The Women’s March, the “It’s Not Your Time” Doctrine, Urban Planning, and You

South Central's America is black, brown, family, faith, community, resistance, and resilience. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
South Central's America is black, brown, family, faith, community, resistance, and resilience. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I did not attend the Women’s March in Los Angeles on Saturday.

I watched the debates about what qualified as a “women’s” issue unfold at the national level and I just couldn’t get on board.

To be fair, though, I wasn’t on board from the moment it was decided that there was going to be a march.

I’m not against marching by any means. And certainly I’m no fan of our bigoted pussygrabber-in-chief.

But I am profoundly aware that this the first time in a long time that many progressives of privilege felt personally affronted or even threatened by what the voting populace hath wrought this past November: Was it really possible that half this country could so easily shrug off overt racism and white supremacist shenanigans? Sexism and the celebration of sexual assault? Homophobia? Xenophobia and the branding of entire groups of people as degenerates? The mocking of the disabled? The penchant for wall-building, banning, and exclusion? The stated support for Japanese internment or of torture?

“Yes,” came my and other voices from the margins. “This is not the first person that’s been elected to office on a festering, hateful platform of ugly.”

Clint Smith, Writer. Teacher. PhD Candidate studying incarceration, education, and inequality.
Clint Smith, Writer, teacher, PhD Candidate studying incarceration, education, and inequality.

Which means that there is a great temptation to ask privileged progressives exactly where they have been all this time.

This, however, is not an approach that is particularly conducive to productive dialogue about the deep structural injustices embedded in the DNA of our nation or how unlikely that DNA is to be changed by marching in pussy hats. Rather, questions about the selectiveness of progressive outrage are more likely to put people on the defensive and invite some creative interpretations of history.

Perhaps my favorite such response came from a genuinely well-meaning white woman who laid the “It’s Not Your Time” doctrine on me.

After railing about how “petty” women of color were for asking others to support their “specific and tangential” causes at what was meant to be a “women’s march,” she advised:

An actual argument made to me by an actual person.
An actual argument made to me by an actual person living in 2017.

Before you laugh, shake your head, and agree that that is indeed a sad state of affairs, please know that if you are a person of privilege, especially one in the urban planning/transportation/mobility advocacy community, it is more than likely that, at some point in time, you have used the “It’s Not Your Time” doctrine to silence voices of color, LGBTQIA people, immigrants, or others on the margins.

You may not have meant to do it.

And you probably meant extremely well when you did it.

But the effect was still the same.

I can say that with some certainty because, over the last five years that I’ve been writing about how and where planning, transportation, race, class, equity, and justice intersect in two disenfranchised lower-income communities of color, I’ve gotten several lifetimes’ worth of “It’s Not Your Time” pushback from this otherwise very well-meaning and progressive community.

When I raised questions about the impact luxury residential towers would have on Historic South Central – the most overcrowded neighborhood in the country and one of the poorest in the city – I was dismissed out of hand, told I was too stupid to understand basic supply and demand, and reminded we were in a housing crisis (implying poor folks should suck up displacement and take one for the team). Vulnerable residents who feared being displaced from the city (not just their neighborhood) if rents were to rise were labeled selfish, whiny, poverty pimps who let their own neighborhoods decay, told they were delusional to think they had some kind of claim on place, and equated with wealthy NIMBY homeowners who protect their home values at everyone else’s expense.

When I’ve spoken or written about racial profiling and other barriers lower-income folks of color face in trying to access the public space, parks, sidewalks, or bike lanes, I have been asked what those issues have to do with transportation, accused of demanding perfection at the expense of “good,” told I am distracting from important issues, told that equity is an excuse to do nothing and that it is a non-profit “racket,” told that the blood of people who die in the streets will be on my hands, told I am the only one planners or advocates have ever heard raise those concerns, told I spend too much time hanging out with the wrong people, asked if I even ride a bike, and told that until I have concrete alternatives to offer, I should just keep my mouth shut and let people who actually care about livable cities get things done.

When I wrote about the decision of an undocumented friend and long-time active transportation advocate to buy a car as a window into what it means to have so little control over where you live, where you work, and how you get around, privileged progressives… well, they lost their damn minds. Instead of taking an interest in how transit was failing those that relied on it most or how those failures helped explain the drop in bus ridership, particularly among undocumented folks who could opt for drivers’ licenses, dissenters expressed deep disappointment that I would do transit so dirty. Others completely breezed past the look at the intersection of housing, transportation, jobs, and immigration status and fumed that I hadn’t talked about the real problems – cars and car-centrism.

Then our short-fingered vulgarian was elected.

