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Separate, Unequal, and Ignored
February 10, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

"In Chicago, we think such racial segregation is normal, but it's not." Why segregation isn't an issue in the mayoral contest in one of the most segregated cities in the US.

The photograph accompanying the article is part of this photoset documenting the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation from photographer-sociologist David Schalliol.
posted by enn (64 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The other was on our local NPR affiliate on the morning politics, culture and city stuff show: Eight Forty-Eight. It was a good show.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


where "other" means "author", of course. here in the city of big shoulders. and preview fail.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2011


IANAChicagoian, but I was truly shocked how segregated Chicago is every time I visited. The mix of redlining and machine politics probably haven't helped. It's also meant that ethnic neighborhoods are really really ethnic (Devon Avenue is amazing!).

I mostly interact with undergrad kids from Chicago and the suburbs and the lack of interactions that they experience shifts straight from their suburbs / city environments right through their college experiences: here at UIUC kids can pick the dorms that they live, so they choose to live in dorms that their friends live in. Then they move back to their segregated neighborhoods in Chicago, and the cycle continues.

Awesomely, the black and Asian kids live in a group residential areas that they've taken to call "the beehive."
posted by stratastar at 10:18 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Racial segregation is ignored because there are too many white liberals in Chicago who wants everyone to think that we haved created a utopian society where racism is dead. It's not. It is willful ignorance.
posted by kopi at 10:28 AM on February 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of the reasons why I would not move to Chicago is precisely the racial segregation....This definitely should be a bigger deal.
posted by The1andonly at 10:38 AM on February 10, 2011


That's amazing—I knew Chicago was segregated, but had no idea it was that bad. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 10:45 AM on February 10, 2011


Chicago? Pfft. Amateurs. If you want to see real racial segregation, come north to Milwaukee. We're #1!

*sob*
posted by desjardins at 10:46 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, it's so bad here that my Chicagoland-raised (white) husband is constantly shocked by the casual racism in Milwaukee. At least Chicago has something approaching a black middle class.
posted by desjardins at 10:48 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live in Edison Park, and I am a white liberal. It is not utopia, and racism is never going to die, no matter how many sociology professors make charts and graphs trying to point it out.

If this neighborhood is too expensive for some, then what the hell am I supposed to do about it? Park Ridge is a mile away from me, and it's too expensive for me to live in. I would rather be thankful for what I have, than start screaming injustice about the things I don't.

The root of these problems are not racial, but economic. Unfortunately, it is much easier to paint an entire neighborhood/community as racist, than to just own up and admit you can't afford to live there.

There is a house right next door to me for sale. White family got foreclosed on and it has been empty for a year and a half. Apartment upstairs, totally remodeled and gorgeous in and out. Anybody, any color wants it fine, just mow your lawn, shovel your walks, don't be throwing school night keg parties like the last asshole did, and be a good neighbor.
posted by timsteil at 10:51 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I first moved to Chicago from Toronto, I could not believe the degree of segregation I saw all around me (to be fair, my first apartment was at 61st and Cottage Grove). Not just physical segregation either, but a segregation of mentalities (which I guess is the real, more insidious segregation). I was constantly baffled that no one ever talked about it.

Now the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green are gone. It's like Chicago has just erased the history of this.

Fair enough, desjardins. I'll give you Milwaukee. I like the town, but it's pretty fucked up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:57 AM on February 10, 2011


timsteil, except it doesn't happen like that. Realtors are blacklisted if they show that house or apartment to a black or mexican family. Banks refuse to service or give loans. That case was from 2004; a bank refusing to service loans in a neighborhood.

Twenty or thirty years ago, neighborhoods had sunset rules, aka. if you're still here by sunset... This stuff is pervasive in direct and indirect ways (and it happens below your nose); from workforce housing, zoning, all sorts of things that would affect real integration.

Worst of all people get used to it, to the point where they don't notice, all the implicit rules and codes that enforce the status quo.
posted by stratastar at 11:04 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm always surprised by these reports, actually, because my neighborhood in Chicago (one of the dark blue ones on the map) feels significantly more diverse than any other neighborhood I have ever lived in several other states. Neighbors on both sides of my are non-White. When I wait for the bus on the corner, there are white folks, African-American folks, Asian-American folks, Hispanic-American folks. Older people, younger people. More than one blind person. Lots of gay pride fliers on the lamppost. It feels very diverse on the street level, sitting on the CTA. Of course, it doesn't shake down to 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic at the bus stop, which that chart tells me the city pretty much is.

