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Catching Hell in the City of Angels

Life and Meanings of Blackness in South Central Los Angeles

2006
Author:

Joao Costa Vargas

Catching Hell in the City of Angels

A gripping account of South Central Los Angeles from the inside

Moving beyond stereotypes of South Central's predominantly African American residents, João H. Costa Vargas recounts his almost two years living in the district. Personal, critical, and disquieting, Catching Hell in the City of Angels examines the ways in which economic and social changes in the twentieth century have affected the black community and powerfully conveys the experiences that bind and divide its people.

Since the 1980s, Los Angeles has become the most racially and economically divided city in the United States. Moving beyond stereotypes of South Central's predominantly African American residents, João H. Costa Vargas recounts his almost two years living in the district. Personal, critical, and disquieting, Catching Hell in the City of Angels examines the ways in which economic and social changes in the twentieth century have affected the black community and powerfully conveys the experiences that bind and divide its people.

Through compelling stories of South Central, including his own experience as an immigrant of color, Vargas presents portraits of four groups. He talks daily with women living in a low-income Watts apartment building; works with activists in a community organization against police brutality; interacts with former gang members trying to maintain a 1992 truce between the Bloods and the Crips; and listens to amateur jazz musicians who perform in a gentrified section of the neighborhood. In each case he describes the worldviews and the definitions of “blackness” these people use to cope with oppression. Vargas finds, in turn, that blackness is a form of racial solidarity, a vehicle for the renewal of African American culture, and a political expression of revolutionary black nationalism.

Vargas reveals that the social fault lines in South Central reflect both contemporary disparities and long-term struggles. In doing so, he shows both the racialized power that makes “blackness” a prized term of identity and the terrible price that African Americans have paid for this emphasis. Ultimately, Catching Hell in the City of Angels tells the story of urban America through the lives of individuals from diverse, overlapping, and vibrant communities.

Catching Hell in the City of Angels

João H. Costa Vargas is assistant professor in the Center for African and African American Studies and the department of anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin.


Robin D. G. Kelley is the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including Yo Mama's Disfunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America.

Catching Hell in the City of Angels

contents

Foreword robin d. g. kelley

Introduction: Looking Forward to Looking Forward

1. Blackness as Exclusion and Isolation: The Making of Inequalities in South Central
2. Blackness as Sorrow and Solidarity: Women and the Ethics of Caring
3. Blackness as Liability and Powerlessness: Community under Siege and the Welfare State
4. Blackness as Mobilization and Movement: The Coalition Against Police Abuse and the Panther Legacy
5. Blackness as Artistry and Affirmation: Leimert Park and the Idioms of Jazz
6. Blackness as Self-Help and Social Critique: The Community in Support of the Gang Truce

Conclusion: Blackness as Blueprint for Social Transformation

Acknowledgments

Appendix: CAPA’s Community Organizing Manual

Notes

Index