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Galina Doty

Doris Namala

HIS 301

December 14, 2016


The city of Compton has many preconceived stereotypes placed upon it. Many people

portray Compton as city filled with violence, widespread social and economic corruption and

many race wars. Compton, in reality, has had a very colorful history. Throughout the start of the

city it has gone through radical change which effected it socially and economically. Compton

began and the notoriety it gained through these shift and through media representation. People

have many perceptions of the notoriety of Compton, however they do not try to understand the

extent of the social and economic struggles that the city has faced due to racial shifts, the

disassociation and rejection of other cities and the commercialization of the city through media.

Compton was founded in 1888 as one of the oldest counties in Los Angeles and remained

a predominantly white community up until 1960. White realtors brought their businesses onto

Compton Boulevard and the city grew and thrived by them. In the 1960s, laws of discrimination

towards housing changed through laws such as the Rumford (Fair Housing) act. This resulted in

middle class Black families to expand to different places of Los Angeles including Compton in

search of a better life. Although there was a high influx of Black residents in Compton, the

population of the city remained dominantly white and there was also a great deal of separation

for discrimination going on. The first immense racial shift only began to occur when the fair

housing act was appealed through proposition 14 in 1964. The success of the Fair Housing Act

was jeopardized by the protest against it and the appeal of Prop 14 in 1964. This, including other
domino effecting factors, caused uproar and people to rebel forming the notorious Watts Riots.

During this rebellion was one of the only times Black and White came together in Compton for a

similar cause. Both Black and White residents in Compton fought together to prevent the

rebellion from leaking into Compton. Despite these efforts, after the Watts Riots, White

residents fled the city leaving their homes and retail businesses behind. When White residents

fled Compton and left their retail businesses it left Comptons economy to crumble. Josh Sides

explains in his article Straight into Compton, The far more enduring legacy of the Watts riot

was its stimulation of wholesale white flight from Compton. As whites left Compton, they also

abandoned their retail businesses, leaving Compton's Central Business district, which stretched

along Compton Boulevard between Willowbrook and Alameda, virtually empty by the late

1960s. Deprived of this crucial tax base, and lacking much significant industrial development,

Compton compensated by raising property taxes to one of the highest levels in the county. (591)

This began the first racial shift that negatively affected Compton.

After the Watts riots, Compton transformed into a very dominantly black community and

before the 1970s, there was only one latino barrio in the north-central part of Compton. Due to

misrepresentation through the U.S Census 4, Latino residents were housed under white

although they were not treated as white residents, they were treated with discrimination just as

Black residents. Compton began to enter its next racial shift during the 1970s, when there was a

high Latino influx of documented and undocumented residents in L.A due to drug wars in South

America and Mexican economic recession. By 1980, Latinos compromised 21% of Comptons

population and really continued to grow throughout the years. Throughout this time Compton,

had predominantly Black residents and they held power in the city over jobs and education

because they faced discrimination everywhere else they went. Black residents felt as if Compton
was the only place where they had a voice and had control. With the influx of Latino residents

Black residents who lived there started to feel threatened. This began a new wave of racial

segregation and division throughout the city, which effected residents through education, the job

market and many social issues. Jobs were very scarce throughout this time as a cause of factories

and warehouses either shutting down or migrating out of Los Angeles after the Watts Riots.

Black residents who were already facing racial discrimination almost everywhere in L.A feared

of losing job opportunities to Mexican and Asian immigrants. Tensions arrived between the two

racial groups because Black residents of Compton felt as if their city was the only place where

they could have the upper hand and not be discriminated against. This resulted in Latinos

ultimately blamed them for the lack of opportunities which caused a lot of tension between them.

(Straus 508) Emily Strous explains Since the mid-1960s, African-Americans governed the city

of Compton and its school district and, as Latino population increased over time, the African-

American leaders on the whole, proved unwilling to share power with the Latino residents. Just

as whites had done in various places across the country, African American in Compton used

racial ideologies as a means to maintain their economic and political power. Race once again

became a defining factor of who attained economic opportunities but in this case, African

Americans held power. Latino residents recognized the discrimination, explicitly blamed blacks

for the lack of opportunities and mobilized politically around those ideas. (508) The Latino

influx continued to grow through out the 80s and 90s and eventually passed the Black

population. As tensions began to immensely rise people began to highly associate Compton as a

place where Black and Latinos were at war.

Throughout the span of 40 years, Compton gained a very negative image. Due to its

economic downfall and adverse stereotypes many people and cities wanted to disassociate them
selves from Compton. In Josh Sides article, Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban

Nightmares, he uses one valuable source from a Los Angeles Times article from 1986 titled,

