Not in My Backyard

The Chicago Tribune is concerned about racial justice – about racial justice in Mississippi 40 years ago. What about racial justice in the present and the Tribune’s own metropolitan backyard?Well that’s another story.

On June 21, 2005, the Chicago Urban League, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in Chicago, released a comprehensive report on the state of “race relations” in and around that city. The study, titled “Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago,” included some disturbing findings:

* 74 percent of Chicago’s black residents live in 22 neighborhoods that are 90 percent or more African-American – this in a city that is home to 77 neighborhoods.

* More than half (52 percent) of all suburban Chicago are blacks reside in just 18 south suburban Cook County towns – this in a six country metropolitan area that is home to 265 local municipalities.

* Within Chicago, where two-thirds of the metropolitan area’s total black population (including three fourths of that population’s children)lives, the average black student attends a school that is 86 percent black.

* Two hundred and seventy four schools (or 47 percent) of the city’s 579 public elementary and high schools are 90 percent or more African American. One hundred and seventy three (30 percent of all public schools in the city) are100 percent black.

* Black median household income is just 58 percent of white median household income in the metropolitan area, according to the 2000 Census.

* The median income of the average neighborhood inhabited by African-Americans in the Chicago metropolitan area ($36,298) is just 59 percent of the median income in the average neighborhood inhabited by whites in the same metropolitan area ($61,952).

* While more than a third of the metropolitan area’s white households received an income of $ 75,000 or more per year, just 16 percent of the black households earn that much.

* More than a fourth of the region’s black households receive less than $14,995, more than $1,700 less than the poverty level for a family of four in 1999. Less than a tenth of the area’s white households have incomes that low.

* A fourth of the metropolitan area’s black households are officially poor, compared to just 5.6 percent white and 16 percent of Latin households.

 * Sixteen percent of Chicago’s blacks live in what researchers now call “deep poverty” – at less than half of the federal government’s notoriously low and inadequate poverty level.

* More than a third of the metropolitan area’s black kids live in poverty, compared to just 5 percent of the white kids.

* At 42 percent, the black home ownership rate in the region is 30 points below the white home ownership rate.

 * The black adult employment/population ratio in Chicago went below 50 percent in 2002 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
* Fifteen percent of the metropolitan area’s blacks are officially unemployed, compared to 4.1 percent of whites and 8 percent of Latinos in the 2000 Census.

* Two-thirds of the state’s more than 43,000 prisoners and more than 80 percent of its drug prisoners are African-American; this in a state that is just 15 percent African American.

* From 2000 through 2002, a quarter of the state’s released prisoners returned to just 10 predominantly black zip codes on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

* The number of black Chicago males carrying the lifelong mark of a felony criminal record is equivalent in absolute number to 42 percent of the city’s black male workforce.

* There were nearly 20,000 more black males in the Illinois state prison system than enrolled in the state’s public universities in the summer of 2001.

* Twenty four percent of the state’s black residents lack health insurance, compared to 10 percent of its whites.Predominantly white Northwest Side Chicagoans can expect to live 75 to 80 years while predominantly black South Siders can expect to live to 60 years.

* Of Chicago’s 15 richest neighborhoods, all but two are disproportionately white.

* Of Chicago’s 15 poorest communities, with average household incomes ranging from $11 to 28,000, all but 12 are very disproportionately black and none are disproportionately white.

* Of the 22 Chicago neighborhoods where 19 percent or more of rental households are spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing, all are 90 percent or more black.

* Of the city’s 15 highest unemployment neighborhoods, with jobless rates ranging from 18 to 34 percent, all are disproportionately black, including 12 that are more than 94 percent black.

* Of the city’s top 20 neighborhoods ranked for loss of manufacturing jobs between 1980 and 2000, all are disproportionately black and the great majority are more than 90 percent black.

* Of the 15 neighborhoods ranked by the Boston Consulting Group as themost “economically vital” neighborhoods in Chicago, all are disproportionately white.

