Diary: Hate / La Haine and the Hummingbird

See that man over there, that woman, the dead black man and woman with a wooden cross in hand, one headed out to sea, the other to the mountains: they are ghosts of a life past, southern in character, pushed out of LA and onto the streets until only 9 percent of the city is still black, making up 39 percent of the unhoused.

The hummingbird being the working class, beautiful, always tired from seeking food. As Anthropologist Alain Bertho writes in The Age of Violence, the roots of violence are found in concrete social and political situations. This was the case in 1992 in Los Angeles, during the LA Riots, as it is the case today in France with the Gilets Jaunes. Years before the Gilets Jaune, in 1995, Mathieu Kassovitz released La Haine about a different kind of working class violence, one not grounded in class struggle. Despite the police killings, despite the lack of human rights, the absence of black political violence is not a new political ethos (unfortunately) in Los Angeles, but a product of gentrification and of homelessness. The new infra-citizen of this politea Los Angeles is the black person and hanging on is what remains.

Like in many other societies in the world, the coming to power of the French left through Francois Mitterand’s winning the popular vote over Giscard-D’estaing would slowly dissolve the potency of the dreams of leftists. Historians and political scientists, such as the conservative Fukuyama often argue that it is the fall of the Berlin Wall that dramatically gave way to hegemonic neo-liberalism but this is not true: internal contradictions and broken promises eroded the ranks of the international left around the world. From Jamaica to Hanoi, the dream was waning. As Alain Bertho argues in his book The Age of Violence, class struggle banlieu (working class neighborhoods) gave way to banlieu tout court or working class neighborhoods focused on survival and not on leftism.

It is in this state of affairs the french film La Haine, released in 1995, was filmed and became an international hit as a manifesto of youth spirit, action, and thought in neglected working class France. In it, young men from the “banlieu” revolt against a police killing of their own. The film is a must see, and explores the intersection of poverty, machismo, race, and oppression in the shadows of a society, French society, understood to be the product of the enlightenment. Through the abjection in having to navigate a world of racial strife, theft, guns, and over-policing, we meet the world as it was at the time: a world where a social contract is both glossy discourse and broken promise, an absurd world. It is this world that gave way to the citizen revolts, both left and right that we know of today, a testing world, where globalization fucking hurts. In Los Angeles, first in 1965 in Watts and then in 1992 in Los Angeles, the “banlieu” as survival, and in doing so created the soil for a not for profit industrial complex that today symbolizes “change” as charity. Both 1992 (the riot) and 1995 (the film) were the product of neoliberal globalization and the squeezing out of economically marginalized communities. Seattle’s anti-globalization movement was soon to happen in 1999, among other rebellions, protests, and revolts around globalization around the world.

Los Angeles found such an anthropologist of the present in Mike Davis’s book City of Quartz, which spelled out Los Angeles’s neoliberal globalized self and saw a looming disaster coming. Like in the film, Mike Davis’s book spelled out the plight and culture in inhabiting neo-liberalized spaces. Kassovitz’s film like no other of its time allows us to picture and imagine such inhabitation: the characters, characteristics, characters, flaws and such. The closest to Kassovitz’s film are subtle clues in some of Charles Burnett’s films on South Central Los Angeles such as To Sleep With Anger where a young pregnant mother tells one of the leading characters that she feeds the poor as much as she can but that they are getting too much to handle. Burnett’s film was released in 1990 without wide release and though it is an artistic masterpiece, it has not had the ability to speak for this city that films like Blade Runner or The Player have.

Let us not romanticize political violence. Let us use it as a marker of something, a “phenomenon”. Watching La Haine, reading Alain Bertho, and thinking of two historical urban rebellions in LA and how they could possibly happen in much more globalized Los Angeles, it becomes obvious that the community necessary to revolt, the Gilets Jaunes of LA, no longer lives in LA. No, black persons are today jailed, pushed out, are part of the massive number of community members who are unhoused (53,000 as per not accurate LAHSA count). However, some, especially brown, remain often grandfathered into a living arrangement or living from paycheck to paycheck. The violence about black life would come from blackness but it does not, because the city of LA has reached a critical mass of in-existence that guides political culture.