Angela Higginbotham | Chicago Reader

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Re: “Biting Commentary

Date: February 20, 2015 at 11:27:17 AM CST
Chicago Business-
Chicago, the Politics of Race, Discrimination and Segregation - A No Mention in the Mayoral Race-
By Mell Monroe- February 20, 2015

The hot Mayoral race in Chicago is this Tuesday February 24, 2015. And no Chicago Mayoral candidates are discussing the biggest elephant in the room: The historic pattern of racial segregation in African American communities which has led to an ever-increasing rate of crime, joblessness, poor economic development, and a poorer quality of life as compared to other neighborhoods in the city. The subject of race and the continued model of isolation and despair among one ethnic group seem to never get mentioned in debates or public life. Yet this often-misunderstood topic impacts everything that politicians and the better-offs love and hate about living in Chicago. The mere idea of someone seeking office and attempting to acknowledge and address Chicago’s race relations history- past and present- is the kiss of death when trying to get elected today. I believe the subject of race should be discussed today more than ever before.
Few if any Mayoral candidates, much less Aldermanic office seekers, will ever consider learning about how segregation practices hamper progress in Chicago with its world class museums, the 3rd largest convention center in the world, most recognized sports teams in America, massive lakefront parks and recreation facilities and the capacity of possessing some of the most walk-able neighborhoods on earth. However, not one Black neighborhood in Chicago shares the kind of success enjoyed by most other communities mainly because discrimination protocol is politics as usual and no one wants to discuss it.

Out of 77 neighborhoods, approximately 28% of them are predominantly African American. These neighborhoods suffer from high crime rates, failing businesses, bad quality of life issues and poorly performing schools. Black neighborhoods do not appreciate in property values and experience few if any new visitors and consumers other than those who reside in them. Worse yet, African American communities are typically perceived and identified by the public at large as “avoidable ghettos”, according to Google and numerous other online depictions.
Black voters in large numbers elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel and numerous other African American Aldermen, but few have any idea about how certain communities got and are kept predominantly Black. With the exception of Mayoral candidate Dock Walls (with no chance of winning mainly because he will never be supported by White controlled unions and rich donors) no one seems to get why communities such as Bronzeville are failing to grow and property values are at a stand-still while places such as Pilsen are bustling. I would argue that if a Mayor, or any politician for that matter, does not accept the severe problems that resonates out of segregation in a city that has been notorious for controlling where Black people live, then it is unlikely they will ever understand it; and worse yet, it will be impossible for public leaders to ever begin to sort out a solution.

Some neighborhoods cannot grow because of characteristic practices of discrimination led by public officials who want to show they are helping poor Black people, when in fact their actions hurt rather than help. In Bronzeville for example, at one time State Street had the largest contiguous population of public housing in the world. However while these “projects” were demolished, still today at least 4 out of 10 residents are low income- the most in the entire city of Chicago. Every study in the world has concluded that concentrated poverty leads to an increase in crime, diluted property values and over time, bad schools and an unsafe quality of life. These factors are true for all types of people, regardless of ethnicity, but in Chicago the pattern of creating poor conditions for Black communities has been in place for almost a full century. The fact is poor Black residents are frequently encouraged by public officials to remain in their own community, or any other predominantly African American neighborhood for that matter, because no public official wants poor or working class Blacks to become attracted to their wards- and all politicians know that.

By example, over the past three years, the city of Chicago has approved spending over 100 million dollars to redevelop the Rosenwald apartments in Bronzeville so that more poor people can be added to the already overwhelming population of poor people. This was despite formal opposition by home-owning community stakeholders pointing out that re-segregation practice in housing constitute not only a bad idea but is unconstitutional, bias and discriminatory in nature. Public officials have voted time and time again to approve such public expenditures to keep blacks where they are regardless of history and Chicago’s tainted past. Mayor Rahm Emanuel also supported these kinds of developments with his blessings, and not once has he met with African American community leaders about racial discrimination practices in Bronzeville, with its enormous potential for tourism and expansion, and not once has any politician made an effort to glean insight on how racial segregation hurts locals and Chicago on the whole.

History should make a difference but where we live, it does not. From 1915-1964, during the Great Migration period in American, African Americans were not permitted to live anywhere they wanted to in Chicago because laws were created to control their whereabouts. Outside of any Black community, for most of this period, it was unlawful to own a home, acquire insurance, be considered when applying for certain jobs and to have any say at all about much of anything. Blacks had no choice but live among over-crowded conditions, in tenement houses and high-rise public buildings on top of each other in “red lining” communities where only their own kind could dwell. Restricted Covenant laws were created specifically to make certain that Black people would remain in their own part of town, where the subjects of economic development and a better quality of life were afterthoughts. At the time, it was clear that politicians didn’t care about the rights of Blacks and I’m afraid that today it is no different.

It was exactly 46 years ago, on February 10, 1969, when federal district judge Richard B. Austin issued a ruling aimed at Chicago and its public officials for creating "existing patterns of racial segregation.” The judge ruled that with housing, these issues must be reversed if there is to be a chance of averting the desperately intensifying division of whites and African Americans. The legal case of 1969 that challenged not only the city of Chicago but also the country was filed by Dorothy Gautreaux vs. the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Her legal concerns were based on the complaint that the location of public housing projects were being built only in the city's African American neighborhoods mainly because whites didn't want blacks in their neighborhoods. However, the broader and most devastating issue of greater concern, as described in Judge Austin’s ruling was the (unconstitutional) problem associated with consistent patterns of residential racial segregation not only in Chicago but throughout the nation. After further exploration of Judge Austin’s ruling and a careful review of the legal findings, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders called for sustained efforts to end segregation specifically targeted at Chicago.

It was apparent then and now that little has changed because of customary politics in Chicago to move toward two societies, one black, one white- separate and unequal. Almost half of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods are less than 3% African American and by contrast 21 neighborhoods are 96% predominantly black which cannot be purely co-incidental. The disparities between African Americans and Whites, socially, politically and economically are stark and to the extent our public officials know, and they don’t seem to care. The quality of schools and lifestyles in Black neighborhoods versus Whites are literally like night and day by every account. Yet, in Chicago’s political season, few if any candidates spend any more than a 30 second bite, to discuss the ongoing and ever present problem with racial segregation and how it disrupts every aspect of Chicago’s “big picture”.

Mell Monroe
Owner of Welcome Inn Manor

Posted by Angela Higginbotham on 02/20/2015 at 12:50 PM

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