Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Excerpt from Moral Combat at the New Humanism:
Faith's smorgasboard beckons irresistibly from America's city streets. A cross-country drive tells the story of its market value and allure, its unshakeable hold on the schizoid psyche of sex and Jesus-obsessed Americana. There is a church for every family, every true believer, every providence haggler, and every fence sitter; a supernatural crack fix for every creed, taste, and predilection. In the one mile radius from my house in South Los Angeles to the corner of Florence and Normandie, there are fourteen churches. Most of these structures are storefronts, austere and unobtrusive, denominations flowing from Latino Pentecostal to black Baptist to multiracial Catholic. Woven seamlessly into the workaday facades of other businesses, they offer quiet testimony to the area's shift from a predominantly African American enclave to a mixed Latino and black community. In the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King beating verdict, Florence and Normandie gained national notoriety as a bellwether for black rage. There is an auto parts store on the northwest corner where white truck driver Reginald Denny was pulled from his vehicle and beaten by four African American young men after news of the verdict exploded across the city. On the other side of the street two gas stations bustle, fronted by a strip mall to the northeast. Emblems of the Southern California trinity of cars, faith, and quick cheap retail, these spaces each tap into different yet similar reservoirs of urban yearning.
In the seventeen years since the verdict and ensuing civil unrest, these streets have not dramatically changed. Whereas development in predominantly white communities to the west has flourished, the grand photo-op promises of federal redevelopment made about South L.A. by then President George H.W. Bush have gone largely unfulfilled...