Column: Karen Bass’ Latino-Black family is everything the ugly audiotape is not – but better.
“How do you like our new family?” the photographer said with evident delight—or was it shock? It was tough to know from her open, smiling face, too full of exuberance to conceal any of its emotions. She kept smiling, but she was definitely not happy.
“It’s the perfect family, and we’re the perfect family,” said her daughter, Jennifer.
Karen and I met on a rainy Wednesday morning at the Los Angeles police substation, on the corner of North San Pedro and South Crenshaw boulevards. She is a forty-year-old single mother of four, with two boys, one in kindergarten, the other her youngest at kindergarten. Her husband, her three children, and two stepchildren are members of a small and tight-knit family, one of the Latino-Black families in Westwood that I have come to know intimately over the past two years.
A year ago, I received an email from a journalist in Los Angeles who had done a series of interviews with the family members and friends of one of their children, a kindergarten-age boy. As she read the stories to me, I noticed her smile had lessened. She was now clearly troubled and upset with the family.
As the family’s stories unfolded over the course of the interview, I began to realize the story I had been following wasn’t an aberration. Although it was a family of Latino-Black people, what I had described to them was not an especially rare occurrence.
We are in a new age of identity politics, as we’ve long known it. In the past, our identity was something that we were born with, something that was created and shaped by our circumstances. It was something made by our ancestors, not something we created ourselves, or imposed on our ancestors. It was something that we lived up to, and something we were ashamed of if we failed to live up to it. It’s one of the reasons why some of us—whether in America or some other countries—have always been ashamed of our Latino-Black identities.
This is not to say that our ancestors made us