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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities


In April 2018, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy convened scholars, activists, policy advocates, community residents, and nonprofit workers to share and discuss research and action pertaining to processes of inequality in Los Angeles. We sought to shed light on the entangled structures of oppression, including urban displacement, housing precarity, racialized policing, criminal justice debt, forced labor, and the mass supervision and control of youth. Through keynote talks, group dialogue, and workshops, we analyzed how in Los Angeles, and elsewhere, black and brown communities face multiple forms of banishment and exploitation ranging from the criminalization of poverty to institutionalized theft.

The question of racial banishment has been an important one for the Institute since its inauguration two years ago. This year though, amidst the troubled times of Trumpism, we wanted to shift our focus from banishment to freedom. In the reports that follow, you will find many examples of what Robin D.G. Kelley, a key presence at the Institute, has famously called “freedom dreams.” Located in, and thinking from South Central Los Angeles, the event’s participants provide insight into organizing frameworks and resistance strategies that challenge exclusion and refuse subordination. From tenant organizing to debtors’ unions, from underground scholars to educational reparations, visions of freedom abound. The Institute on Inequality and Democracy is convinced that university-based research can, and must, support such freedom dreams. Such partnership – between the public university and social justice movements – requires careful attention to the difficult task of decolonizing the university. This mandate is evident throughout this collection of reports. There is no easy alliance between academic power and banished communities; there is no obvious solidarity between urban plans and freedom dreams. This event was intended to be a step towards building such alliances, especially by reconstructing the curriculum and canon of knowledge.

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