* Fourteen of the bottom 16 neighborhoods for “economic vitality” are disproportionately black.Those disadvantaged neighborhoods get the short end not just of economic health but also of private and public economic development funding dollars.

* Of the city’s 15 poorest neighborhoods, with poverty measures ranging from 32 to 56 percent, 14 are disproportionately black.

* Of the city’s top 15 neighborhoods for child poverty, with rates ranging from 55 to 71 percent, 10 are disproportionately black and none are disproportionately white, the rest being disproportionately Latino.

* In 15 Chicago neighborhoods, more than 25 percent of the kids aregrowing up in deep poverty (there are six neighborhoods – Oakland, North Lawndale, Washington Park, Grand Boulevard, Douglass, and Riverdale – where more than 40 percent of the children are deeply poor and in the last one [Riverdale] it is actually more than half). All but one of these community areas have ablack population percentage that is considerably higher than the city average. All but three of them are at least 94 percent black.

*Thirteen of the city’s top 15 neighborhoods for HIV mortality are predominantly black communities on the South and West side.

* Twelve of the top 15 community areas for heart disease and ten of the top 15 for diabetes are disproportionately black.

* Part of the health problem for African-Americans may be a shortage of full-service grocery stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for a good diet: twenty of the city’s 23 Dominick Grocery Stores are in disproportionately white neighborhoods.Thirty-three of the city’s 40 Jewel’s Grocery Stores are in predominantly Caucasian community areas.

More than just a record of disparity, the Chicago Urban League study attempted to show how racism explains persistent racial inequality in and around Chicago.The main difficulty with the conventional white wisdom holding that racism no longer explains why black Americans remain unequal, the study argued, is a failure to distinguish adequately between “level-one racism,” meaning overt public bigotry and discrimination and “level-two” racism: underlying covert societal or institutional racism. Level one (overt)racism, the Urban League maintains, has largely been defeated, outlawed and discredited in the US and even in Chicago.

The deeper, covert level of racism, however, is alive and well.It involves the more impersonal operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that “just happen” but nonetheless serve to reproduce black disadvantage in the labor market and numerous other sectors of American life.These processes are so ingrained in the social, political, and institutional life of the city, the region, the state and indeed nation that they are taken for granted – barely noticed by the mainstream media and other social commentators.Richly enabled by policymakers who commonly declare allegiance to anti-racist ideals, this second, deeper form of racism has an equally ancient history that has more than simply outlived the explicit, open and public racism of the past and the passage of civil rights legislation that is justly cherished within and beyond the black community

What processes of underlying, covert societal and institutional racism continue to generate blacks’ persistently separate and unequal status in and around Chicago? Here’s a short list of policies and practices mentioned in the Chicago Urban League’s study:

* widely documented racial bias in real estate and home lending that complement, reflect and empower the general reluctance of whites to live next door to blacks, all of which combine with disproportionate black poverty to keep blacks out of the metropolitan area’s highest-opportunity communities.

* the proliferation of expensive, taxpayer-financed suburban roads and developments constructed on behalf of mainly white suburbanites far from the predominantly black inner city, which subsidizes white flight and takes critical needed economic resources and opportunities yet further from those who are most in need of it.

* the funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth, which tends to favor whiter school districts over blacker districts, an especially big issue in Illinois, where per-student funding rangers from more than 20K per kid in Lake Forest to less than 7K per kid in many black south suburbs.

* excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “dill and grill” curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly black public schools.

* the hyper-concentration of black children into segregated ghetto schools where frazzled teachers have to deal with oversized classes where as many as 90 percent of their kids are dealing with the special barriers to learning that come with extreme poverty and its effects.

* rampant and widely documented racial discrimination in hiring and union-managed apprentice-training admissions

* the racially disparate “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of mass black imprisonment and felony-marking, which is waged with such racially selective ferocity that two thirds of state’s 40-thousand plus state prisoners are African-Americans and more than 80 percent of the state’s drug prisoners are black even though blacks make up 15 percent of the state and are no more likely to use illegal drugs than whites.