Then, of course, I get to work and start in on the social justice reports on my desk and I remember that the racial-economic divide in this city is stark. It's startling how easy it is to forget it.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


strata: That case was from 2004; a bank refusing to service loans in a neighborhood.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but that particular case was about a bank redlining minority neighborhoods, not trying to stop minorities from moving into predominantly white ones.
posted by timsteil at 11:14 AM on February 10, 2011


The root of these problems are not racial, but economic. Unfortunately, it is much easier to paint an entire neighborhood/community as racist, than to just own up and admit you can't afford to live there.

There are historical reasons why blacks were shut out of many neighborhoods. But beyond that, social services ends up being concentrated in those neighborhoods, meaning that they become undesirable for the non-poor to live there. And beyond that, said social services are only available there, so moving away to another neighborhood means losing access to help and assistance. And redlining still occurred until recently. I don't know if this is true about Chicago, but in Boston, transit systems were redesigned which (intentionally or unintentionally) cut off access to heavily black neighborhoods, making it harder for them to move around the city.

The root of these problems are not racial, but economic.

I am sort of finding it difficult to believe that there are no poor whites in Chicago. And if there are no poor whites, then how did that happen? Some cities are less integrated than others, and I think the reasons for that are very real, and we can't just pretend that those reasons don't exist.

that particular case was about a bank redlining minority neighborhoods, not trying to stop minorities from moving into predominantly white ones.

Thus preventing minorities from owning their homes in inexpensive neighborhoods they can afford, preventing them from building equity, preventing them from acquiring more wealth, which prevents them from moving elsewhere.
posted by deanc at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've deeply loved Chicago since childhood, but it's a glaring black mark for my liberal midwest peers who are in deep denial of the racism in their own back yard. It was no surprise that Benjamin Smith came from a Chicago suburb.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2011


You're right that was a reverse case, where services weren't being offered in different neighborhoods; I'm not going to embark on a major research project to dig up citations, but the problem was so pervasive that in the 70s, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights embarked on a huge study to statistically show that redlining was happening with insurance.

The main issue is how embedded these things become in normal ways of life, that you don't see them.
posted by stratastar at 11:24 AM on February 10, 2011


And its Kirk with a win for the race to Godwin.
posted by timsteil at 11:26 AM on February 10, 2011


And its Kirk with a win for the race to Godwin.

If it's indeed a Godwin to point out the existence violent and racist organizations in the backyard of my supposedly utopian liberal urban melting pot, then by all means I'm going to Godwin.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:32 AM on February 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not going to embark on a major research project to dig up citations, but the problem was so pervasive that in the 70s, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights embarked on a huge study to statistically show that redlining was happening with insurance.

I highly recommend Family Properties to anyone who is interested in learning more about this; it's a fascinating and fairly detailed account of the kind of practices that were ubiquitous in the Chicago housing market.
posted by enn at 11:33 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


my supposedly utopian liberal urban melting pot

You seem to be the only one making that claim. Everybody knows Chicago isn't perfect. But there is a big difference between that admission, and looking for ulterior motives and silent conspiracies, and somehow believing the fruit of those two self-imagined evils is a mentally unbalanced, racist spree killer with an admiration for Hitler.

You know that line you're not supposed to cross if you want people to take you seriously?

Look behind you.
posted by timsteil at 11:42 AM on February 10, 2011


Being a minority from Chicago and having lived in a bunch of different places around the US, Chicago isn't dramatically different in its level of segregation. The reasons why are fairly well understood mathematically, and I've already mentioned it at least twice on MeFi - here is the most recent occasion.

...very small preference not to have too many people unlike you in the neighbourhood, or even merely a preference for some people like you in the neighbourhood… could lead to such very drastic equilibrium results that looked very much like extreme separation...
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to say that I don't really get the point of the article. Okay, Chicago is ludicrously segregated. I knew this. I also know that I'm so used to it that I don't really notice, because that's just the way it is. It's not acknowledged as often as it should be, probably because no one is confident they know how to change it. But I don't think surprise or indignation should be the response when the mayoral candidates talk about improving the schools or economic opportunity when asked about segregation. You can forcibly desegregate schools through busing, but you can't forcibly desegregate neighbourhoods by telling people where to live. (The most you could do is the sort of rent voucher system described, but perhaps force landlords to accept the vouchers and make sure the vouchers would cover enough rent to create mobility within the city. Well, that and make sure groups aren't being systematically excluded from certain neighbourhoods.)
posted by hoyland at 11:47 AM on February 10, 2011