And instead of self-reflection in the days that followed, progressives in urbanist circles doubled down. Many took to the cybersphere, declaring the great diversity of cities to be the antidote to an angry tide of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other ills. In their more insane white-urbanist-fever-dream iterations, these treatises argued the truest way forward lay in building more urban housing (especially for rural folks and racists) while wholesale ignoring history, institutionalized race- and other -isms, white flight, contentious busing experiments, self-segregation, and the use of redlining, zoning, infrastructure, housing subsidies, repressive policing, disinvestment, and denial of opportunity to fuel and enforce de facto segregation.

The divide between the communities I write about and the well-meaning people of privilege who seek to plan or advocate on their behalf never felt deeper.

There are definite parallels between progressives’ resistance to meaningful engagement on equity, justice, race, and class in planning and the country’s reactionary response to the rise of black, brown, and LGBTQIA voices. And they give me great pause.

So, instead of taking to the streets, I lodged my protest by spending several days on the Blue Line train, listening.

I was following up on the civil rights complaint the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) had filed against Metro. Using Metro’s own data, the LCSC had found that while African Americans only comprised 19 percent of rail riders, they regularly received nearly 50 percent of the citations for fare evasion and other infractions. More startling still, they were nearly 60 percent of the thousands of arrests on transit each year. Worst of all, a significant proportion of these citations and arrests happened along the Blue Line – the line cutting through South L.A. neighborhoods where black unemployment and underemployment is in the high double digits and where young black men (especially those coming from one of the several public housing developments in the area) struggle the most to find and retain steady jobs.

That our local agencies would think that the best way to manage fare evasion would be to disproportionately penalize and jail folks from some of our city’s most historically distressed communities seems hard to fathom.

Except that it’s not.

The policing of the movement of black men is part of the DNA of this city.

Decades of disinvestment, disenfranchisement, repressive policing and denial of opportunity in the neighborhoods along the Blue Line left many of the area’s young men with few options for gainful employment. Those that turned to the hustle to get by were likely to see multiple or lengthy incarcerations, often for non-violent offenses, thanks to overzealous policing and draconian drug laws rooted in protecting whites – especially the white women blacks were said to be prone to raping – from the “menace” of the “negro cocaine fiend.” Just being black in the vicinity of illicit activity was sometimes reason enough to be arrested. Under former police chief Daryl Gates (1978-1992), for example, not only was brutality rampant, but indiscriminate “sweeps” upended entire communities by sending thousands of black men to jail.

The human cost of this form of social engineering on generations of communities of color is beyond comprehension.

At the 103rd Street station in Watts one night, for example, I sat with four men (ranging in age from their early 20s to their mid-50s) all of whom said they had either been incarcerated or had siblings who were incarcerated. Or both. One man’s brother had been incarcerated as an adult at age 17. Another’s brother had been put on a chain gang at Angola and was now down in Huntsville, finishing out a 30-year-sentence. One man had been in and out of jail while battling a decade-plus-long crack addiction. Another man had just gotten out after 20 years in prison. He was desperate to stay out of trouble, he said, but was hustling weed on the side because he left prison with nothing and he had to eat.

For men of color in these kinds of circumstances, the Blue Line is a life line. With no access to a car, they are vulnerable. Out on the street, they are likely to be hassled by law enforcement (which can result in incarceration for some parole infraction or worse) or confronted, harassed, or robbed when crossing through different gang territories.

Metro and the Sheriff’s approach to policing the Blue Line capitalizes on their vulnerability. Too poor to buy money-saving monthly or weekly passes, and not always able to scrape together enough change to pay for a day pass or a one-way fare, they are the easiest of pickings.

But being penalized for their poverty and their blackness is nothing new to them.

So, when asked about Trump’s election and what they think it might mean for them, they shrug. A couple laugh. When your life has been lived at the intersection of so many vectors of both overt and institutionalized oppression, does the election of a bottom-feeding buffoon really signal that things are likely to change for you?

More likely than not it just means that, at most, you will see a shiny new version of the same old same old. Worst-case scenario, it comes with a fascist-style twist.

On the train ride home, I pondered the then-upcoming women’s march. I wondered what kind of catchy slogan I could hold up at a protest that would capture the essence of the deep and lasting damage done by structural violence, institutionalized racism, mass incarceration, and discriminatory planning policies and practices. Or if there was some fun phrase which would encapsulate the extent to which white privilege shields so many well-meaning progressives from seeing the role white- and privilege-centered narratives, frameworks, institutions, and planning processes play in perpetuating those ills.

Nothing came to mind.

So, no, I did not march.

I listened instead.

Then I sat down to write.

Because this is not 1776.

This is 2017 and it is long past due for these truths to be self-evident.

It is indeed our time.

  • Eileen Schaubert

    It is time – and your writing continues to be solid ground for challenging conversations that need to happen.

