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Kern County Calamity
Transcript of Kern County Calamity
Education and Neighborhood Segregation
Kern County has one of the longest standing African American communities in the San Joaquin Valley. There have been blacks living in Bakersfield since 1880.. However, there are pockets in the county where blacks did not live. Taft, a company town built by oil companies refused to hire non-whites—making the small oil town all-white except during World War II, and again, during the mid-1970s when the college sought out African American athletes. Grapes of Wrath Okies who chose to live apart from non-whites and who, to some degree, maintain the status quo, populated the unincorporated areas of Oildale, north of Bakersfield. In both cases, people living in these all-white communities viewed people of color as that other, or the stranger, who are more “likely to be victims of stereotypes and potentially victims of discrimination and violence” (McVeigh and Sikkink 2005: 501). Both of these blue-collar communities, originally built on the edge of the oilfields, share similar histories regarding race relations: exclusively, or almost exclusively, white in a county with a relatively significant black and growing Hispanic population. Members of these town have a history that is separate from and in proximity to persons of color. This separation has created the structure of Kern County we see today. Educational and neighborhood segregation is facilitated by the ongoing racial tension that both industry and location have significantly affected. It is for these reasons that Bakersfield is stagnant in its political growth and remains an economic power house - but not to the workers that the oil and agriculture industries try to keep constantly subdued and mildly happy.
Historical Influence of the Ku Klux Klan
"a land of chicken-fried steaks, biscuits and gravy, okra, greens, and blackeyed
peas... the land of drag racing, southern country music, and religious revivals"
Much of Kern County was settled by people from the south, who left there at the close of the civil war.
"One effect… has been to make the south conscious of its own greatness… [M]en
and women of southern descent view the deeds of their fathers during the
reconstruction period, and they are proud of the record... The peace and prosperity
of the present are founded on the heroic labors of the Ku Klux Klan… that
resisted the… measures by which it was sought to reduce the south… The play is
true to historical conditions although the details are imaginatively conceived…"
(Bakersfield Californian 1908a).
This large influx of scorned farmers established a desire for the way things were and citizens began hauling in hoards of African Americans. In lieu of slavery, a wage of "$15 a month and board" became the going rate and brought a decent amount of workers in, based on that alone. (Kern County Californian 1884)
"California was naturally a cotton-raising state. Indeed, if California had not been admitted to the Union as a free state, there can be no doubt that long ere now we would have had large numbers for cotton plantations, worked by slaves brought here from the Southern States by men who were able to discover the superior advantages of our soil and climate for cotton culture." (California State Agriculture Society 1872)
D.W. Griffith's movie interpretation of The Birth of a Nation ran at the Bakersifeld Opera House in October 1916 with a return showing the following December. Instead of protests reported in the local paper, the Bakersfield Californian announced that Kern Schools would begin to celebrate Robert E. Lee.
The 1920s were a time when the United States experienced the accelerated use of unskilled labor by industry (meaning fewer jobs for so called skilled labor), severe shortages of agricultural labor, and high protective tariffs that worsened the post-war depression—all conditions that ultimately led to a new national resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan following the example laid out in Griffith’s movie (McVeigh 2004: 897).Because of the historical influences of segregation and racism, when the oil industry came to Kern County it was bound to exclude any persons beside the white male. This preference would carry over well into the twenty-first century and continue to affect the structure of education as well as the county itself.
The third decade of the twentieth century increased urbanization and industrialization, combined with large-scale agricultural production and a massive increase in the extraction industries caused change in almost every sector of the economy in Kern County. Today Kern County produces 66% of the oil in California, about 10% of the U.S. oil supply, and approximately 1% of the world's total oil production. In agriculture it is the fifth largest producing county in America.
This meant an increase of white males arriving and settling amid the oil fields of the South and
the Southwest sectors of the County. As the oil companies only hired whites to work their
oilfields, thereby creating segregated communities with few women, and no minorities.
In addition to waiters, oil workers, and other blue collar workers, among those on the Klan’s membership roles were: Stanley Abel, the chairman of the Kern County Board of Supervisors (and resident of Taft); W. E. McFadden, Bakersfield City Treasurer; Herbert Hearle, Taft City Trustee; the Right Reverend Vandyke Todd; Bakersfield fireman Earl Howe, C. Z. Vanderhock, Bakersfield banker, J. H. Baldwin, public accountant from Taft (Rintoul 1978: 70-71).
Those communities that grew up in the oil fields of Kern County have a long tradition of hostility toward non-whites. During the oil-bonanza in the early part of the twentieth century, major oil companies only hired white workers. Taft, which sits atop the Midway-Sunset Oilfield, was known as “a virulently racist place… and African Americans were especially despised” (Loewen 2007) Whether de facto or de jure, the “unwritten law against the presence of African Americans after sundown” in this Kern County community “was widely, and frequently proclaimed” (Loewen 2007).
While some “No colored allowed” signs are reported to have been posted, the town’s reputation was enough to discourage most nonwhites. It was accepted during my youth that no Negro should allow himself to be found in Taft after dusk, and everyone talked about, but no one ever saw, a sign—“Nigger don’t let the sun set on you here”—that was supposed to have been posted on the city limits (Haslam 1999).
