A White Person's Visit to the West Side - Is that Post-Racial?

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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  • I appreciate your honesty in your posts. I went to Brother Rice in the early 90's and I'm African American, its a great education, in and out of the classroom. I'm also married to someone outside of my race, so I know a little of what you go through. Keep up the good writing.

  • In reply to Shadasious:

    Thanks for commenting. I am grateful to be able to experience new areas of Chicago after being a 50-year north suburb/north sider.

  • How were the cheerleaders?

  • I was raised on the West Side -- Austin in the 30s, 40s, 50s. Unlike nearby Oak Park, Austin did not move into a post-racial age. Instead, the usual. White flight...poor newcomers...poverty, gangs, and drugs. But I still love my old home community and visit it often. Knowing some of the African Americans who moved in. A lot of good people trying good things here...and yet, seems more people have accepted rather than fight the downward spiral. However, like you, I can see a future here that may someday re-discover what this lovely community once was And can be again. That post-racial ideal you envision.

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    Thanks for your comment and kind words.

  • I didn't really like the article because I think it could have been written with more depth. But I appreciate the fact that the authur chose to write about topic that most people seem to avoid.

    The west side is one of the city's greatest gems. Garfield Park is amazingly beautiful with its ponds, bridges, flower beds, trees, fountains, Boulevards and of course the world famous conservatory. The architeture is another major draw to the neighborhood with it's rare blocks made up of beautiful 2 and 3 flat greystone buildings. The area is quickly becoming diverse but unfortunately the 28th Ward Alderman Jason Erving is a direct spin off of Ed Smith and they seem to refuse any investment into the neighborhoods. Lots of trash, gangs, drugs, over grown weeds, garbage and loitering on corners.

    I hear that Alderman Erving and Ed Smith are trying to resist change but it's only a matter of time before the neighborhhod becomes a destination place to live because people are already settling in. Hopefully Erving will be voted out soon.

  • Thanks for the comment. I realize the topic calls for more depth, but I try to keep the length of my posts somewhat reasonable. Your insight into the neighborhood is enlightening.

  • I appreciate you going outside of your own box and wouldn't want to discourage it. I have a biracial son, product of Catholic high school system. Each all male high school, unfortunately, had their own degree of racism, and Brother Rice was at the high end. Your piece on going into a 'new' neighborhood highlights the segregated city we live in which was reflected in the Catholic high schools because youth tend to hang out with other youth they grew up with, thus, all the same race/ethnicity. While my son did not encounter many incidents of racism he also did not encounter many attempts at friendship. He is similar to Obama in his peaceful, conflict mediator role. So when he told years later of a fight he got into at a Brother Rice basketball game I was shocked. I only tell you this not to criticize BR but rather to also focus on your stepson and others his age at school to also step out of their comfort zone. Black people have to go outside of their neighborhoods all the time to go where the jobs are, the better schools, the better stores, etc. And black parents worry just as much about their children and how they will be treated and will they be safe. So I hope you keep searching and promoting we all get to know each other just a little bit better. When we know each other, we care for each other, we understand each other, and the mystique is gone.

  • I don't understand, why would the existence of the Tea Party prove that we haven't transitioned into a post racial society?

  • I am also a white man married to a black woman as well but I don't make a big deal of it and neither do others frankly.

    My view is that we talk way too much about race in this country since it is the ultimate liberal obsession and that obsession is what retards improvement in race relations as we foist on folks things like affirmative action and diversity consultants making six digit salaries, all of which, while well intended, just fosters racial animosity.

    And yes the crack about the Tea Party was beneath the blog. Liberals don't like stereotypes--except when it pertains to their enemies.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Thanks for the comment. Two responses: The Tea Party reference was quoted from Wikipedia and I think if people just talk to each other more there will be less, not more, racial animosity.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Couldn't agree with you more! Other countries around the world a black person and a white person are measured by their accomplishments. That's what I know. That is the way I was raised. Growing up in Chicago, going to school, college at University of Illinois at Chicago, I volunteered at Cook county hospital. Never I had any issues. I am spanish but it never stopped me from going any place I wanted to go. That is what I loved about being raised in Chgo.

  • Great you had a good experience. So why not take the next step then and move down there? That's the only way it's going to integrate. Those areas need people like yourself to help bring diversity.

  • I appreciate your insight. And bravery in asking hard questions and not having pat answers. Life isn't black and white.....you constantly accommodate the nuances. And you have a unique history and perspective. I'll be back to visit! Thanks.

  • In reply to Janet Dahl:

    Thanks for the kind words (and I subscribe to the Dahlcast).

  • This post racial thing is a joke. Anybody believes that is delusional. Thats nice you ventured out of your comfort zone. That's where its starts by taking a leap of faith. I encourage my non black friends to ask questions since I do the same to them.

  • It is not that you are a white man married to a black woman what makes you special. And what you did is not a heroic feat. To me, it is that you both are just human beings that don't see color but the good human being in your hearts. That is how I look at people. That is how I was raised in Chicago.
    I am proud of being raised in Chgo. I went from Humboldt Pk to walking around Cook county hospital where I volunteered and I never had any issues with anyone. No matter where I went.

    I don't agree electing the current president to have the first black president was correct, any more than I agree that the tea party is all for whites. I have known, and know, professional black people who made it where they are for their perseverance and will to do better.

    It is black leaders that try to keep the separation of the black community and only themselves get to move up that I have a problem with, as much as there is still racism from white people.

    I have yet to hear this president say, anyone can accomplish what they dream, and be an encouragement to young people. Same for Bill Clinton that came from a poor up bringing. Yet, I'm not hearing that message.
    That is what I like about capitalism, and the non-democratic leaders. Only in our capitalist society with its good and bad, can a PERSON regardless of color, raise from having nothing, to becoming president, millionaire, world leader. Even people in sports get ahead thru their efforts.
    We are not living post-racial times. We are living times of political correctness, media propaganda of what is "acceptable" and discrimination of blacks, white, and persecution of hispanics now.
    It gives me a sense of "not all is lost" when I read your blog, and the comments here expressed. Will visit often.
    I thank-you, for providing this opportunity for me to express these comments.

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