I loved my time in Chicago, but it was always amazing to me how incredibly fearful some of my co-workers were about "bad neighborhoods". Which included anything south of the Loop, Little Chinatown, Devon, etc.
posted by kmz at 11:57 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The root of these problems are not racial, but economic.
While the problem may not be primarily individual-level racism (although I don't doubt that that's a large part of it), it is most certainly related to structural and historical racism. African American people are disproportionally represented in lower income brackets, because of centuries of deeply embedded racism and unequal access to resources that could help them climb economic ladders. If that's not a problem with racial roots, I don't know what is.
posted by quiet coyote at 12:01 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I don't think surprise or indignation should be the response when the mayoral candidates talk about improving the schools or economic opportunity when asked about segregation.

This is a fair point, and I find it difficult to believe that the author really thought that segregation would be a campaign issue. Rather, the author wanted to discuss segregation in Chicago using the mayoral election as a backdrop and the article's structure provided an opportunity to get quotes on the issue from the candidates' spokespeople, which makes for a good story.
posted by deanc at 12:04 PM on February 10, 2011


Hoyland:

The point of the article plain and simple is, Rahm Emmanuel is going to be elected Mayor by a landslide in 12 days. So, in an effort to show what he is up against, lets drag up the tired horse of black/white segregation in the city.

The two neighborhood snap shots don't really tell you anything everyone doesnt know. Steve Bogira is a great and respected writer round these parts, and I highly recommend his book Courtroom 302.

I think a little of the subtext, is what a god-awful mess Chicago's black community has made of this election from the very beginning. were I black, i would have been horribly offended to think I need someone to appoint a "consensus candidate" for me.

Danny Davis should have been the candidate. He's been a stand up guy for his constituents for a long time, and I think he would have made a good mayor. His only problem is that having been around so long, there is probably some dirt somewhere that could have been dragged up on him. he was smart enough not to piss away a lot of money getting beat up for a job he doesn't need.

I think Patrice Wilkins has a good heart, but that isn't enough to run a city on. Dock Walls seems like a good man with a streak of snake oil salesman in him who is in it just to keep the other candidates honest. James Meeks was only in it to see his face on the news for a while. His church is his ATM and he wasnt about to open those books to anyone.

Carol Mosley Braun is a self-destructing joke, and the African -american community really got screwed badly when she emerged as the annointed one.

So often, pointing out racism or inequalities doesn't do anything to solve them. It's like wearing a ribbon for (insert your cause here). Nice that you care and all. I get it, this is bad. It's like whatever, I'm in marketing..you expect me to cure cancer on the weekends or something?
posted by timsteil at 12:07 PM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


timsteil: You seem to be the only one making that claim. Everybody knows Chicago isn't perfect.

Somehow that knowledge seems to go out the window in just about every discussion of historic and current racial segregation and discrimination.

But there is a big difference between that admission, and looking for ulterior motives and silent conspiracies, and somehow believing the fruit of those two self-imagined evils is a mentally unbalanced, racist spree killer with an admiration for Hitler.

I've not mentioned Hitler at all, but yes, I do believe that segregation, discrimination, and violent hate crimes are connected. Meanwhile Smith, like Eric Rudolph, and Shawna Forde, was a part of a larger social network that supported his hatred.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2011


I grew up in Lake County, Indiana, which is if anything more segregated than Chicago is. You have Gary, which is 91% black, then you Hobart right next door which was until recently not even 1% black... my parents were both raised in white (in Chicago, anybody non-white is considered "white" honourifically... "if you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around," and for white girls to date hispanic guys, and vice versa, was absolutely acceptable) south-side outposts; Mom from Hegewisch and Dad from Bridgeport. What is amazing to me is to reflect on how, to borrow from OP, NORMAL racial segregation is in Chicago AND ITS SUBURBS. I have never in my life heard anybody puzzle over how white and blacks, living a couple hundred feet apart and separated by a freeway, can be so separated that their accents, not only their accents but their entire vernacular, is different. You don't see this sort of linguistic divide between, say, Indian vs black Trinidadians. It's just mind-boggling.