  • kristenej

    I live this too (and sadly have silenced and censored my own self at the face of it). However, now more than ever, I know that writing is the answer. Also, I elected to support black-owned businesses and go hard on the self-care. We’ve been out here resisting. Our existence is sometimes a resistance. I did get inspired that so many people, people who weren’t paying attention, did start paying attention. I could be bitter about them not standing up for us prior, but I need as much good energy to push against the very real threats happening in positions of power right now and the issues I continue to have in our own space with respect and existing. Thanks for writing!

  • calwatch

    Thank you for writing. Even though I disagree with many of your statements – and unfortunately the fundamental tensions between women wanting to be free of harassment and of all to have their trains to be safe, while enforcement of these rules will be overwhelmingly on men who will be ticketed and possibly picked up on outstanding warrants has not been resolved by anyone – you do open up many people’s eyes to the real lives that people with years of education in academia and government are planning for, and not with.

  • sahra

    No need to agree with me; i would never claim to always be “right,” nor do I think so many of the questions we debate here even have a “right” answer. It’s about having the space to raise the questions in the first place so it’s all on the table. Like you say, we do a lot of planning for people’s lives who are wholly disconnected from our own. And we would do well to remember that more often. Thanks!

  • sahra

    I know self-censorship well… I described it once to someone as that moment that you look around the room and ask yourself how much that space or those relationships mean to you. Because, depending on the knowledge you’re planning on dropping, you may suck the air right out of the room. And that can’t be undone. And you’re right, we all need that good energy to push forward… Keep writing!

  • sahra

    thank you!

  • A lot of Trump voters seem to have responded to the idea that there is too much political correctness out there. I wonder how many of them got tired of hearing “check your privilege” all the time.

    It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about racism. It’s just that if we want to overcome it we have to bring more people into the conversation. Why not inspire people to do something positive instead of implying that people are too white, too rich and too out of touch to be part of the solution?

    If you were a white person you’d probably think “I was racist for leaving this neighborhood (disinvestment) and now I’m racist for coming back (gentrification).” In other words, I can’t do anything right, so I might as well vote for Trump. And most of them did, even many who had voted for Obama before.

    When people feel attacked, they close ranks and get defensive. Leaders like MLK didn’t look at the white people in the marches and say “about time.” He welcomed them in like an old friend after a long absence. He inspired all of us to transform shame from hope to action, and the work is not done.

  • sahra

    I think a lot of those trump voters would have to know non-white people to be told to check their privilege. And many do not.

    Funny you should raise the point of what I might think if I were white. I am half-white, raised in a community that was 98% white in Wisconsin, and write for a largely white audience. I’m non-threatening to white people because I’m ethnically ambiguous, so they very often tell me exactly what they think about everyone else, because they assume I will understand. And the crazy thing is, because of how and where I was raised and where my family still lives to this day, I actually do understand where they are coming from. I know how prone they are to revising MLK, for example, and how much easier it is to get behind something like the change in the laws versus feeling OK about a black person move in next door to you or taking on the time-consuming, complex, and deeply difficult work of dismantling institutionalized racism. In fact, in every article I write, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to explain topics/issues to white people so they do not get defensive and cannot hear what is being said. White people rarely return the favor. They rarely question their own positioning in relation to others – as the dominant group, they haven’t had to. Which is why it feels like such an affront to be asked to do so now. But that’s on them, not the folks that their positioning has denied rights, voice, and respect to all this time.

  • mx

    Thank you for sharing this. We have so much work to do.

  • MLK was a threat to the status quo and made a lot of people deeply uncomfortable (to the point of getting assassinated), and a lot of what he says gets glossed over, like the US is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Nobody should gloss over that

    He did have a style and a vision that feels inclusive. The very fact that white people can romanticize him kind of proves that. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t fighting against privilege or pissing off a lot of people at the time. If we’re going to get this problem solved, white people are going to have to be part of the solution.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you have to make people feel hopeful, feel like we are all connected and need each other. Otherwise it’s “divided we fall.”

  • sahra

    At what point do white people want to make everyone else feel hopeful, then? At what point do they see that we are all connected because all of the institutions, narratives, frameworks, and policies put in place to uphold their interests came and continue to come at the expense of others? I guess that is the question.

    I say that, mind you, knowing we will never fully dismantle institutionalized racism and white-centeredness. I am a radical pragmatist. I know where I would like things to be, but I also spent too much time in academic examining structures to not have a sense of what is actually possible and what is unlikely. But it is time for white people to give it a go and doing some reflection on their positioning. It is quite literally the least they can do.

    Actually, the least they could do would be to stop reaching out to me or other voices from the margins to tell us we’re hurting their feelings or cohesion… because that is genuinely bizarre. To have otherwise progressive people I do not know from Adam reaching out to me via facebook or twitter to email to let me know of their dismay…that says a lot to me about how little capacity for genuine self-reflection the white community as a whole has. Frankly, it’s stunning that I would write something that is, at its core, a plea to progressives to stop silencing so many voices – i’m not even asking that anyone agree with them! just that they stop silencing them and give them space to be – and folks felt compelled to tell me be quiet.