* the aggressive pursuit of welfare caseload reduction as a positive good in and of itself without concomitant efforts to increase economic opportunity in poor black communities, where it is not uncommon for less than half of the adult population to be now be attached to the workforce.

* the disproportionate investment of local public economic development funding dollars to communities that need assistance the least

Ironically, covert, level-two institutional racism may be deepened by civil rights victories and related black upward mobility into the middle and upper classes (however limited) insofar as those victories and achievements have served to encourage the illusion that racism has disappeared and that the only obstacles left to African-American success and equality are internal to individual blacks and their community – the idea that, as Derrick Bell puts it, “the indolence of blacks rather than the injustice of whites explains the socioeconomic gaps separating the races.”

It’s hard to blame people for believing that racism is dead in America, the Urban League study argues, when American public life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration ideal and our ostensible progress towards achieving it and when we regularly celebrate great American victories over level one racism. There are [now] enough examples of successful middle-class African-Americans, Sheryl Cashin notes, “to make many whites believe that blacks have reached parity with them.The fact that some blacks now lead powerful mainstream institutions offers evidence to whites that racial barriers have been eliminated; the issue now is individual effort….the odd black family on the block or the Oprah effect – examples of stratospheric black success – feed these misperceptions, even as relatively few whites live among and interact daily with blacks of their own standing.”

Episodes and events like the demotion of Trent Lott or the election of a black Mayor (Harold Washington in 1983) or a black U.S. Senator (Carol Mosley Braun in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2004) or City Hall’s criticism of racist sentiments on the part of certain white firemen offer ample opportunities for city, state, and national leaders to pat themselves on their collective backs for advancing beyond the primitive state of level-one racism even while they promote policies that dig the hole of institutional and societal racism yet deeper.

For what it’s worth, this is something Martin King worried about a great deal near the end of his life. “Many whites hasten to congratulate themselves,” King noted in 1967, “on what little progress [black Americans] have made.I’m sure,” King opined, “that most whites felt that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all race problems were automatically solved.Most white people are so removed from the life of the average Negro,” King added, “there has been little to challenge that assumption.”

 Despite repeated Urban League efforts to interest the Chicago Tribune in this story in advance of the June 21 press release, “Still Separate, Unequal” did not receive any attention in the Tribune.The story got a short write up in the New York Times, but not one word in Chicago’s own leading newspaper.

The Tribune’s silence was all too consistent with a book it helped the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations put out last year. The book is titled “Global Chicago.” Edited by Tribune writer Charles Madigan and including essays by Tribune writers Ron Grossman and R.C. Longworth, “Global Chicago” celebrates Chicago’s emergence as a full-fledged “global city,” replete with a panoply of transnational firms, a burgeoning downtown commercial and real estate district, and an increasingly immigrant-based population fed by the distant corners of the planet.

 “Global Chicago” is remarkably indifferent to the black Americans who make up 37 percent of the city’s population. The book renders black Chicagoans nearly invisible. It contains numerous glowing references to the glories of the global Boeing Corporation – maker of the deadly B-2 Stealth Bomber and the savage Arab killing Blackhawk Helicopter – but no direct references to the uncomfortable, merely local pain and experience of black children living in the shadows of the expanding world-connected corporate downtown and its growing ring of gentrifying condo complexes.

 The Tribune’s lack of interest in the findings of “Still Separate, Unequal” was consistent also with a recent front-page story it did on the city’s white, corporation- and globalization-friendly mayor Richard M. Daley.”Among mayors,” the Tribune reported, “Daley [is] King.”This, the paper noted, was the sentiment of the 200 city executives attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in “the city that works” (G. Washburn and D. Mihalopolous, “Among Mayors, Daley King,” Chicago Tribune, 11 June 2005, sec. 1, p.1.

