Doug Haynes credit: Steve Zylius/UCI

In Orange County, California, Black men and women have been subjected to hate crimes at a rate far more than their share of the population, according to the recently released 2020 Hate Crime Report by the Human Rights Commission. In the county, Black people account for 2% of the general population but last year experienced nearly one-third of all targeted hate crimes.

Regardless of who is in the White House or if there is a global pandemic, this alarming rate of anti-Black hate crimes is neither a new phenomenon, nor an exception but it has been the norm in Orange County. Since 2003, the Human Rights Commission has reported that Black people have nearly always been targeted more often and/or disproportionately victimized than any other community. The year that stands out is 2019 when the Black community were victims of 53% of all recorded hate crimes.

Of course, other populations continue to be targeted. In 2020, hate crimes against Jewish and Hispanic communities accounted for 11% and 8% of all crimes, respectively. These took place against a dramatic year-over-year increase in anti-Asian hate crimes (40%) and incidents (an astounding 1800%).  The Commission also reported on hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. In response, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer in May 2021 established a special hate crime prosecution unit.

The pattern of anti-Black hate crimes belies the 21st century image of Orange County as proudly diverse. Long viewed as a white oasis during the Cold War, Latinos and Asians collectively now combine for more than half of the population. Three examples stand out: Santa Ana—the county seat— is a Latino majority city, Westminster is home to the largest southeast Asian community in the state, and 40% of the residents of Irvine identify as Asian.

These demographic changes are reflected in impressive trends in political representation. Andrew Do is the second Vietnamese American to chair the Board of Supervisors. Harry Sidhu and Farrah Khan are the first Indian American and South Asian Muslim woman to serve as mayors of two of the county’s largest cities of Anaheim and Irvine, respectively. The county’s congressional delegation is a far cry from what it was a generation ago in the 1980s. Most of the county’s House members are people of color: Mexican Americans Linda Sanchez (D-38) and Lou Correa (D-46) and two Korean Americans Young Kim (R-39) Michelle Steel (R-48).

Even though the county is remarkably diverse and even turning purple politically, the presence of the Black community remains contingent and conditional. It is manifested in a variety of ways. On one end of the spectrum are the activities of neo-Nazis and white nationalists. On the other end is the impact of 20th century real estate covenants that sharply restricted Black homeownership. The latter restricted the size and growth of the Black community. The former intimidates current Black residents. In other words, Blacks are hyper-invisible to most, but hyper-visible to individuals who want to harm us.

Orange County does not have a race problem, but, rather, an anti-Black problem. The solution is not strictly one of criminal justice, though the new unit in the District Attorney’s office is a welcome addition. More law enforcement is not necessarily the solution either. During a June 2020 Black Lives Mater demonstration, an Orange County deputy wore a Three Percenter patch with an Oath Keeper logo while policing protesters.  How can Black residents or visitors feel protected when commanders and other deputies on the ground tolerate public support for a right-wing militia by one of their own?

The solution to anti-Black racism is fundamentally about the culture of Orange County. Do Black people form an intrinsic part of the county’s present and future? This is a question that all elected officials, business leaders and residents alike must answer. We must collectively commit to build a culture where Black people thrive. This will involve seeing oneself in relationship to Black people as full members of the community. This recognition is a continuous and mutually reinforcing process, one that consists of several steps. They include: 1) acknowledging the existence of anti-Blackness; 2) understanding how implicit bias robs Black people of full participation in society; 3) appreciating the emotional and psychological labor that Black people expend to manage bias, prejudice, and bigotry; and 4) confront anti-Blackness as part of building a culture where Black people are protected and safe to live, work, and thrive in Orange County.

Douglas M. Haynes is the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UCI, where he leads the UCI Black Thriving Initiative.

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