here is a little post from my blog. thought it might be interesting to read? both to provoke discussion, but ill take any critiques on my writing style as well. later this week im gonna write a short post about 'marginalization consciousness' issues within chicago's bike culture and critical mass
I have to put on my grossed out face today, and tell you another tale of one of the Chicago neighborhoods where I have recently been active- Uptown. On the east-west Sunnyside, a side street between Montrose and Wilson, there are two blocks of pedestrian walkway with a collection of flower gardens, trees, benches, and small art fixtures amid the concrete. Generally only police cars drive on it, though they do often. Mostly you see Uptown's diverse neighbors going about their lives- children playing or chalking, everyone biking, parents walking children in strollers, wealthier folks walking their dogs. This is the Sunnyside Mall.
Uptown is a famously diverse neighborhood in a city infamous for marked delineations of space along racial and class lines. Uptown is diverse in terms of race, class, and nationality. Strong immigrant populations from West Africa, Southeast Asia, Iran, Ecuador and elsewhere contribute to a northside neighborhood that is almost evenly Black and white. Most of the whites are upper middle class, most of the Black folks and immigrants are working class or else run small businesses. Condos and mixed-income apartments surround surround the streets along with apartment complexes set aside for the mentally ill. All of them can be found on the little Sunnyside Mall.
Flyers were posted all around the neighborhood within a few block radius of the 'mall' for a 10th annual fundraiser Sunnyside Mall Ice Cream Social, the funds to go to the upkeep of the flower gardens. The ice cream social, as explained on the flyer, was principally meant as a great way to "meet your neighbors." The price, clearly mentioned, was $10 per person.
A comrade and myself had some healthier eats, and took this beautiful Sunday to spend an hour observing the first half of the ice cream social, and with no preconceived notions, I promise. Lo and behold, but in one of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods, nearly every single volunteer or participant in this quaint ice cream social was upper middle class and white- the exceptions being a couple of assimilated middle-class East Asian-Americans. They ate and conversed, some brought kids, none older than five or six, and paid the $10 a piece per family member in most cases, though this pricing wasn't fixed.
Well, not for everyone, perhaps. But a group of three working class 6th grade Black kids came over and wanted to join in. They were met with stares and firm greetings. They didn't know there was a price, and innocently asked for some ice cream. No dice. They asked for some sort of sliding scale. No dice. They sat, looking at the wealthy white folks, some older, some yuppies, enjoying their ice cream and social engagements. An organizer approached them and tried to explain that it was a fundraiser, and that they couldn't just give out ice cream to everyone. The young men stood up and walked away frustrated.
Orlando, a young ecuadorian man, sat at another bench, observing the ice cream social. He wanted a beer, and I told him I wanted one too. He said he had a wife and a two year old child (the same age of most of the other kids at the event), lived right next door, and would have brought them if he could have afforded it. Instead he sat alone, without ice cream, and without either the greeting or openness of the patrons of this little social gathering.
One young middle-class white woman took her son away from the chairs and tables that were set up, and over to the bench I was sitting at with my comrade. Uptown is going through gentrification, but she was not a gentrifier. Born in Uptown, she now lived with her parents while she and her husband raised what they needed to get on their feet with their relatively new family. The organizers of the event had waived the fee for her son, so she had only paid $10 for the both of them. Funny they hadn't been willing to suggest even a discount for the young men, but this white woman was given a free pass for her son.
Uptown has a community
Now, there is strong community in Uptown. The only bit of evidence I need note is the annual Uptown Unity Summer Festival that took place the day before, a couple of blocks down the street from Sunnyside Mall. People from a number of immigrant communities come out to sell their wares, while the Kuumba Lynx youth organizing collective shows off their formidable hip-hop skills which have helped save many neighborhood youth from the streets or the prisons or worse. If this Ice Cream Social had been meant for all, the people at this festival would have perhaps come the next day two blocks over to support the flower beds. Or, at least, the participants in the festival at 1100 West Sunnyside, and the participants in the social at 1300 West Sunnyside, would have looked at least a little alike. But where gentrification hits, even in the most 'diverse' and 'multi-cultural' of neighborhoods, the borders are fortified and strong.
the Dividing Factors
Discrimination through pricing is as old as the class system. And capitalism is a system fundamentally tied to global and local systems of white supremacy and ideologies of racialism. The developers of Uptown can play up the 'multiculturalism and diversity' of the neighborhood, but only to resolve issues of guilt for their potential buyers or for the aqcuiescence of the relatively progressive local officials, or to exploit the commercial options of the new white yuppies who might want to go exotic for Nigerian on Wednesday night, Vietnamese for Friday night, Mexican for late Saturday night as they stumble home. They have their cake and eat it too- they have their exotic and diverse neighbors whose culture they play tourist to, while they eat up that very neighborhood and destroy that community.
That poor whites exist in Uptown is unavoidable, but they didn't come any nearer the ice cream social than any poor people of color did. When a middle-class white woman, not a bad person herself and not an outsider to Uptown, wanted a perk, it was a well-received request. No such luck for some young Black kids, not even a patronizing offer to buy the ice cream for them by the wealthy white folks around- instead they were chased off by the patronization of explanation, "I'm sorry, it's a fundraiser." As they three left in despair, a seated older cracker at a table gave a firm and firmly uncordial "How are you doing?" As they passed, one said something. "Good," he said, though whether he meant that to the kid's response or to their departure I'll never know.
P.S. For anyone who questions my observations of people, I promise you I am not a silent observer. I speak to people, ask casual questions, and that is a large source of my use of labels. It isn't simple stereotyping.