On Saturday, August 27, 2011, the Brother Rice High School football team played the Orr Academy High School football team at Orr at 2 p.m. Orr is located at 730 North Pulaski in Chicago. On the West Side. Who cares about a high school football game on the West Side? Let me try to explain.
I've heard people referring recently to America's new "post-racial" society. The term was frequently used in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President although I paid very little attention to the concept. According to Wikipedia, that bastion of semi-accurate information:
"Post-racial America is a theoretical environment where the United States is void of racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice. Some Americans believed that the election of Barack Obama as President and wider acceptance of inter-racial marriages signified that the nation had entered this state, while others believe that groups such as the Tea Party Movement prove it has not."
What does the Brother Rice vs. Orr football game have to do with post-racial America? Not much in the big picture, but in the small picture I would like to think that I'm a post-racial person, having married a black woman about a year ago and through the things I have always found important and tried to instill in my own children. Further, my own life experiences, possibly naive, but experience nonetheless, tell me that white people are less likely to travel to an all-black neighborhood than the reverse. Why is that? For the most part, I think the answer is simple - White people are afraid of the West Side. Black people, on the other hand, are not afraid of the North Side or the Northwest Side. And when it comes to race, people just don't like to talk about these things.
An example of the reluctance to speak about race often occurs in what could otherwise be healthy political debate. As a former two-term member of the Evanston/Skokie Board of Education - School District 65, a district of 7,000 students of which about 40% are white, 40% are black and 20% are Hispanic and other; the Board was often confronted with issues of race - redistricting schools, opening a new school in an all-black neighborhood; addressing the achievement gap; and determining budget cuts to be made. It wasn't just the white people on the Board who wouldn't openly address racial topics, the black members had their moments as well. In one instance, during budget discussions, I had suggested that the District outsource the custodian services, but was politely taken aside during a break and told that custodians have historically been a job for African-Americans and I should look for something else to cut. So I did. My mind said don't stay quiet, but my gut told me to just move on.
Back to the West Side. Since my step-son plays for Brother Rice and in the 40 plus years I have lived in Chicago I don't think that I have ever ventured to the West Side (even though my mother grew up on the West Side and graduated from Marshall High School), I had to make a decision. Why even the hesitation? I guess because it is ingrained in the minds of Chicagoans that the West Side is the modern equivalent of the Wild, Wild West. Shootings every day, lawlessness and drug dealers on every corner. And, guess what...There are a lot of black people there. I also had to drive there alone from my office's annual employee picnic taking place in a forest preserve in Maywood while my wife was driving from Brother Rice on the south side. But really, there was little doubt - I was on my way.
I got to the game late because of the picnic. There were only five minutes left when I arrived and I couldn't find my wife or anyone I knew. So, I stood outside the gate and watched for a few minutes. A guy on a bicycle pulled up next to me and asked, "Is it really 41 to 6?" I guess so. He said, "I graduated from Orr 15 years ago. I don't know why they are so bad in football lately." I told him that Brother Rice was supposed to be very good this year. And then, we got to talking...About schools, fans, security at the game, why the posted rules included the admonishment "No carbonated beverages allowed," etc. After about 10 minutes (the game was over now), he said he had to get going. "Be cool," he said.
Then, I looked around. Yep, lots of black people. Yep, a lot of security. Was I nervous? Nope. Was it seemingly dangerous? Nope. Was it 1 a.m. on a deserted street with gangbangers around? Of course not, but what kind of fool ventures there anyway regardless of color.
If "post-racial" America is a theoretical environment where the United States is void of racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice, I think any clear thinking person knows that we're not there yet. But, if people make an effort - go to a football game; have a conversation waiting for a bus; hang around a restaurant and talk to the waitress or another customer - you can at least feel better about yourself and the life you are trying to create or the world you will leave when you're gone.
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