When I left home for college in Portland, Oregon, I was GOBSMACKED, completely mesmerized, when I saw black and white kids playing together. I'd gone to a high school that was faiirly evenly divided among white, black and hispanic and to even see a white and black kid in the same car would be completely bizarre.

This taken for granted racial segregation is one reason why I never can seriously lay claim to the love that some many of its denizens have for Chicago. Those expressions always seem to come from white kids who grew up in, say, Evanston, from wealthy but urbane (and urban) families but they're still, in my opinion, selectively blind.

Chicago is a racist shithole. There, I said it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:22 PM on February 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've not mentioned Hitler at all, but yes, I do believe that segregation, discrimination, and violent hate crimes are connected. Meanwhile Smith, like Eric Rudolph, and Shawna Forde, was a part of a larger social network that supported his hatred.

No but you keep invoking white supremecist murderers, and trying to tie them do a discussion about the city, and the very neighborhood I live in. It is not a matter of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

Personally, I think the reason one of my son's friends is a fat slob who thinks the Revolutionary War started in 1865, is because he spends most of his time eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese and playing video games. That doesn't mean Ronald McDonald and Bill Gates have swastikas on their jammies.
posted by timsteil at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Danny Davis should have been the candidate.

I don't think Danny Davis wanted to be the mayor. I think he was acting as a stalking horse and was glad to hand the reigns over to CMB as the great black hope in this election. The African American powers that be lined themselves up with the Emanuel side at some point and that is that. I'd be interested to know what the story is there, but I don't expect much of it will ever become public.

Danny Davis is my representative in Congress and I pay attention to him. He is semi-retired, in my opinion, and being in congress suits him. He's not a bad guy but he is where he is because he paid his dues, ran against Daley in the 1991 primary, showed proper loyalty to the regular Democratic party after wards and was given a house seat for life (sans live boy/dead girl problem).

And that is part of the problem. The white politicians just made sure the black politicians got their share of deals and patronage jobs or at least the appearance of it and nothing ever changed.
The power broker who set CMB to lose: Jesse Jackson. Jesse and the Rainbow Coalition were working hard and pushing boundaries and then I think he just got tired. Or too well fed. Or just has his own skeletons to hide.

There should be new young leadership that has not been co-opted (I'm looking at you Bobby Rush). Maybe that was nipped in the bud when Fred Hampton was assassinated.

So racist, yes. But shithole? This is my home.
posted by readery at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


in Chicago, anybody non-white is considered "white" honourifically... "if you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around," and for white girls to date hispanic guys, and vice versa, was absolutely acceptable

Chicago is a racist shithole.


That makes total sense.
posted by timsteil at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


timsteil, when people from one group get honorary status in another, that doesn't make it less racist.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:37 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


when people from one group get honorary status in another, that doesn't make it less racist.

Skull...seriously. no snark intended. I don't know what that means. If I don't like someone because of their race, I'm racist? If I like someone and consider them a friend regardless of their race, I'm racist? Could you expand that answer?
posted by timsteil at 12:43 PM on February 10, 2011


I was constantly baffled that no one ever talked about it.

Yeah, it's a really weird aspect to living here in Milwaukee, most of my co-workers are black, and whenever someone starts thinking about moving to a new house or apartment, the care with areas to look in are discussed are both completely unconscious at the time, and really awkward if you realize it's going on.

But you really don't realize it most of the time, because it's so established that no one really thinks of it as being a racist system. We're so used to it, most of the time we don't even see it (though it never fails to amuse them when I try really hard to convince them to move to the stupidly right wing, nearly all white neighborhood I live in, arguing that the only thing that's going to make it better is diversity).

On the subject of Chicago though, I remember about 20 years ago, when I was learning to drive, noticing the lines between neighborhoods were unbelievably sharp and defined, where there'd be Polish signs on one side of a street, and Vietnamese signs on the other. We never viewed it as a bad thing though, because it meant that the food options were awesome, drive a couple of blocks in any direction, and you'd be able to find some really authentic ethnic restaurants in their respective communities.
posted by quin at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


You seemed to be indicating a contradiction in ethnomethodologist's statements. I wanted to point out that, particularly in the context of Chicago, there is no contradiction. A system of hierarchy based on racial distinctions is racist, and remains so even if people can move up and down within that hierarchy.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


quin,

Yeah, it's still kind of like that, but not quite as extreme. For a while I lived on the border of Humboldt Park and the Ukrainian Village. You could tell because most of the people living on one side of the street were Boricua, and most of the people on the other were Polish and Ukrainian.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2011


