Other Races’ Perspectives (Kaicie Messer)

Apart from the Hispanic community, African Americans were the most prevalent race in the Zoot Suit Riots. They could identify with the plight of the Mexican Americans. They donned the zoot suit uniforms and stood with all minorities in the face of racism and prejudice. Boys like the one in the photo were all over Los Angeles, because the Zoot Suit Riots weren’t just the Hispanics fight. The prejudice and racial tension that sparked the Zoot Suit Riots were felt in every minority in the area at the time and the riots became a fight between white Americans and all minorities. While the causes were seen in every minority community it was mainly youths like the one pictured who took up the fights. Many adults and minority leaders explained the causes of the riots, but condemned them at the same time. Overall the Zoot Suit Riots were fought by young adults of every minority, while the older generations worked to bring issues to the light as well as work to excuse the actions of the young fighters.

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During the riots young people from minority races were extremely active, while elders attempted to curb the violent fighting. During this time social leaders from different races brought forth different views on why the youth were so drawn to the Zoot Suit Riots. One popular reason was blaming communism as the main cause. In “Zoot Clash Held Riot Safety Valve” Leroy Ingram, an African American community leader, explained that he was being approached by strange individuals who also gave special attention to the African American youth in his organization. He believed this man to be a communist who caused upset in the youth of different races by bringing the economic and social divide between races to the forefront of all conversations. This point of view served two main purposes. The first was it took the blame off of the minority races’ youth by displaying them as naive kids who had simply had a bad influence. The second was to place the blame on communists and giving the white communities someone to fight. By placing blame on the communists it reminded white americans that there was a bigger enemy challenging America. Perhaps the most important piece of the view point is that it does not underplay the economic and social issues of the times. It brushes them under the rug. It doesn’t focus on them, but it also doesn’t dismiss them. It is important to note this because the effects of racism and discrimination were felt in the older generations. They were working so hard to remove the blame from the youth, but they never believed that the riots were unjustified. They simply believed they were provoked by an outside source. Placing the blame on communism was a smart move for the minority communities when they couldn’t place blame on the white americans and the racism that was so prevalent in Los Angeles at the time.

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Some older members of the community, such as Leroy Ingram, believed the Zoot Suit Riots were necessary for Los Angeles to avoid even bigger problems.. The Zoot Suit Riots were sparked by an isolated event, the Sleepy Lagoon Murder. This incident focused on the Hispanic communies, but the riots allowed the African Americans to release their pent up anger. Multiple articles from the time period, including “Zoot Clash Held Riot Safety Valve” and “Negroes Testify at Hearing on Zoot Suit Riots”, explain prevalent problems in African American communities that pushed them to join the riots. In “Zoot Clash Held Riot Safety Valve” African American community leaders explains that difficulty getting jobs is a major issue. In another article ,“Negroes Testify at Hearing on Zoot Suit Riots”, Paul Williams cites the housing shortage for African Americans as a major cause of distress in the community. These major issues were likely to lead to major race riots that could easily engulf the entire city and the surrounding areas.

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This belief shows that the core causes of the racial tensions that caused the riots were felt throughout all minority races in Los Angeles. Community leaders expressed that Los Angeles was headed towards a major riot that could have been far more severe if something didn’t happen. The Zoot Suit Riots served the purpose of relieving some of the anger felt by all racial communities in Los Angeles and succeeded in bringing the racial issues to the public eye.

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The zoot suit riots had far reaching effects for racial relations. It created a severe tension on the home front during World War II. This racial tension would continue on long after the riots were over and implicate all non-white races. A prime example of this is highlighted in “Violence Held Likely if Japs Return to Coast”. This newspaper article cites the Zoot Suit Riots as a main example of why Japanese Americans should not return to the coast following World War II. Its main reasoning is that the tension between Japanese Americans and returning soldiers would be similar to the tension seen between Mexican Americans and service men during the riots. By doing this the media continued to encourage disrespectful and racist actions against the Japanese Americans. The Zoot Suit Riots had far reaching effects on all communities. While it did bring serious racial issues to light, it also gave narrow minded people more fuel in their fight. It caused an even larger divide to emerge in southern California that affected the perception of all races throughout the region. All in all the Zoot Suit Riots created major changes in how people viewed minority races. Some people began to understand the rampant racism and work to change, while others beliefs became harsher and more prejudice.

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