which groups’ natures are defined
As essential and or substantial.
Stereotypes where one group
Makes use of these essential orsubstantive differences to
Subjugate the other group.
Whatever group dominates,
Has the most privilege and power
Will represent themselves
As active human subjects
And everyone else as “other,”
Until and unless they conform
To the definition
Established by the dominant group.
Colonialism and racism
Attest to this disparity and conformism.
The “others” have been colonized
Have found themselves
Those in power define
Their positive worth by
Negatively devaluing Us!
Projecting essence and nature
Attributed with evil, filth,
Social pollution, bodily matter;
We become sweat labor,
domestic essential workers,
homo sacers, that can’t be killed
but can be sacrificed;
While they reserve for themselves leisure,
And high culture that marks civilization.
We find ourselves straddled
From the king down to the meanest
Peasant, exercising dominion over us.
As such we are left
With the structures of
Dominium and imperium
No longer the original Roman sense
Of total dominium before
Its 11th century re-definition;
Perhaps, a concession
Between the statists and the church.
IN today’s rendition
We find dominium expressed as economic domination
And imperium as domination
Through territorial evacuation;
Exclusion, deeded out,
Bused out, and ultimately
The historical repetitions
Neo-cons as imperium; empty the
Neo-liberals as dominium;
I grew up in SCLA
And I carry the plunder wounds
The red-lining scabs on my back.
The coded geographies
Branded in flesh
Across my chest;
Signifiers of exclusion
Meta keys of permeability.
While a map may not be
Racist or an official edict;
It certainly reinforces
The social pragmatics
And covert imperium
Of purging “otherness”
The enabler institutions
Who used public health; school administrators
To define social distance between
White Angelenos and the “other”.
If you were Russians, Jews, and Italians;
You risked the categorization of
“low class” whites; should they
Not demonstrate “social distance”
From the “others”.
Southern and Eastern Europeans
And Mexicans with the right social class,
Occupation and skin color
Could “climb the hierarchy of whiteness:
Membership through dominium.
Iconic L.A. communities like
Boyle Heights tagged a
“melting pot” area, literally honeycombed with diverse and subversive elements.”
Watts, an ethnic and racial stew of Germans,
Scots, Greeks, Italians, blacks,
And Japanese, earned a “low red”
Grade due to its heterogeneity.
“Underwriting Manual” were
widely publicized and distributed;
incorporated “neighborhood risk
“If a neighborhood is to retain stability,”
the manual noted,
“it is necessary that properties shall continue
to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.
A change in social or racial occupancy
contributes to the instability
and decline in property values.”
FHA and HOLC
established caste systems
of race and ethnicity;
The cadastral ratings
developed in 1935 via the City Survey Program,
the HOLC evaluated 239 cities;
compiled a rating system ranging from A to D.
Communities with A ratings represented
the best investments for homeowners
and banks alike;
B, neighborhoods that were still desirable,
C, those in decline,
and D, areas considered hazardous.
Those in “red”
usually contained minorities:
and newly arrived immigrants;
like Slavs, Jews, and Italians.
The “Jim Crow” objective criteria,
en placed by HOLC and FHA
valued homogeneity over heterogeneity,
particularly in regard to ethnicity and race.
Cartography can embed power
and sometimes inequality;
But for sure it generates
casualties and historical
So, we should be suspicious
on the guidance that
“social distance” will prevent
the Corona Virus contagion;
the last 500 years of community
imperium and dominium
have not eradicated
the social virus
we know as “Racism!”
Tezoozmoc: "I am a Los Angeles Chicano Poet and 2009 Oscar Nominated Activist and have been published by Floricanto Press, Gashes!: Poems and Pain from the halls of injustice, a collection of poetry. I have also been published in the following journals: The Oddball Magazine, Spitpoetzine, The Silver Stork, Come and Go Literary, The Blue Nib, The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles, Men’s Heartbreak Anthology, CrazyQuilt, Rhino, Mind Matters Review, Left Curve, Next Phase, Minotaur Press, San Fernando Poetry Journal, Caffeine, Orchard, Poet's Sanctuary, Black Buzzard Press, Dance of the Iguana, The Americas Review, La Hoja, Louder Than Bombs, Orale!, Tight, (Untitled), and ChupaRosa Writer's '93. In the above magazines I had a total of 36 poems published. I am a Huffington Post blogger where I blog about activism and food issues. I have an academic chapter in Mexican-Origin Foods, Foodways, and Social Movements: A Decolonial Reader Edited by Devon G. Peña, Luz Calvo, Pancho McFarland, and Gabriel R. Valle. I have published essays in Urban Future Manifestos. My work also includes academic essays on Nahuatl indigenous languages (see http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/TIL_7.html which was published as chapter in Teaching Indigenous Languages. I am a national and international regular guest speaker at conferences, such as Agrarian Trust, Green Festival, Braiding the Sacred, Seed and Food Sovereignty, and international gathering of Voices of Maiz (2016)."