In Spike Lee’s iconic racial-awakening film, “Do The Right Thing,” the legendary Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of a charismatic, peace-and-love promoting disc jockey in a Brooklyn neighborhood named “Mister Senor Love Daddy.”
Boy oh boy – have we needed Mister Senor Love Daddy’s messaging and leadership in my beloved Los Angeles this past couple of weeks. The outrage and fallout of the horrific racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and anti-indigenous rantings and commentary including three city council members continue.
In one particularly poignant scene in “Do The Right Thing,” Spike Lee features a series of White, Black, Latino, and Asian character actors spewing vile, racist commentary against one another. Samuel Jackson’s disc jockey character comes to the rescue in the face of this series of racist diatribes, saying at various points:
- “Whoa! Y’all take a chill! You got to cool that sh– off!”
- “My people, my people, what can I say…I saw it but didn’t believe it…Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?”
- “Yes, children, this is the cool-out corner…”
While Mister Senor Love Daddy’s exhortations do not deeply interrogate the systemic and systematic structures that give endurance to anti-Black racism, I want to thank this iconic character for the messaging to initially guide L.A.’s roadmap to healing, reconciliation, and alliance building, catalyzed by this vile and regrettable episode featuring key Latino political leaders.
We know that this version of a “hot mike” episode only exposes what have been long-standing tensions and divisions that serve to make plain the endurance of anti-black racism and the White supremacy ethos that thrives on these divisions. What made the incident particularly painful was past statements from these leaders expressing and calling for racial solidarity — statements that are now exposed as performative and disingenuous in the face of consolidating power even if it means stoking racial divisions.
But although many pundits have written and predicted further divisiveness and even a “racially-torn” Los Angeles, I don’t believe it. I predict this sordid episode has the potential to catalyze the most productive and constructive period of healing, reconciliation, and multi-racial alliance building that our city – and perhaps the nation – has ever seen.
The rationale for my optimistic viewpoint here is not grounded merely or naively in a desire to embrace the language of hope in the face of gloom and pessimism. Rather, from the standpoint of The California Endowment – California’s largest, progressive, health and social justice-minded private foundation – we are aware of and support organizations across our state generally – and L.A. specifically – who have been engaged in very effective multi-racial coalition work.
This work is essential to individual health and healing, as well as community power-building and repair. This work is about seeding an ecosystem where the community builds and grows a durable and authentic multi-racial and multi-ethnic base of power and solidarity.
This is work that unfolds not in City Hall, elite university, or traditional civic settings – but on the ground, at the neighborhood and grassroots level. These are organizations such as Catalyst California (formerly the Advancement Project), California Calls, the Million Voters Project, the Community Coalition, CADRE, Inner City Struggle, Brotherhood Crusade, SCOPE, Labor Community Strategy Center, Dignity and Power Now, and CD Tech, among many others.
The list does not end here; throughout LA there are community leaders and groups who center racial solidarity and the dismantling of anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism. These organizations lead the charge for community-driven social justice; they fight for equity in schools, voter engagement, health services, justice reform, and economic inclusion.
They work to keep in mind that social justice and racial justice are more effectively fought for and won in multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalitions. These organizations and groups do not subscribe to the brand of zero-sum “winners and losers” political shenanigans that Councilmembers Martinez, de León, and Cedillo displayed.
Mister Senor Love Daddy/Samuel Jackson’s three admonishments in “Do The Right Thing” offer a starting point for framing our region’s response in the wake of this racist scandal. First, “take a chill:” recognize that Black-Latino political tensions are not new – even if the comments have shock value. There is real, long-term healing and reconciliatory work to be done between and across racial groups in the pursuit of justice – and, unfortunately, that anti-Black racism is alive and well even in progressive Los Angeles.
Secondly, recognizing that as we navigate those tensions, “living together” in shared prosperity and wellness represents the prize where our eyes should focus. And thirdly, we will need “cool-out corners” of structured spaces and opportunities for healing and reconciliation in the road ahead – and the road ahead looks more like years, than days or weeks.
From the standpoint of the California Endowment, we pledge to act, but we also have one hope. The pledge is to center the experiential wisdom of those groups and organizations already working across race and ethnicity, and our funding support will follow their guidance. The hope is that as we draw closer and closer to seeing a new Mayor in the leadership role at City Hall, he or she will follow their wisdom and guidance as well.
Dr. Robert K Ross is the CEO/president of The California Endowment, California’s largest health foundation. Also a pediatrician, Ross has spent decades as a public health official and has led the foundation for nearly three decades.