According to the 2000 census, Oildale’s
population of close to 30,000 people included just 97 African Americans (U. S. Department of
Commerce: Economics and Statistics Administration 2008).
Not only were the blacks ostracized, but hispanics who began to show up for work in the agricultural industry were unable to ever cross over into leadership roles or take any control of their city. They were given the low paying farmer jobs, while whites maintained their higher paying oil jobs. Although neither profession provides a large income, oil is more unionized and does pay its workers decently well. Herbert Gans sees the benefits that these two demographics of poor workers present to both the oil and agriculture industries as necessary to the community of California at large. Without both the poor white and hispanic labor, Bakersfield would not be what it is today and the powers that be only try and support their segregation thereby limiting their potential for upward mobility. By essentially keeping these two communities in constant struggle with one another, the white poor feel superior to their latino counterparts keeping them subdued while the latino communities remain unchanged and nonthreatening to Bakersfield's current way of life. (Gans)
Hispanic workers describe "how they work ten hours or more a day (without overtime), in 100+ degree heat. How the labor laws always have special ‘rules’ that usually make the farm workers a class of worker that isn’t covered by the basic human rights or wage sections of said laws. This is no bullshit folks….farm workers are usually exempt from many if not most of the protections offered the rest of us as employees."(Bee)
Modern Evidence of Intense Community Racism
One example of lingering structural effects of racism is the mascot of a local high school. When it was established, South High was located in a poor white neighborhood and the students came up with their own names for the football teams- rebels, raiders, and riders. These of course being direct references to the Army of the Confederacy. Today one can go to the school and see that the demographic of the school had dramatically changed while the mascot is still named for the Army of the South and the Ku Klux Klan.
Young adults at a 2006 Kottonmouth Kings concert were seen giving the Nazi SS hand sign, or hand flash (the Nazi salute). When asked, they indicated that it was popular among Oildale youth and a symbol of White Power (Munoz 2006). This familiar, almost casual, expression by teens and young adults in Oildale is indicative of that town’s long, well-known, racist history. Oildale is currently home to at least two white supremacist groups: The Oildale Peckerwoods and the Nazi Lowrider. Both groups are associated with the prison gangs the Aryan Brotherhood and Public Enemy No. 1 (Anti-Defamation League 2011a; Anti-Defamation League 2011b)
"[T]he extent to which racist framing resonates with a community’s White residents depends heavily on the degree of spatial and social distance separating White and non-White populations… where patterns of structural differentiation constrain members of racial and ethinc minority groups to the social position of “the stranger”… a social position that is defined by distance." (McVeigh andSikkink 2005)
There are racist elements in practically every community. However, they appear to be stronger in some areas than others. It would be to simple to say that Kern County’s long history of racial problems are simply the result of the large percentage of residents who can trace their roots to the American South. Although these issues are the foundation of Kern Counties current segregation they are not the entire reason.
Crime and Political Makeup of Kern County
In a study of "Racial Imbalance in American Public Schools," Bakersfield was listed as a city to have least changed in segregation from '89-'99. Before this study, the New York Times had even written an article about attempts of voluntarily desegregation within the city with little avail. Even during my high school education district changes were a constant issue. Bakersfield High School is the oldest high school in Bakersfield, ironically holding diversity in a high regard. During the 2008 election the city wanted to change district lines to move my neighborhood (predominately white) to another closer white school. If this change would have been made the school would have lost most of the students in advanced placement as well as its claim of diversity. Others have shared these same experiences throughout Bakersfield's history.
During '89-'99 school segregation increased from 46.4%-47.6% while neighborhood segregation decreased from 50.7%-45.2%. This shows that great legal efforts were being made to maintain the schools segregation while people were naturally integrating into neighborhoods. The Hispanic-White school segregation grew from 57.8%-59.4% furthering the evidence that little was being done to cope with the old structure of segregation and the new influx of hispanics. Naturally the feeling of segregation felt by hispanic children grew from from 57.3%-65.8%, showing that after 10 years this segregation became obvious to those involved. (Logan 6,13,14)
Current Policies and Racial Divide
To this day hispanics are very ill represented in the city council and the future looks dim. Although it seems natural that gangs would be formed, the population of hispanics is so large that they have adapted and have been able to establish their own territory with rules of its own. Unlike the shift in police enforcement to bad neighborhoods we see in cities like LA, there is just as much white crime as there is non-white being committed and persecuted. With over half the population being considered poor and the large expanse of land of the actual city, a large police force is required to enforce in almost every community. Drugs are a main reason why everyone is considered almost equal offenders, but the white makeup of the police force has been maintained causing a larger amount of minorities to be arrested.
Since the arrival of Oil to Kern County, white people have been hired and all minorities turned away. Creating homogenous communities full of poor white people.
The allure of food and cotton has drawn loads of hispanics to Kern County. This leads to the establishment of hispanic neighborhoods causing further separation between the races.
