Vincent Chabany-Douarre (KCL) - 2018-19 Students

The Culture of Home and Segregation in Postwar Los Angeles

As Los Angeles entered the postwar era, its decentralized pattern accelerated, in the form of planned suburban communities rapidly appearing around the city. The possibility of homeownership was thus extended to many working-class Angelinos, while creating the necessary infrastructure to efficiently separate white and racialized Angelinos, via the legalized use of restrictive covenants and intimidation techniques. Los Angeles, as a result, became a violently segregated city, culminating in the 1965 Watts Riots, where the black neighborhood of Watts exploded in the face of police harassment and heavily degraded living conditions.

The creation of Los Angeles, as a city marked by the primacy of the automobile, the single-family home, and segregation, was enabled by a cultural and social understanding of urban rights, the home, and race, which framed the home as a white achievement, as well as the moral and economical bedrock of American society. What was deemed aspirational or undesirable, creating demand in an economic market, was thus determined by a culture of the home.

Using cultural products that narrated and shaped the understanding of home, this thesis will trace how white Angelinos’ perception of housing, in a first time, strove to validate their own lifestyle, dealing in rhetoric of deservedness, American pride, and pleasure. This also reflects the importance of Cold War culture, and the deeply-rooted heritage of radical social conservatism in Southern California. Simultaneously, the culture of home fundamentally disempowered both African-Americans and Mexicans by either criminalizing their existence, using key metaphors of, for example, roaming masses or insects, or using an early form of color-blindness, flattening the systemic difficulties of racialized homeownership by instead exclusively framing the debate in terms of consumer rights.

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