    It was that way in academia for me (where i researched international humanitarian emergencies, genocide, development, etc.), it has been that way here for 5 years, it was terrifyingly that way after 9/11 for my people, and it was that way growing up, where I was constantly reminded quite explicitly that I was not one of the community. And let’s be real, I am personally not that oppressed on the oppression scale. So, if no one is really throwing me a hope bone, just imagine what it’s like for the folks I write about. Then tell me again whose responsibility it is to provide that sense of hope. Or why it would not be seen as hopeful to uplift and make space for and learn from the experience of those that have been marginalized for so long?

    *all said with much love and respect, btw. i genuinely enjoy engaging with you here, Chewie

  • Don’t be silent. Keep doing your thing. I just wish I knew how to make it right. I know it can get better though. My white mother married my black father and had me, which used to be illegal, so I know we can enrich each others’ lives and transcend our history. I am a living embodiment of what Dr. King and so many others gave their lives for in that sense.

  • So if Donald Trump proposes a transit project, which could conceivably be part of the infrastructure package he talks about, will you petulantly oppose that too?

  • I think you would have to know Trump voters are tired of being told to “check their (non-existent) privilege”. And you clearly do not, here.

  • sahra

    clearly your need to insult someone is so profound that you did not even bother to try to make your comment even remotely on topic. and, this need of yours was so pressing that you made the same comment on different articles.

    i do hope you feel better now and that you can move on to more productive uses of your time.

    all my best.


  • BKBedStuy

    Understanding that acknowledging white privilege does *not* diminish one’s suffering at the hands of economic oppression will go a long way in reversing your animosity directed at other oppressed peoples and direct it at those doing the oppressing.

  • Allison Blanchette

    Thank you for writing and sharing this, Sahra.

  • omaryak

    Trump is talking about zeroing out transit funding per the Heritage Foundation’s recommendation.

  • omaryak

    San Francisco build the T Third line into its poorest neighborhoods before servicing its wealthier neighborhoods to the west with light rail. This meant that the wealthier neighborhoods had to wait in line, but I am glad SF put its money where its mouth is on social justice.

  • neroden

    “When I raised questions about the impact luxury residential towers would have on Historic South Central – the most overcrowded neighborhood in the country and one of the poorest in the city – I was dismissed out of hand, told I was too stupid
    to understand basic supply and demand, and reminded we were in a
    housing crisis”

    That’s because you are too pig-headed to actually understand what’s going on. You’re smart enough — you’re just being pig-headed.

    This was not a “it’s not your time” argument. This was a “you’re shooting yourself in the foot” argument.

    There are actual, honest-to-god studies showing that the only thing which has improved the state of housing for poor people for most of history is building high-capacity luxury housing. If you want to argue that it should be built in a different neighborhood? OK, sure, where? But you weren’t even trying to argue that.

    Where I live, our mayor is actually wise enough to realize that the construction of high-density luxury housing DOES improve the housing situation for the non-wealthy — which actually includes *him*. It takes the gentrification pressure off. It’s *working*. Rents have finally stopped rising.

    You know what’s happened in San Francisco, where the very wealthy bid up the prices of decrepit bedsits to the point where the poor can’t afford anything. That’s what happens if you *don’t* build luxury housing. Building it is the only way to bring rents down. If you don’t get that, you’re being *counterproductive to your own stated causes*, which I consider one of the worst sins there is.

  • neroden

    I wonder if you’re missing something big, which is only obvious to people who’ve spent some passing in the upper levels of the class structure.

    There is no “white community”. The higher you go on the kyriarchy hierarchy, the more atomized people are and the more fine-grained the distinctions are. There is practically zero solidarity between different “white” communities.

    So for god’s sake never direct an instruction to “the white community as a whole”. There is no such thing. It may look like a monolith from some perspectives, but it isn’t even a community.

  • neroden

    I’ve been tearing my hair out about the state of the country
    since Reagan (before that I wasn’t old enough to talk). It’s heartening
    that people are finally recognizing it now; I am very happy that Trump
    is *unpopular*. Reagan was actually very popular, which was

  • Josh Albrektson

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again. We are short of housing. The best place is to put it next to rail lines. The streets next to the Blue Line on Washington cannot be kept shitty just because there are people who live right near by who don’t want their rents to go up. The only way to stop the housing crisis is to build housing and the Reef is a perfect project in a perfect place to build as high as you possibly can. The only person pulling the race card out on this project is you. The surrounding community never had realistic demands that the Reef could do and still afford to build, so the community should not have been taken seriously. I loved the 55,000 people who would be displaced by this building. That was hilarious.

