Is It Safe There?

photo credit: dbbent via photopin cc
Racism has
changed. It used to be disgustingly obvious and impossible to ignore.
Gratefully, the days of racially motivated beatings, lynching and other forms
of overt discrimination have almost completely disappeared.
racism isn’t gone. It just looks different.
When I
moved my family to Chicago a few years ago, we felt it would be best to rent
before we buy. We wanted to get a feel for the city before we decide exactly
where we’d settle down. So we found a decent place on the north side of town
and started the acclimation process. It didn’t take long to realize that our
large family would require more space and cheaper living. It also didn’t take
long to realize that one of the only areas of Chicago that offers homes at an
affordable price is on the city’s south side. And by God’s grace, we found a perfect home there at an unbelievable price.
think that the first reaction we’d get from others would be excitement. But it
wasn’t. The same question kept repeatedly surfacing: “Is it safe
question still shocks me.
These people knew me. I wouldn’t willingly move my family to a
dangerous neighborhood. Who would do such a thing? Chicago has some terrible
neighborhoods all over the city, and given a choice nobody would want to live
there. So unless all of our friends at the time assumed that we’re stupid,
they were implying something else altogether.
For those of you unfamiliar with the geographic and demographic
make-up of Chicago, it’s really pretty simple. On paper, the city is extremely
diverse. However in practice, Chicago is almost completely segregated. The Spring
2010 issue of Perspecta contained a fascinating ethnic map of
Chicago based upon 2000 census data. You can find an interactive online version
of the map here.
As is clearly indicated, the vast majority of people on the south side of
Chicago are African American.
Of course,
it’s no
secret that pockets of Chicago’s south and west sides have been plagued by violence.
But it would be a vast oversimplification and extremely naïve to assume that all
neighborhoods south of downtown Chicago are “dangerous”. There are plenty of areas
north of Chicago that are just as dangerous as the south side. And I’ve seen a lot of wonderful
areas to raise a family on the South Side. I happen to live in one.
So what
did my white friends mean when they asked whether
the South Side is “safe”? I believe they were unintentionally revealing a truth
among many white people in America today. Deep down, we’re scared of black people.
Yup – I said it. Many white people
today are afraid of black people. And they’re either too embarrassed to admit it, or have convinced
themselves otherwise. It’s the reason so many white people quickly lock their car doors when there’s a black guy in the crosswalk. It’s the reason white people
clutch their purse or walk the other way when they encounter a group of black
teenagers at the mall.
What’s the cause of the fear? Is it
ignorance? Perhaps it’s a lack of familiarity with African American culture? Could
it be a conditioned response based upon negative portrayals of African
Americans in the media? Or maybe it’s a subtle underlying feeling learned from parents and
grandparents? I know my grandfather was an unashamed
racist and anti-Semite.
probably a combination of all these factors.
slurs aren’t
socially acceptable anymore. The days of legal discrimination are gone. But our
society hasn’t
progressed as far as we’d like to believe. Tragically, we have a long way to go.
Why? Real change will only happen when racism is confronted within yourself. At
a heart level.
If the
first stage in changing a behavior or kicking a habit is ‘acceptance’ – are we even there

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