I grew up in Lake County, Indiana, which is if anything more segregated than Chicago is. You have Gary, which is 91% black, then you Hobart right next door which was until recently not even 1% black...
My friend lived most of his life in Valparaiso (where the KKK tried to buy Valparaiso University in the 1920s) and said whenever a house went vacant on his block, alll of a sudden out would come the Confederate battle flags decorating houses and cars... just to keep it clear who the neighbors thought would "fit in."
Danny Davis should have been the candidate. He's been a stand up guy for his constituents for a long time, and I think he would have made a good mayor. His only problem is that having been around so long, there is probably some dirt somewhere that could have been dragged up on him.
Like, say, when he assisted in the coronation of Reverend Moon in a Congressional office building?
So often, pointing out racism or inequalities doesn't do anything to solve them. It's like wearing a ribbon for (insert your cause here). Nice that you care and all. I get it, this is bad. It's like whatever, I'm in marketing..you expect me to cure cancer on the weekends or something?
I hope you are being sarcastic or your tongue is firmly in your cheek because you seem like a neat guy in general from what I've read of your contributions on this website and this comment does not at all fit in with that - quite the opposite.

Anyhow, y'all in this thread should go check out James Loewen's Sundown Towns website (the book is very much worth reading, too).
posted by jtron at 1:20 PM on February 10, 2011


Miami is more segregated than Chicago.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2011


I hope you are being sarcastic or your tongue is firmly in your cheek

A healthy amount of both I hope.

I'm just saying that any racial problems in Chicago, are not caused by, nor likely to be solved by me. As to the cancer analogy as it pertains to that, I'm not out dumping toxic chemicals anywhere, and I would have to look at a test tube twice to figure out the business end.

There is a huge difference between being a sociologist comparing my neighborhood to another, and being a person who lives in either. I just wish some of the professors out there would put down their decades-old census data and put their boots on my street before declaring an entire city and surrounding area full of vibrant, and yes sometimes problematic, neighborhoods a racist shithole.

like readery said, this is my home.
posted by timsteil at 1:35 PM on February 10, 2011


Miami is more segregated than Chicago.

The segregation of Chicago goes a bit beyond just where people live.

As a visitor to the city in the last six months I am constantly put off and feel weird, doing things that seem normal here in NY.

For example these are things I cant get accustomed, despite how often I stay there:

1) Taking the train in the morning getting off in the financial district (by the way public transportation is outstanding), and being one of a handful of people with my color.

2) Taking said train on the way back and actually being stared at by other people. As if I was doing something wrong just being there. I thought I was being delusional until I asked my co-worker if I was going bonkers.

I think if you grow up there, you are used to this behavior but in my opinion this goes a bit beyond, this it where I just live, there is also racist behavior, and I think long-term exposure to it makes a lot of people more acceptant of it.

Finally, when i do rent in the more upscale neighborhoods, everybody is quite friendly and do not seem to mind me but shouldn't this be the norm?
posted by The1andonly at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2011


The1andonly,

When I used to take the green line home to Cottage Grove at night, people used to ask me if I was lost. It is weird, and it ain't cool.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2011


Also I dont understand the people that say "this is my home" as in somehow that excuses the rest of the city for being racist.....

As I said earlier the problem in Chicago go further than you cant live here or you cant live there, because if you have money certainly you could live anywhere. In my opinion is really all about the racist attitude AND behavior that I encounter in this city in a much more prevalent manner than in other places I visit in the U.S.
posted by The1andonly at 1:58 PM on February 10, 2011


I'm not defending Chicago, but Miami is segregated down to what island the particular person of color is from. And there's almost zero public transportation, meaning people don't even pass through each others' neighborhoods except in cars.

And the difference between white, extreme wealth in gated towers and communities (not to mention private islands) versus the slums is staggering.

Seriously, Miami is way more segregated than Chicago.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The 'this is my home' is reference to getting my back up a bit when it's called a shithole. I was born where I was born and for my part there has never been a time since I was about 14 where I haven't been involved in some kind of group that works to end racist and/or poverty. My kids are vehemently anti-racist activists as that is how they were raised. But I have worked for many connected people and businesses over the years and I know how quickly people that seem a threat to the status quo are co-opted.
posted by readery at 2:04 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spokane is way less segregated than either Miami or Chicago. In fact, at 92% white, you could say it was nearly not segregated at all.