  • GreenlaneJane

    Here’s the problem I’m seeing. You are chastising “privileged white people” for only recently becoming politically concerned, but you aren’t providing any call to action on how you think they should do it “correctly.”

    This is non productive. If you’re vocally dismissing the voices of 750k women and men who marched for their rights, and then you don’t have a suggestion for how they should center their energy, you come off as someone who wants to silence their voices.

    And to be honest, it absolutely does seem like you are willfully ignoring supply and demand when it comes to the housing crisis. Again, what is your solution? Because the minorities you speak of are out of options on where to move. That historic segregation is solidified by the fact that members of the poor community have zero housing mobility in Los Angeles when rent is this high. So yes, we need to build more affordable housing. But if you are opposing high density, mixed use, transit centric construction because of “white privilege,” I think you are being very short cited.

    This really does read like a NIMBY essay, with an extreme dose of “check your privilege” rhetoric. The only people who benefit from your mindset are existing homeowners. In your scenario, nothing changes.

    Don’t divide a politically active climate. Unite it. Provide solutions. Not dismissals.

  • sahra

    Thank you for being original and repeating pretty much all the things I said people had said to me in my story, including: “Until I have concrete alternatives to offer, I should just keep my mouth
    shut and let people who actually care about livable cities get things

    And you apparently were not listening when i did give a potential way forward: listening. When is the last time you got on a train or went to a neighborhood that was not your own and really listened to folks? Got involved? Volunteered in those schools? Stopped reaching out to people you did not know because you felt such a strong need to tell them to shut up? The possibilities are endless.

  • sahra

    First things first, anyone who believes that there is such a thing as a “race card” is already fighting a losing battle (and completely missed the point of the article, and could probably stand to do some self-reflection about either why they think the “race card” is even a thing or at least why they are so eager to let other people know they think it is a thing.)

    Second, if you think that you’re the only one that has pushed back on gentrification, I’m sorry to inform you that is not the case. This city is chock full of not-particularly-progressive-progressives. Every time I write on the issue, either in South Central or Boyle Heights, I get the same arguments, the same anger, the same insults, the same myopia, a lot of ugliness, a lot of racism, a lot of ad hominem attacks. I have for several years. This song is not about you.

    Third, you continue to suggest I do not know we are in a housing crisis. I don’t find supply and demand particularly mysterious or confusing – I am deeply familiar with how it works. I wholeheartedly believe as you do – and I mean that genuinely – that we must build more housing and we must build as much as we can and as quickly as we can. THAT SAID, I also am familiar with the history of housing politics in this city. And it is stasis on the west side and the refusal to build there – the power of wealthier homeowners and wealthier interests who have had a.) the ability to accumulate wealth via homeownership that black and brown communities in LA were historically denied and b.) the ability to not only make choices about where they live but also the ability to ensure that those they did not wish to have encroaching on their communities or home values remained unable to do so. That is just history, and I don’t think it is particularly controversial. I think that if this particular point was not coming from me, specifically, that we would be in agreement about this… I think all of us know that wealthy homeowners are a huge barrier – it is one of so many reasons we are all up in arms about Measure S. The logical follow on, then, is to look at what their advantages and the city’s active disinvestment and disenfranchisement of lower-income communities of color hath wrought. And it isn’t pretty: depressed home values, deep distrust and broken channels of communication between the city and those stakeholders, limited access to power, limited control over their communities, limited access to opportunities to accumulate wealth and own their community (South LA was hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis on top of that), overcrowding, substandard housing conditions (contributing to high incidences of asthma and lead poisoning). This, to you, is a “race card.” To me, it is a site analysis which leads me to ask, “Is it really fair to put the burden of fixing our housing crisis on the backs of such an embattled community? And if it is fair, are they getting just compensation?”

    Fourth, raising questions about the consequences of development is not the same as being anti-development – something you have accused me of being no matter how many times I told you I was not. As I noted in the piece, and have said to you via comments and tweets, if we wish to have city that is welcoming to all Angelenos, then these questions need to be asked. If we proceed with projects like the Reef, are we making it difficult for the bottom strata to stay in our city? What do we lose when we lose those communities? And why are the tools we do have in our affordable housing arsenal struggling to meet the needs of the most vulnerable? If we can’t protect those folks with the tools we do have, are there more creative ways to do so? Moreover, if we are displacing people who are dependent on transit from transit-oriented developments, are we simply burdening our transit agency down the line, when it will have to work harder to extend networks to the outer reaches? Phil Washington has said as much. So has Anthony Foxx. So, raising those questions does matter. We are in a crunch and it is dire – I could not agree more. But we may be racking up a tab that will be even costlier later if we’re not looking at all the consequences – good, bad, economic, social, human, cultural, etc. – now.