"Paramount Erases 'Compton Boulevard,' Draws Fire, written by, Lee Harris. This newspaper

article explains how Paramount changed Compton Boulevards name to Somerset due to the

negative name association people had at the time with Compton. Paramount, Compton

neighboring city had gone through their own struggles, being an image where drugs are sold and

being called cow town according to the newspaper article. Many, in the article, claimed the

street name change to be racist, however Paramount denied this accusation saying the name

change was just to add a change, more pizzaz to the neighborhood. Many officials back up

peoples accusations saying that Paramount wants to disassociate itself from Compton and

claimed their reason for the change is flimsy. Many residents were upset about the change

claiming that Paramount should concentrate on cleaning up the deteriorating neighborhoods and

stop listening to a bunch of developers. One resident , Luis Sanchez, was even concerned about

losing money saying that, I'll have to change everything to do with my business," such as

stationery, he said. "They should be cleaning up the street. The City claimed that it was what

was best for Paramount and that, Changing Compton to Somerset is just one step in an effort to

create an economically viable community. This source shows that people used disguises to

cover up their true perceptions of race for the city of Compton. City officials saw that the name

Compton was not economically viable and had a negative connotation to it. Compton went

through an extreme downfall and cities who wanted to progress and change for the better did not

want to associate with the struggling city due to the fact that they saw Compton as a place

engulfed with Gang activity, drugs and race wars. Instead of trying to help the city people and

cities decided to look the other way and simply erase the name Compton from their lives.
Another way Compton developed its notorious image was through the commercialization

of the city associated with Rap Music. In 1986, the rap group, N.W.A, came out with the album,

Straight Outta Compton. The N.W.A rapped about life in Compton, some lyrics exaggerated to

make a point and others about their struggles and the reality that black youth in Los Angeles had

to face daily. Many people, however, overlooked their struggles and only connected them to

violence and found them a very appalling representation of Compton. Josh Sides explains So

inflammatory was NWA that the group was the subject of a feature in Newsweek in 1990. If

Newsweeks national readership knew not of Compton before the article, they found out that the

appalling expressions of attitude uttered by NWA came directly from the sorry Los Angeles

slum of Compton. Setting aside the albums historic role in the long-standing debate over

freedom of artistic expression in the United States, much of the significance of Straight Outta

Compton lay in its definitional power, its role in creating a national, even global, perception of a

place largely disconnected from its history. So pretty much the N.W.As intentions were to rap

about struggles that they faced and what they wanted to rap about without being censored.

(596-97) For example their song, F*ck Tha Police was a direct reaction to what people of color

had to face daily and are still continuing to face through the instances of brutality of law

enforcement. People took their music very negatively and only saw that they were thuggish

and against law enforcement but did not realize the root behind it. Murray Forman explains this

idea in his article Represent': race, space and place in rap music by saying that, Rap music

presents a case worthy of examination and provides a unique set of contexts for the analyses of

public discourses pertaining to youth, race and space. Rap music is one of the main sources

within popular culture of a sustained and in-depth examination and analysis of the spatial

partitioning of race and the diverse experiences of being young and black in America. (66) Rap
music, especially in Compton, show the struggles the racial segregation that Compton and all of

Los Angeles has face and the repercussions that are still being dealt with. People in Compton that

are involved with this life did not choose it. The failing economy and the segregation of certain

races to only poorer parts of Los Angeles are the root cause of these problems. Compton has

been misrepresentation and portrayed negatively through the commercialization and glorification

of violence, and a sense of hardness. This lead up to the infamous stereotype given to Compton

through rap music.

People gained a perception of race without looking at Comptons whole history and the

fact that the residents of the city could not control the economic and social downfall that the city

faced. Compton is looked at as ghetto and is immediately generated with the false pretense that

it is because it is a black city. Despite these problems, Compton has faced in the past few years

almost a sense of Cultural Appropriation. When celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian wear hats

with Compton on it and clothing stores such Forever 21 sell Compton shirts it alarming as it

contradicts the previous negative name connotation Compton has faced. Despite these wardrobe

decisions from mass media, Compton is still goes through the repercussions of a failing economy

and the overall discriminatory outlook of the city. Many people do not realize past these

stereotypes and perceptions of race that Compton has faced through out the decades. In reality

Compton is not a bad and dangerous city and not a ghetto city because it is predominantly

Black, it is just a city that actually has a colorful history and has gone through many economic

and social struggles which emerged from the radical racial shifts in its history and has had faulty

misrepresentation through media and the overt stereotypes it has obtained.

Works Cited

Forman, Murray. "'Represent': Race, Space and Place in Rap Music." Popular Music 19.1

(2000): 65-90. Web.

"Current Compton, California Population, Demographics and Stats in 2016, 2015."

SuburbanStats.org. Suburban Stats, Inc., 2015. Web.

Harris, Lee. "Paramount Erases `Compton' Boulevard, Draws Fire." Los Angeles Times

(pre-1997 Fulltext), Los Angeles, Calif., 1986. , http://0-search.proquest.com.torofind.csudh.edu/


Kleinman, Alexis. "Forever 21 Apparently Has Pulled Its Controversial Compton Shirts

(PHOTOS)." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Sept. 2013. Web.

"Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015)." Compton City California QuickFacts

from the US Census Bureau. Web.

Sides, Josh. "Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban Nightmares, and the

Metamorphosis of a Black Suburb." American Quarterly 56.3 (2004): 583-605. Web.

Straus, Emily E. "Unequal Pieces of a Shrinking Pie: The Struggle between African

Americans and Latinos over Education, Employment, and Empowerment in Compton,

California." History of Education Quarterly 49.4 (2009): 507-29. Web.