Reading the Tribune online version this morning I came across the following headline
3 teens charged with hate-crime racial attack
with the sub-heading: "White teens put noose around black teen's neck." I began reading the article and, it turns out that, this alleged incident occurred on December 23, 2011, charges were filed on January 10, 2012, and it took place right in my own backyard - the Chicago Beverly neighborhood. Not in Selma in the 1950's or 1960's. Not in Marquette Park in the 1960's, but right here in Rahm Emanuel's Chicago of 2012.
I am relatively new to this neighborhood, as my ChicagoNow bio indicates, having moved to the south side in July 2010 from a prior lifetime on the north side and in the northern suburb of Evanston. What I liked about living in Evanston, and what made me want to raise four children there, was the diversity. Evanston is truly a mixed community where people, to a large degree, live, work and socialize side by side. Do they mix and mingle as much as an ideal society would have people co-exist? Probably not. But, for the most part, people try.
I'm no pie in the sky progressive and I recognize that people don't always get along and that there are issues between the black and white communities regarding education, housing and jobs. But, what I did not encounter growing up and spending a majority of my adult life in Evanston, is the often blatant racism that seems to me to be an accepted fact of life on the south side.
I served on the public school board for 8 years in the Evanston/Skokie community that served over 7,000 students (40% black 45% white, and 15% "other"), so you can be sure that I am familiar with issues that concern all aspects of a community and which can raise the ire of one race far more than another - particularly when it comes to education. But, having lived in that community for over 40 years, I can tell you that I never heard of an incident like this:
"Three white teenagers have been charged with a hate crime after they beat a black teen, then put a noose around his neck and yelled racial epithets at him because of his relationship with a white girl, Chicago police say."
Sadly, I'm not surprised by today's story based on a year and half living in Beverly, being married to a black woman and being a stepfather to two black teenage boys. I've had the "n" word yelled at me while picking one of the boys up at a 7-11 with his mother on a Friday night. I've been called an "n-lover" walking through a restaurant. I've heard stories from my stepsons of the liberal use of the "n" word by numerous neighborhood kids.
Sadly too, the three students charged (all white) and the victim (black) all attend Brother Rice High School which is attended by my oldest stepson, a school with a Mission Statement that reads: " We, the family of Brother Rice High School, are a diverse, Catholic Christian community, committed to preparing young men for college and for the process of life-long learning. We educate young men to act manfully in Christ Jesus and to deal wisely with their world in the tradition of the Christian Brothers and the charisma of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice."
In my limited experience, I found the Brother Rice staff, coaches, parents, students to be gracious, intelligent and kind. This kind of thing, involving students who happen to attend a particular school, is unfortunate, but must be dealt with and I'm sure the school will investigate and do the right thing.
With the incident reported in the media today, my earlier south side encounters, and the "feeling" that one gets as the soon-to-be parent of a mixed race child, my immediate reaction was to call my wife and say, "I'm not raising our child on the south side."
This isn't white flight. I guess one could call my reaction "flight from the whites." I feel uncomfortable having these feelings of discomfort and I don't know what we'll wind up doing. Fortunately, I don't have to make a decision immediately.
Unfortunately, we still live in a society and in a City where alleged incidents like the one made public today cause you to take stock of everything that you value. It makes you wonder who is teaching our children these values and reinforcing those values as the children become adults. And, it makes you wonder if things will ever change.