    Fifth, first grade math is for first graders. At the 30,000 foot level, supply and demand can be thought of in basic terms: more housing = lower rents. But when you zero into particular neighborhoods, that’s when we need to graduate to second or third grade and start asking more complicated questions because the equation is that much more complex. Where you put housing matters – where, how much, for whom, what form, with what objective, etc. entails cost-benefit analyses, just like you would make on any investment decision. I hear a lot about the costs to developers – and I do indeed have a solid grasp of how incredibly complicated it can be to get projects off the ground. But housing is about housing – the building block of communities. Knowing that, I struggle to understand why it is so offensive to also ask about potential human costs…if building for one kind of community is going to do harm to another and, if so, if there are ways to mitigate that. We often say of environmental issues that we do not do enough to figure in the costs to our health, etc. of fossil fuels, etc. The same could be said for development – we aren’t good at calculating human costs, what we lose as a city when we lose socio-economic, cultural, visual, etc. diversity. Nor do we have a way to put a dollar figure on the damage done by past discriminatory policies that makes a project like the Reef viable now.

    Sixth, I’m so glad you find displacement hilarious. It must be nice to be able to look down on those families who are sharing bedbug infested, leaky two-bedroom apartments with one or two other families and laugh so heartily. For f*ck’s sake. If you want to debate supply and demand and development, do it with dignity. Don’t be an asshole about it.

  • roger

    I really don’t see how this article pertains to HUD or transit, except a tenuous connection through gentrification (a process which allows liberal cities to be independent, due to the growth of a local tax base).

    As it pertains to things like “stop and frisk” (and similar) these are things all families innately demand when they settle down because most value their personal safety over freedom.

  • sahra

    I call it the white community for many reasons – mainly the aspect of privilege in which whites generally do not have to think about their positioning in regard to others because they are the dominant culture. I also do it because whites do not think of themselves as a community, they think of themselves as individuals. But rarely do they offer other members of other communities the same courtesy…and instead tokenize individuals of other races, expecting them to speak for their entire people, and in the worst-case scenarios, picking and choosing their favorite representative of that race [see Fox News and Sheriff David Clarke, for ex.]. Anyone who is of another race is well-aware of this phenomenon. In planning, this is a tremendous problem and the whole reason we held the Untokening last fall.

  • sahra

    If you can’t see it, then I can’t help you except to suggest you read the pieces I’ve linked to throughout that explore those issues in depth.

  • sahra

    see my reply above to josh. it applies to questions you raise as well. love the ‘pig-headed’ insult, btw. that always helps an argument feel more cogent and based in fact and worthy of engagement and not at all personal.

  • Josh Albrektson

    Well, I said the “study” that said 55,000 people would be displaced was hilarious, because it is. I live downtown and they found me as one of the people. I love it how you somehow transmogrified it into me hating all the people who are overcrowded right now.

    You are great writer. No one denies that. You take the social justice warrior if stuff waaaay to far tho. No one can have a honest discussion with you without you pulling out the race card and accusing them of being white. You’ve done it over and over and over. I know because the second I wrote my piece about streetsblog being anti-development I got three messages from people saying similar things.

    Normally I would like to actually talk about the points you’ve raised. I realize it won’t make a difference what I say because you have already realized I’m white and my views don’t matter. And if you keep writing things like that, your views that you express in your posts will matter less and less, because people will tune you out like my friends already have. The funny thing is, I actually agree with most of the points you made, but ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • sahra

    Do I think that the 40K folks the report said would be displaced will be physically displaced? No. I agree with many of the city’s critiques of the report. And as an academic, I had issues with the way data was gathered. So I never cite that report’s conclusion nor do I really use it to support any of the claims that I make. I only refer to it to let folks know it was there and to highlight one aspect, which is that there are 4,500 or so folks in the near vicinity of the project that will be affected. I don’t think that is an even remotely outrageous expectation.

    As for your whiteness comment, I’m half-white myself, raised in a 98% white community in Wisconsin, where my family still lives and where I visit regularly. So I’m not sure where you’re going with
    your whiteness comment…but if it makes you feel better about dismissing the points I raise, sure, go with it.

  • GreenlaneJane

    Who told you to shut up? You wrote an essay discrediting actions in a march. I read it. That’s listening. Then I *asked* for advice on action steps.

    And you just scolded me for engaging you about it. You just told *me* to shut up.

  • sahra

    I never discredited the march. I think it’s great folks marched. Phenomenal, in fact. It was amazing and thrilling to see. Truly. For me, personally, however, I felt conflicted about attending for a lot of the reasons I late out. My family has been receiving hateful political propaganda at our home in Wisconsin for the last 15 years, felt threatened in our own community. When I started teaching international politics 15 years ago, my students at USC didn’t think Muslim internment was so crazy. Others proudly wrote about how they called 911 on brown people who looked Middle Eastern. We had speakers that came to campus that called for the nuking of the entire Muslim world and people jumped to their feet and gave them a standing ovation. There was a Muslim registry and no one stood up to protest that injustice then. Folks from other communities of color have far greater and far longer-standing grievances… and they’ve had to wage those battles on their own all this time. That’s where the feeling of being conflicted came from…that what we’re seeing with Trump is deeply troubling for a million different reasons. But it also isn’t that new for many communities. It is just being said loudly out and folks who didn’t hear it before are now hearing it, some for the first time.

