Natural Inclinations of African-Americans | Letters | Chicago Reader

Natural Inclinations of African-Americans 

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To the editors:

In retort to comment by Peter L. Flemister, president of the Far-South Suburban NAACP, Harold Henderson, in his June 19 story, "Color Coordination," says:

"On this Flemister is adamant: "The NAACP can never agree that there is such a thing as too many blacks in a community--or a 'desirable" number.'

"First off, neither the Housing Center nor its suburbs say that--and I have seen no evidence that they ever have. They do often say that there is not enough white demand . . . Now, more white home seekers does not mean fewer black home seekers, it means more home seekers total--that pie is infinitely expandable. It is true that more white home seekers . . . means a smaller percentage of black home seekers--but that has nothing to do with trying to reduce their actual numbers, or saying there are 'too many blacks' anywhere."

Having lived in Park Forest, the birthplace of the South Suburban Housing Center, for 23 years; having been in opposition to governmentally imposed programs for "balancing" the population mix of black to white families in buildings, neighborhoods, and communities (maintain integration), since the advent of Donald DeMarco in Park Forest about 15 years ago; and having read countless media stories analyzing the issue of housing integration in the suburbs; I suppose I had kind of dreamed that a story on the question in the Reader would be "different." Instead, outside of its usual breezier style of writing than the major media, Henderson's story, "Color Coordination," could fit in a mold made by any of the myriad stories on the subject written over the last ten years.

I ask myself why; and I am reminded of an observation made by an attorney who quit mainstream lawyering, in part because, he said, his legal training at Harvard prevented him from surmounting the bounds within which that training sentenced him to resolve the problematical relationships that arose between humans. Some of the same circumstance seems to strongly affect journalists; and it shows itself consistently (to this observer at least) in the stories analyzing housing integration. Every story I recall reading has set up a play consisting of well-intentioned housing centers, municipal officials, public interest individuals, beleaguered by "bad guys" bent on frustrating those good intentions.

Then, the presentation is given over to a so-called "balanced" reportorial exposition of the subject, featuring the "good guys," integration maintainers, against the "bad guys," whoever disputes their proposals for managing integration in housing. And the cast long ago became etched on the playbill. The same commentators provide the premises and definitions for discussion of the issue, story after story; writer Henderson's included. And so even he starts out his analyzation by propelling it down a route which leads: Is integration an issue now? You bet your in-ground pool it is.

When started on that route, where is there to go, but follow the printed lead of the author. Suppose, however, that integration is not the major issue it is trumped up to be? This writer happened to be living in Park Forest (the south suburban incubating locale for integration maintenance) 15 years or so ago. I was serving on the human relations commission, and the African-American population was still under 3 percent. But white residents besieged the white government officials with complaints that an uncomfortable number of black home seekers were inspecting homes for sale on three corners of an intersection, where one black family already lived. And these white citizens made no bones about the fact they were unnerved by the prospect of what is known as the "clustering" of African-American families. Even to this day, communities congratulate themselves on not having such "clustering." Yet your Mr. Henderson can say in his article, " . . . but that has nothing to do with trying to reduce their actual numbers, or saying there are 'too many blacks' anywhere."

As a matter of fact, for its persistent, innovative steps at curbing "clustering," Park Forest garners kudos in Henderson's story. And it is noteworthy that he would apparently just take the word of integration maintenance advocates that they are not trying to limit the number of black families in buildings, neighborhoods, and communities (sincere-sounding though that word may be). In asking why, I try naivete; but surely journalist Henderson has more experience than that. Another, more promising path, is that Mr. Henderson, like many of those who write feature stories, is a white living in a community, and is himself bound to the expediencies of living where he feels comfortable. And if he is like the vast majority of whites, just cannot fathom being "the last white-on-the-block." After all, even the "best-white-friends" of many African-Americans have finally sadly let their black friends know that they are no longer comfortable on the block, and will be moving.

But whether naivete, or perceived self-preservation, or maintenance of property values, whatever, Henderson's story duplicates the egregious trespass on the dignity of black people that all stories on the issue show; that is that advocates of integration maintenance evidence barely the slightest awareness that African-Americans have natural inclinations to live next to, around, and about their families; or, for that matter, that black people even have families. And so stories such as Henderson's bowl along, analyzing the question with no allusions to the matter of black families. Advocates of integration maintenance propose the dispersal and scattering of African-American families as though so much trees and scrubbery. Journalists spend their efforts squaring off housing centers, governmental officials, and real estate people; and who would even suspect that the families of black people are inextricably intertwined in the machinations.

Slighted or no, a major factor in the failure of purposeful programs to manage integration in housing will be the resistance of African-Americans to proposals that would deny their families the opportunity to move next door to each other. The whites who move to avoid black people are being asked nothing; they are being placated. But African-Americans, scatter yourselves. Do not strengthen your family life through supportive proximity. Under such circumstances, it is easy to foresee failure for managed integration, short of governmental force (restrictive covenants). In illustration: I cannot imagine counseling my family not to move into the area in which I live because it is deemed by someone that the move-in would create an "undesirable clustering," that might be followed by white families moving away. I know, further, that a high majority of blacks feel strongly the same way.

In addition to the natural recalcitrance of families to cooperate with housing programs to keep their families out, black families are repulsed by a basic supposition justifying managed integration; that is that African-Americans, regardless of individual attributes (moral, financial, intellectual), are a danger to the health and welfare of communities. This is nothing but rank stigmatization of black people. And yet journalists write their stories on integration maintenance, consistently ignoring the matter. But even in its most benign forms, the pervasive assumption that black people are the "spoilers" of communities is repugnant. Not only is it unjustifiable, but the supposition leads irresistibly to the conclusion that no social unit can be worthwhile, if it is not limited in the number of black people it contains. A pall of inferiority is thus cast over any social unit deemed to be "overrepresented" with African-Americans; including churches, schools, communities, businesses, and, unspeakably, but inevitably, even the black family itself. The end result: Advocates of integration maintenance can, with no apparent conscience, expect black people not to bring their own families to live next door, in the same buildings and communities.

What unmitigated gall and arrogance. Who is so presumptuous and self-important as to propose that my family not move together or around each other? Which of any black families should be the butt of manipulation to balance the racial mix in housing? In spite of its vaunted striving for even-handed reporting, the media consistently analyzes the issue of managed housing integration from a standpoint that "ignorers" of African-American families are the good guys, who are being beleaguered in their sanctimoniously announced good intentions to preserve, "integration as an American ideal." Consequently, it is practically impossible to find a story that gives any indication of awareness that black families are being stigmatized by the basic supposition that they spoil communities, and so the less the better. Mr. Henderson's story on housing integration was no exception.

William Simpson

Park Forest

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