Wait, what?
posted by hippybear at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


timsteil: Personally, I think the reason one of my son's friends is a fat slob who thinks the Revolutionary War started in 1865, is because he spends most of his time eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese and playing video games. That doesn't mean Ronald McDonald and Bill Gates have swastikas on their jammies.

The only person going down that particular slippery slope is you.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


timstell, huge mistake in my post. I meant that anybody non-BLACK is considered "white" honourifically. Meaning that Mexicans and Vietnamese at my high school were, when race riot time rolled around (four riots in four years at dear old Hammond High), it was black vs non-black, not black vs "white." In Chicago, white's all right, but so (relative to black) is Hispanic and Asian.

Like I say, white girls, including three of my four sisters, dated Hispanic guys all the time in Hammond. My brother is married to an Asian woman. People think nothing at all of this. But a white girl and a black guy? Your house gets spray painted "nigger lover" and your brother gets stabbed (by white guys), and yes this actually happened 3 blocks from the house I grew up in.

White guys dating black girls, in 1980s Hammond, Indiana? Completely, totally impossible.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:51 PM on February 10, 2011


I live in Rogers Park (a north side neighborhood) in Chicago, and I have always felt that my area is extremely vibrant and the opposite of segregated. I know it must be my own blinders as I am told constantly that Chicago is horribly segregated, but then wikipedia backs me up with: "The 2000 census data, like those of 1980 and 1990, showed Rogers Park to be one of the most diverse communities, if not the most diverse, in the entire country. A robust mix of ethnic backgrounds with over 80 assorted languages flavor the neighborhood."

I take the train down to the loop in the morning, all the way from Rogers park through the "white" neighborhoods. And I would say that Caucasians make up barely a larger percentage than any other ethnicity in my train car on any given day. The North Side isn't whitey mcwhite land. Is Chicago racist? Yes, but no more than any other city. Chicago is many things, but it is in no way, shape, or form a shithole. It's as great of a city as this country can offer. I've lived in several, so I feel confident in claiming that.

If you want to see segregation, visit Milwaukee or Detroit.
posted by Windigo at 4:05 PM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Windigo, the phenomenon The1andonly described of being looked at on trains or buses once you've crossed some invisible line is known to the point that it shows up on those You know you're from Chicago when... lists (number 29 in the linked list).
posted by hoyland at 4:30 PM on February 10, 2011


I was thinking about this on the way home on the el tonight. I can only think of two smallish areas of the city that retain the bastion of white-ness reputation. The real segregation is the absolute raw fear most white people have of traveling thru, never mind living in, an African American neighborhood. There must be a belief that they will be attacked immediately just for the color of their skin. I know I've heard that attitude from far flung relatives, most likely a result of local news that likes to parade salacious details of inner city crime to feed the look-at-them smugness.

When I encounter that attitiude I usually say something along the lines of, ya know six year old kids walk down those same streets to school each day. The disconnection is amazing.
posted by readery at 4:42 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone linked this map?

When you zoom in, it becomes clear that the white areas are not nearly as uniformly white as the black areas are uniformly black. But it definitely makes it clear that Chicago is pretty damn segregated. And to be honest, I'm really weirded out that anyone could deny that. I know there are a few non-segregated neighborhoods, but do you never venture out of your immediate area?
posted by craichead at 4:52 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not denying that this is a problem, but I wanted to point out that the map in the article seems to have chosen its colors to psychologically emphasize the divide. "White" neighborhoods are blue, "Black" neighborhoods are green, and mixed neighborhoods are greyed out, visually de-emphasizing them. Again, I'm not denying that there is a real and serious problem, I just found that color coding (which was presumably deliberate) to be a little bit hyperbolic.
posted by Scientist at 5:18 PM on February 10, 2011


I think, craichead, that's an interesting point: people not leaving their neighborhood. In not leaving the neighborhood, it's easy for a white person to feel like the city is not really segregated. Per the map, many "white" areas have a number of nonwhite people living in them, and in my experience all over the "white" areas, there are always a mix of people, just being people in the neighborhood; like you say, those areas of the map are not uniformly white. That won't really feel like a segregated environment to a person not actively considering racial issues because they routinely encounter all races, when going about their neighborhood.