The Tribune admitted that the shadow of recent contract and political finance scandals were challenging the mayor’s image. It had nothing, however, to say about the shocking poverty and the extreme racial and socioeconomic segregation that can be easily found within a few short drives from City Hall. That poverty and inequality is richly exacerbated by the Mayor’s corporatist and downtown-centered development regime, which pushes poor blacks further and further to the urban and suburban margins.

Eight days later the Tribune printed a front-page story reporting the record numbers of ex-cons were returning go the streets of Illinois and Chicago.”About 21,000 inmates will leave the high-fenced borders of Illinois prisons this year and re-enter society within the city limits, enough ex-offenders to fill the United Center, about 10 city bus-loads rolling in each week (R. Huppke, “Record Numbers of Ex-Cons Return to Illinois,” Chicago Tribune, 19 June 2005, sec. 1, p.1).While presenting a compelling account of the remarkable barriers faced by these “ex-offenders,” the story managed to completely ignore the very preponderantly black composition of the returning inmate population and the desperately poor communities that receive so many of the city’s “ex-cons.” Given its refusal to acknowledge the heavily racialized nature of the ex-offender “re-entry” problem, there was no chance that the Tribune would investigate the graphically racist nature of the surveillance, arrest, sentencing, and incarceration policies that do so much to create the ex-offender issue in the first place (for such an investigation, see Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation [Chicago, IL: The Chicago Urban League, 2002], available online at www.cul-chicago.org)

To be sure, the Tribune had plenty to say about race on June 22.The paper’s main front-page story was all about racial injustice – in Philadelphia, Mississippi more than 40 years ago.”On the 41st anniversary of the murders of three young civil rights workers,” the Tribune reported, “a jury Tuesday convicted an 80-year old former Ku Klux Klan leader of manslaughter, closing another chapter in the nation’s sordid past of racial violence that has haunted generations” (Dahleen Glanton, “Ex-Klansman Guilty in ’64 Triple Slaying,” Chicago Tribune, 22 June 2005, sec. 1, p.1). Level-one racism in Mississippi during the early Civil Rights Era was also the main theme in the following Sunday’s Tribune “Perspectives” section, which included two feature pieces on that burning topic (See “Verdict of History,” Chicago Tribune, 26 June, Section 2, p.1).

After reading last Sunday’s Tribune, I reflected on the great social justice leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s goals when he started the Chicago Freedom Movement in summer of 1965. Forty years ago, King and his colleagues in the Southern Christian Leadership Council came to Chicago determined to take the civil rights struggle to a radical new level.

It was one thing, King told his colleagues, for blacks to win the right to sit at a lunch counter.It was another thing for black and other poor people to get the money to buy a lunch.

It was one thing, King argued, to open the doors of opportunity for some few and relatively privileged African-Americans. It was another thing to move millions of black and other disadvantaged folks out of economic despair.It was another and related thing to dismantle slums and overcome barriers to equality that continued after public bigotry was discredited and after open discrimination was outlawed.

It was one thing to get some black kids into formerly all-white schools.It was another thing to provide all black children with quality, integrated education.

It was one thing, King argued, to defeat the overt racism of snarling southerners like Bull Connor; it was another thing to confront the deeper, more covert institutional racism that lived beneath the less openly bigoted, smiling face of northern and urban liberalism.

It was one thing to defeat the anachronistic caste structure of the South.It was another thing to attain substantive social and economic equality for black and other economically disadvantaged people across the entire nation.

Forty years later, in the glorious age of “the global city,” the poor and often deeply poor black children of Chicago’s ghettoes appear to be more officiallyinvisible they they were in King’s time.We have the not-so benign neglect of concentrated global-corporate media structures like The Chicago Tribune to thank for much of that shameful invisibility.

Paul Street is the author of Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago.You can order copy bt e-mailing cjordan@cul-chicago.org



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