How does 1990’s Los Angeles forefront structural racism and what are some of the performatives that highlight the issues?
The primary performance I would like to analyze is the Rodney King case as well as the riots in 1992 Los Angeles. My primary object of study will be through the many lenses of people in Twilight by Anna Deveare Smith. I would like to examine police brutality as a form of structural racism as well as the lack of representation of African-Americans in many important positions. I.e. The jury for trying the police who beat Rodney King consisted of 10 whites, 1 Latino, and 1 Asian. I also would like to look at the responses from a wide variety of perspectives from Twilight to further understand all issues that led up to the riot. I would also like to analyze the events leading towards the resolution of the riots and juxtapose them against the events that caused them. In analyzing the events, I hope to look at motivations and emotions as opposed to face-value summaries. I.e. the general public’s response to the attack on the white truck driver Reginald Denny. I also would like to take the general idea of racism in Los Angeles and apply it to the 1990s decade as a whole by analyzing the rise of underground rap. When one reads into the lyrics of this genre, one can clearly see that they were written in response to some form of discrimination. I then would like to have a reflection upon the improvements made in society since the riots and compare the modern instances of police brutality as well as the “black lives matter” movement to 1992 Los Angeles.
Structural Racism, Police Brutality, Freedom of Speech, Representation
Decades of racism, years of building tension, and one video culminating in a six day riot told through 300 plus people. In the play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith acts out interviews and monologues of a wide variety of people directly connected to the 1992 LA riots. Some examples of the wide variety of people that are brought to stage are Reginald Denny, the white truck driver who was dragged out of his truck and beaten into a coma, one of the jurors from the Rodney King trial, and Elaine Young, a Los Angeles real estate agent who escaped to the Beverly Hills hotel during the rioting. Each voice narrates a different frame of reference within the boundaries of Los Angeles. They describe the emotional shifts as well as the social aspirations of each individual all coalescing into an encompassing understanding of the reasons for the riots.
One of the most notorious rap groups of all time, N.W.A. was present at the heart of Los Angeles during these times of tension. N.W.A. was made up of a few African American friends, most famously Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who created songs without any filter. Along with other artists such as The Notorious B.I.G and Tupac, N.W.A. was able to generate an environment known as the underground rap scene. They openly rapped about all their anger and struggles towards racism creating a medium that minorities were able to follow and identify with.
Reginald O. Denny, a white male truck driver, was one of the first victims in the LA riots; a group known as the L.A. Four physically yanked him out of his truck and beat him into a coma while a helicopter broadcast the beating on national television. Smith’s interview and portrayal of Denny arrive after Denny had recovered from the beatings and was able to voice his feelings and opinions. Despite being a victim of a hate crime, Denny is upbeat, hopeful and feels no anger towards the African American community. He even envisions a day where “there won’t be a color problem.” Another focus of the riots was on Koreatown: 2,300 Korean family businesses were damaged or destroyed during the riots. One of these victims Mrs. Young-Soon Han, who unfortunately witnessed her liquor store be burned down in the riots, had a much more pessimistic view than Denny after the riots. She felt that Korean Americans were severely mistreated and that there exist “too much difference” between the Korean and Black communities to ever exist in harmony. Despite being both victims of hostile attacks from the riot, both people came out with starkly contrasting viewpoints.
Before the riots, there still existed a lot of tension. One of the ways the African American community outlet their pains and complaints through the emergence of underground rap groups. One particular rap group, N.W.A. was at the center of attention. Many of their songs voiced the struggles young black teenagers faced growing up and did not fray away from filtering any of their strong opinions on racial profiling and police hatred. In response to police discrimination, they wrote the famously controversial song “Fuck Tha Police.” One of the lyrics in the song is “A young nigga got it bad 'cause I'm brown, And not the other color so police think, They have the authority to kill a minority.” This lyric, which came before the riots, paired with the Rodney King beating highlights the primary issues behind the state of the Los Angeles law enforcement. By simply being African American, they are treated differently by the police. The line “they have the authority to kill a minority” seems extreme, yet the past few decades has had multiple occurrences of police officers killing unarmed minority individuals.