But, like readery says, many (not all, not by a long shot) white folks are terrified by the very thought of the nonwhite areas, which, as you note, are uniformly black. In those neighborhoods, there are not whites living, shopping, working, just being people in the neighborhood. Even a person not actively considering racial issues is going to notice a uniform racial make-up. The person who doesn't fit will stand out to the people who do fit, or will feel out of place. So that's segregation, but segregation of a sort that just doesn't feel like a "racist shithole" kind of place (to people living in the predominantly white neighborhoods) because there's not a conflict when nonwhites move into a neighborhood, or ride the bus through a neighborhood, or go to dinner in a neighborhood.

I remember when "The Blacks" moved into my Grandmother's neighborhood in the 80's and there was conflict and white-flight. The same thing did not happen, 20 years later when "The Blacks" moved into the new neighborhood where she lived with my aunt.

On the other hand, I never leave my neighborhood. I'm not afraid of the other neighborhoods, I'm just lazy and I have everything I need right here. It's glorious, actually, not shitty in the slightest.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2011


Caucasians make up barely a larger percentage than any other ethnicity in my train car on any given day

I live in Edgewater and I ride the same train. The article mentions that many north side lakefront neighborhoods are less segregated than those elsewhere in the city, which might be part of this. But I think, also, it's easy to make the mistake of seeing transit passengers as a representative sample of the population, which of course they aren't. There are a lot of people who drive to work in Chicago, and I can't imagine that their demographics are exactly the same as those of CTA riders or that either match up precisely with those of the city as a whole.
posted by enn at 5:30 PM on February 10, 2011


I hope you are being sarcastic or your tongue is firmly in your cheek because you seem like a neat guy in general from what I've read of your contributions on this website and this comment does not at all fit in with that - quite the opposite.

Read aloud with rising inflection to get the full effect. Classic.
posted by Scoo at 5:38 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


And another point, people often need to leave their immediate neighborhood in search of goods and services that are not offered on the west or south side. People you see on the street in other communities may not necessarily live there.

And there are so many factors. Obviously racism, but also affordable housing. Because the market for housing on the south and west sides are so constrained, rents are considerably cheaper. Even if people want to move and there is a better neighborhood that would welcome them are they ready to pay twice the rent? It's been a hallmark of Chicago politics to keep subsidized housing out of middle class neighborhoods, an institutional racism that supposedly ended, but too little, too late.
Schools are a nightmare to navigate. Get your child to test in to one of the magnet schools and they receive the top educational experience in the state. There are niche schools all over that offer great programs, but the bulk of the schools are warehouses. It takes a lot of savvy, perseverance or luck to work the system.

And now state, county and city government are all broke. It's a wonder there was a fight for the mayor's office at all.
posted by readery at 7:26 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a privileged white kid growing up (in Houston, not Chicago) I never considered the racial segregation of my neighborhood. Until the day when I heard my parents talking about the first Black family moving in.

Similarly, when I worked with underprivileged children in Houston and made home visits into all the worst neighborhoods, more than once the kids referred to me as "the White lady." Because I was the only one they ever saw.
posted by threeturtles at 7:29 PM on February 10, 2011


I've heard this point a few times, about how Chicago is extraordinarily segregated. Is it really worse than other major U.S. cities? The map in that article doesn't strike me as any worse than other cities I'm familiar with.

Here's a similar map of NYC, for instance. There are streets and subway stops (96th Street on the east side trains and west side express-trains, Clinton-Washington and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn) that act as basically impenetrable racial boundaries, with half of Brooklyn, a quarter of Manhattan, and a majority of the Bronx almost completely minorities.

I-20 in Atlanta is another incredibly stark racial barrier. North of it, largely white; south of it, almost entirely black.

Many more of these maps are located here. Here's Philly. Here's L.A. Here's Boston – talk about ghettos.

This is all bad. But why is Chicago thought to be so bad? I think that if you want to talk about truly integrated communities anywhere in the U.S., you'll find only sparing examples of them, and generally only at the neighborhood level. This is a national issue, not a local one, albeit maybe one that needs to be addressed locally.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:19 PM on February 10, 2011


Actually, perusing some of the comments here in greater depth, I can see the point about the issue being largely attitudinal. I think a black person could live in most of the more affluent predominantly white neighborhoods in NYC without most people giving it a second thought; it's just that not many can. Sounds different in Chicago. Not sure if "segregation" is the right term for this; sounds more like a euphemism for straight-up "racism."
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:27 PM on February 10, 2011


dixiecupdrinking: your statement that a black person could not live in most of the more affluent predominantly white neighborhoods in Chicago does not comport with my experience living in Chicago (continuously for the last ten years, and on and off for the last 20-ish) at all.

