In 1992, my husband and I were living in the Los Angeles area in a town called Gardena. We had lived in our neighborhood for a little more than 2 years and became close friends with one or two of our neighbors, but hadn’t met everyone. One evening my husband was sitting on the front lawn while our two dogs played around him. One of our neighbors ran out of her house screaming for help because her husband was having an epileptic seizure. My husband ran over to help her by staying with her husband to keep him from hurting himself while she called 911. Once everything had calmed down and they were settled again, my husband came home and the event was soon just a past memory.
Several weeks later, the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, also referred to as “the Rodney King Riots” erupted. The sky was filled with smoke from fires in surrounding areas and people were filled with fear from the news reports of violence and anger. Driving home from work that first evening took almost 3 hours for what was normally a 30-minute ride. When we arrived home, there was a note on our door inviting us to meet with the rest of the neighborhood in the middle of the street. As we joined the rest of the group, one of our neighbors, who we then discovered was a minister, asked everyone to join hands in a circle and pray for the safety of the city and the end of the violence. The minister was the same man that my husband had sat with weeks earlier when he had an epileptic seizure.
After the prayer, the people in the circle started introducing themselves and we met the rest of our neighbors for the first time. We agreed that we were safe if we stayed on our street, and there were offers to share milk, food, and baby diapers so there would be no need to leave the street to venture out to a store. One of the neighbors announced that we should create a block club right then and there. Another neighbor took a look at my husband and I and hesitantly said, “I don’t think this is the right time to talk about a club.” It took me a minute to realize that this man didn’t want us included. At that point the minister’s wife spoke up and told the group what a wonderful thing my husband did that day when he ran over to help her with her husband when he was in distress. She went on to say that my husband’s actions were the perfect example of being a good neighbor and a good person. She said, “This is exactly the right time to talk about creating a block club.”
It’s important for me to tell you now that my husband and I are Caucasian and we lived in a Black neighborhood. I had never felt discrimination because of my race before until the moment it became clear to me why that man did not want us included in the block club. He didn’t even know us. He made the statement based only on our race.
That day will always stay in my mind. That day was when I not only experienced racial discrimination, but actually understood what it felt like.
Carol Richards, CAP-OM