    And as for telling you to shut up, I’m not. I’m just wondering why read a story that lays out the many ways in which voices of color or from other marginalized communities have been silenced, and then use those same words, expressions, etc. to tell me I am some sort of nimby who isn’t talking properly to white people or giving them the call to action they want to hear. That’s for you to figure out why you would do that, not me.

    I think people don’t realize I’m half white, and that because I have a significant amount of privilege compared to the folks I write about, I have had to do the “checking” of that privilege you say I am non-productively chastising people about. I do it every day. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I move through a community that’s not mine. Every time I sit in a room with white planners who are engaging in group think. It’s a little easier for me than for most fully white people, I would guess, because I have gone back and forth between worlds all my life. I didn’t have a choice. But it doesn’t mean white people can’t do it themselves. You can blast me for not offering specific avenues forwards, but I would ask how we can just plow ahead when the road is so narrowly defined and privileges one way of being/one community’s experience. We have to take a look at our frameworks first and find a way to build a more inclusive base. I don’t get why folks find that so offensive or incendiary.

  • sahra

    reasons I *laid out.

    how embarrassing.

  • Benny B

    your ignorance on this subject is truly mind blowing. but yeah keep on believing that your leaders are liberals when in fact they are not. they are trump in liberal slogans

  • Benny B

    you’re so brave with your comment here, i bet your mom gives you extra marshmallows in your heroin while you post these in the basement.

  • Benny B

    wow you’re on fire with the insults. maybe you should ask your momma in macedonia for more fentanyl

  • Benny B

    she didn’t but I will. shut up with your ignorant bullshit.

  • Benny B

    oh fuck off, please, you self righteous trumpite

  • Benny B

    white people spend an inordinate amount of time telling people they’re “good” even as they do horrible things and seek reassurance from other whites that they’re ok. Libtard whites seek it in expensive lifestyle choices that reflect “concerns” but when you talk about anything that might impede that white liberal lifestyle, such as a strike, they get really upset. White conservacucks don’t give a shit about such things but will always tell you about their one black friend to make you assured that they can say “n*gger president” early and often, but they’re really NOT BAD PEOPLE WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT PC THUG.

    and I am free to say this because I’m super white and I’ve lived in both big liberal dumbocrap cities and I lived in the white rednecky drug addicted rural areas. White people are all the same, the political affiliations are just drag to sell you stuff.

  • sahra

    thanks for the support, but let’s maybe not attack folks personally. we try to keep that to a minimum in this forum.


  • GreenlaneJane

    I appreciate the reply. And this all makes sense. My point really is, I know I have privilege. I know that many municipal actions are not measured properly to gauge impact on communities with less representation.

    Pointing this out, again, is good to remember. But we need real solutions. I don’t have any specifics. The article that does will be of great use, and I am pursuing exactly that.

    Just feels like it’s often very easy to call out every problem you see. We’re here reading this blog. We’re already striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. Let’s do it together.

    And no worries on the typo :). My phone just tried to produce a few as well.

  • sahra

    I’m often a really lonely voice calling out these problems, though. And that’s actually part of the problem. Urban planning is a pretty white-centered profession. And there is a lot of privilege inherent in it – the folks that are making decisions about communities like the ones I cover tend to have very little experience interacting with genuinely socio-economically diverse communities {thinking just about race/class here and leaving aside ADA issues or LGBTQIA folks). And that’s fine. Folks can’t help where they were raised or whether they come from an upper-middle class. But what I don’t see is people acknowledging that and stopping to ask themselves what they might be missing if X,Y, or Z group is not in the room. What knowledge might they not have?

    Which might seem a little Rumsfeldian… I am asking folks to explore the known unknowns as well as the unknown unknowns. But that’s what I had to do – be aware of what I did not know. Be aware of what it meant when certain groups were not in the room to speak up. Be aware of what issues are not addressed because those folks are not there. Be aware of how frameworks are not being challenged because, say in the case of a streetscape improvement, access to the street is assumed. A specific case was a couple of years ago when Bike Friendly Streets were all the rage. I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever heard of. It’s a suburban solution. And it makes sense in some communities around the city for sure. But in the communities I cover, gang and other issues mean that the side streets are actually not that accessible to most people. They stick to the main streets because those are neutral, busy (lots of eyes), and folks feel safer, even if they’re more likely to get run over there. Also folks aren’t riding for pleasure a great part of the time – they need the most direct route…which are the main thoroughfares. So the idea of spending money to implement all of this stuff that nobody but the occasional white person who was riding through the community could use made me insane.