What seems to me to be the most accurate descriptor is the statement that while the predominantly white neighborhoods have a portion of nonwhite residents and a large number of nonwhite visitors on a daily basis (CTA riders, workers, shoppers, visitors), the nonwhite neighborhoods are completely devoid of white residents and, for the most part, white residents are afraid to go near them. Part of that is racism, surely, but a lot of it is--basically--urban legend.

So many many of the nonwhite neighborhoods have poor or nonexistent services; nonresponsive, irresponsible landlords; angry or frightened law enforcement; failing schools. The "most segregated" epithet comes largely from a failure of the "black neighborhoods" to thrive and the ignorance of the "white neighborhoods" of what they are really like. It's a significant problem and I'm not sure what the word for it is.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:44 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I guess I'm curious whether what you describe is that much worse in Chicago than anywhere else.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:24 PM on February 11, 2011


True, Chicago has a large swath of black population.

But as far as segregation goes, look at the borders between the different "racial neighborhoods" (where there isn't a physical divider, like a river or expressway). They blend fairly smoothly. Compare that to the population map of say, Manhattan or Brooklyn. The edges are awfully sharp between the different ethnic groups. Seems to me that's a far bigger sign of segregation than one large area of similarly-colored people.

I am sick of Chicago as a foil for racism and corruption.

Sounds different in Chicago

Halfway incorrect. The multi-ethnic areas on the south side of the city are the higher income areas. Hyde Park and Beverly, for example. However, your Lincoln Park type areas are fairly white-only. Because that's where you go after graduating from Notre Dame or St. Caucasius, before you move to an all-white suburb. So you can say you lived in the city and had to move because of "them".
posted by gjc at 1:47 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm apparently riding the train with Windigo and enn up to Rogers Park (farthest north block on the map next to the lake) and for reference, I moved here three years ago from Arkansas. In reference to the people on the train vs the people in the cars on Lake Shore Drive, I think we're back into the difference between division by race and division by affluence.

I'm not hurting for money but I also don't have much to spare some weeks. I work in the loop and I have a pretty good IT related job, but I'm not driving a german import or wearing a rolex or whatever else 'the rich' get up to with their wacky ways.

My wife and I are about as white as it gets. We ride the bus and L south of the loop to visit friends, and we don't really get looks, because we fit in more or less. We're just youngish people who live and work in the city and take transit and save money and all the rest of it.

On the other hand, like I said, I work in the loop. I know of people with collections of Jaguars. I know of people with multiple vacation homes around the world.

Guess who I identify with? The guy on the train next to me listening to beats or the guy who wears tailored everything and never ever rides public transportation?

That being said, when I get off the south bound red line and my fairly mixed group gets off at the loop, the north bound car on the other track often gets there at the same time, and yeah, there's hardly anyone on that train who isn't black, and that's weird as hell, even for someone who came from the south.
posted by envygreen at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2011


I think that a lot of this has to do with whether you're looking at it from a North Side perspective or a South Side perspective. From the perspective of many white Northsiders, that's the real Chicago, and everything else is just kind of vague. There are no-go areas, and there are briefly-glimpsed mostly-black Red Line trains, but it's not something that people think about very much. Their lives feel integrated, so Chicago is integrated.

I spent my time in Chicago on the South Side, mostly in Hyde Park. And even though Hyde Park is pretty integrated, people who live there really can't ignore the fact that most of the South Side is segregated. I think that everyone in Hyde Park over the age of 6 could probably draw you a map and show you where the racial boundaries are. Some non-black Hyde Parkers cross those racial boundaries, and some put a lot of effort into avoiding crossing them, but they know that they're there. It's a part of your day-to-day experience, no matter what race you are. You don't just forget that there are big swathes of the city where everyone is black, and that doesn't seem to be an incidental fact about Chicago.

And I guess that I think that part of the way in which Chicago is segregated is that it's easy for a lot of white Northsiders to forget about the South Side. It's a complicated kind of segregation, which is economic and social and geographic as well as racial, but it's still segregation. The fact that many white Chicagoans don't think the city is segregated is, I think, symptomatic of the ways in which it is segregated.

I love Chicago, and I'm not saying that people who think this way are bad people. I also am not sure that segregation in Chicago is worse than in other big American cities. But it's a thing about Chicago, and I think it's important to acknowledge.
posted by craichead at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


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