Bakersfield is the birthplace of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their creation of the rock-a-billy form of country we see today. This revolution in country music came about because of Bakersfieldians unwillingness to conform to even Nashville's traditional form of country. This unwillingness to conform to the rest of the "country" leads us to believe that they wanted every aspect of their culture to be based on values that only they themselves saw as right.
Because of the different simultaneous communities developing, school segregation became rampant. District lines were manipulated by those in power to maintain the growing divide.
The school segregation becomes even more questionable when the percentage of poor people in white schools is at 50.55%. This is because a majority of white people are employed by the oil industry which provides them with a feeling of superiority to their hispanic farmer counterparts but keeps them in a low pay grade. (Logan 20)
William L. Taylor - director of the Center for National Policy Review at the Catholic University- declared, while speaking about the supreme court case of Bakersfield's segregation:
''The major defect of this Justice Department settlement is that it simply does not accord with what the Constitution requires,'' Mr. Taylor said. ''The reason it was sent to the Justice Department was that it was determined that there were deliberate segregative practices in Bakersfield, mandatory practices that assign children to segregated schools.
''The Supreme Court has made it clear that under those circumstances, freedom of choice is not enough, whether you call them 'magnets' or whatever. The basic problem with what the Justice Department did was that it did not act in accordance with the law, and did not protect the rights of the children of Bakersfield.'' (Cummings)
Last year California's fair housing agency commissioned a survey that concluded that potential black and Hispanic renters had ''a 98 percent chance'' of facing discrimination, the highest rate in the state.(Cummings)
The conservative makeup of Kern County becomes obvious when looking at its background. As opposed to the predominance of minority gangs in Los Angeles, Kern County has two major white supremacist gangs that are not the only examples of racial hatred. Even if uninvolved in gang activity, citizens of Taft and Oildale are still guilty of hate crimes. This desire for homogeneity ties directly into Mike Davis' reasoning for why "white, religiously conservative ‘red america’ is taking its distance from heavily immigrant and liberal ‘blue america'."(Davis, xvii)
The problem of segregation was so bad that it had to be taken to the supreme court. The judge, John Ohanian, decided in 1978 that the Bakersfield City Schools had intentionally and by law created a system that segregated black and Hispanic elementary students from white students. Some civil rights advocates say the findings in his 220-page ruling added up to a near-classic case of deliberate and illegal segregation in a large urban school system.
An August 2005 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer listed Bakersfield as the eighth-most-conservative city in the United States and the most conservative city in California. In the 2008 Presidential election, Republican John McCain received 55.6% of the city's votes to Democrat Barack Obama's 42.9%. The same year, Bakersfield cast 75.2% of its votes in favor of Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. (Wiki)
The number of violent crimes recorded by the Bakersfield Police Department in its 2008 Crime Reports was 5,961. 27 of those were murders and homicides. Data collected by Bakersfield Police Department, an anti-gang program under the City of Bakersfield, shows that the city of Bakersfield has experienced an increase in gang membership and gang activity since the early 2000s. Bakersfield is an 10% safe city.(Wiki)
Growing up in this city requires an interesting skewed perspective on the rest of the world. Because Bakersfield is the most conservative area in California there have been attempts at establishing the San Joaquin Valley as a separate state so that their voice would actually be heard amongst California's liberal areas. Plans have been submitted that would divide California into three separate states creating an even larger feelings of isolation within the hispanic population. But the interesting thing is that socially hispanics and african americans are also conservative which is why we see such a large percentage of votes going against same sex marriage and why even the poor white people remain republican. (Johnson)
The influence of oil has been seen across California from Ventura to Oakland, and Bakersfield is no exception. A study was preformed by Harvey Mulotoch involving the different effects that the oil industry had on Ventura and Santa Barbara. Ventura, although geographically had the better beaches, became so wrapped up in keeping the oil a part of their economy that they lost sight of the future and isolated themselves. This case is extremely similar to Bakersfield in the way that oil to this day remains an enormous part of its economy and inherently created segregation between communities. (Molotoch) This interest of a limited city is also touched upon by Paul Peterson. His perspective on cities is that they do whatever is in their greatest economical interest at the present time. Consideration is given to only those in power and they ultimately will always decide what is best for a city based on how much economic power can be gained from the decision. (Peterson) Bakersfield represents both of these theories perfectly because the reason that oil was so heavily encouraged was based on gaining economic clout and once it was established the city did everything in its power to keep the oil there.
This deliberate retrenchment of state brought on because of Bakersfield's conservative history is clarified in Loic Waquant's discussion of the decivilization of American Ghettos. In this article he describes how a minorities in a segregated area can eventually be left for dead by the government. Bakersfield has intensely unregulated and segregated communities that would almost prefer to be left alone rather than influenced by the federal government. Poor white people want to be left alone because of their conservative values, while hispanics are stuck with their unregulated farming jobs and because they have never experienced any real contact with the government they don't know know any better. This makes it even easier for the state to retreat creating the current segregation of students in schools and seperation of neighborhoods. (Waquant)
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