    It’s a silly example, but it’s what I’m getting at with the listening suggestion. I have volunteered with youth in area schools for 8 years. They have taught me more about how these communities move, how much they struggle, how they define community, how fraught the public space can be for them… they are the greatest informants I could ask for. And they’re why I don’t mind being the lonely voice… they’re the majority in this city and they deserve to be heard. But I just wish other folks would learn to listen to them. Too often, what happens is folks are fine engaging with me or some other equity/justice advocate and they’re totally down with whatever we’re talking about. But when they go back to their natural environments or their offices, they don’t take that downness with them – they don’t practice it on their own.

    in the grand scheme of insanity we have on our hands with this regime, I know that sounds small. But listening and then putting what you heard into practice in your daily life/work is really what folks are asking for. That, and that they not be gentrified out of existence, of course. But let’s start with the basics.

  • white


  • Justin Runia

    While you are certainly not justified to attend or miss whatever events you want, I kinda wonder if a lot of the “Women’s March is for white people” articles are spending a lot of words to avoid talking about their authors ambivalence on the efficacy of protest marches in the first place.

  • sahra

    Marches can be very effective for some things. Certainly protests have helped with the Muslim Ban…I think that is undeniable. And I am grateful for all the folks that showed up for it. But for more structurally embedded issues, it is harder to organize a movement. How does one march against institutionalized racism? Decades of disenfranchisement? It’s one thing to change a law to grant folks certain rights. It’s another to make sure that the culture, frameworks, structures, narratives, etc. adjust to allow folks to exercise those rights to their fullest. That’s kind of what I’m getting at…A lot of the progressive folks that marched are the same ones that tokenize or shut down voices of color in planning processes, for ex., or are even popping off below telling me they don’t get it, think I’m the problem, or can’t talk to me because they claim I “play the race card.” There is no march that can be organized against that sort of stasis…that requires more deconstruction, introspection, listening, active-engagement, etc. on the part of the individual and communities that – intentionally or unintentionally – are blocking inclusion. But if said progressives can’t deal with me trying to argue on behalf of oppressed communities, and I haven’t been that deeply oppressed, personally, I’m not sure how on earth they expect to communicate with someone who has been and who is kinda pissed about it.

  • sahra

    For some reason, Disqus ate my reply. I am reposting it below. Sorry for the repetition should it magically reappear at some point…

    “Marches can be very effective for some things. Certainly protests have
    helped with the Muslim Ban…I think that is undeniable. And I am grateful
    for all the folks that showed up for it. But for more structurally
    embedded issues, it is harder to organize a movement. How does one march
    against institutionalized racism? Decades of disenfranchisement? It’s
    one thing to change a law to grant folks certain rights. It’s another to
    make sure that the culture, frameworks, structures, narratives, etc.
    adjust to allow folks to exercise those rights to their fullest. That’s
    kind of what I’m getting at…A lot of the progressive folks that marched
    are the same ones that tokenize or shut down voices of color in planning
    processes, for ex., or are even popping off below telling me they don’t
    get it, think I’m the problem, or can’t talk to me because they claim I
    “play the race card.” There is no march that can be organized against
    that sort of stasis…that requires more deconstruction, introspection,
    listening, active-engagement, etc. on the part of the individual and
    communities that – intentionally or unintentionally – are blocking
    inclusion. But if said progressives can’t deal with me trying to argue
    on behalf of oppressed communities, and I haven’t been that deeply
    oppressed, personally, I’m not sure how on earth they expect to
    communicate with someone who has been and who is kinda pissed about it.”

  • disqus_AoHoLWdrKe

    Just read your post and am late to the discussion. Just a couple of questions. You end with, “It is indeed our time.” Who is included in that “our?” Black? Latino? Both? Which are you? You state in a reply, that “progressives can’t deal with me trying to argue
    on behalf of oppressed communities.” Are you neither black nor brown but speaking on their behalf? And, what does the “IA” in LGBTQIA stand for? Excuse my ignorance. The last time I LGBTQ.

  • sahra

    If you saw comments below, then you should have seen where I explain my background. I am brown but on the spectrum of the constraints imposed upon brown folks, I have quite a bit of privilege in relation to the communities I write about, and I am hyper-aware of that. Which means that the “our” refers to both the voices and realities of the communities I cover, as well as the space granted to folks like me to communicate them. It is deeply troubling that privileged urbanists who claim to be so enthusiastic about diversity -especially in cities like LA that are both majority minority and deeply segregated- are the first to shut down race/class analyses. Not because I personally care about whether I get shut down, but because not being able to communicate those voices and realities means that the planning processes, programs, people, and practices that are reshaping this city continue to ignore them.

    As far as LGBTQIA:


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