Race in the city: Chicago and New Haven

A couple of random thoughts that came to me this morning as I was driving around in search of a gas station.

I really value the atypical experiences I had growing up on a small island, which provided me with rural/small community roots, then commuting to middle and high school in a great city (right in the middle of which the ferry dropped me off) so as to acquire comfort in more urban settings, then off to college at the University of Chicago where I simultaneously got my taste of elite education, residential segregation, and race relations. Furthermore, how fortunate that I was in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in which I saw that African-Americanness was associated with the entire spectrum of economic classes, social tastes, etc. etc. Hyde Park is practically within shouting distance of the now defunct Robert Taylor homes housing project anchoring the neighborhood inhabited by Wilson’s “Truly Disadvataged.” It is a short drive to precariously middle class African American communities and their “Black Picket Fences.” It neighbors Kenwood, the mansion district currently and historically housing much of the nation’s African-American power elite –  Louis Farakhan, Jesse Jackson’s operation push, and even “post-racial” Barack Obama. Hyde Park is where I learned that talking about what black people are like is as fraught as talking about what white people are like, but, yet, despite the implausability of the categories, organizing and political mobilization around blackness is a crucial element of the fight against inequality and discrimination.

Granted, I don’t know New Haven that well, but my impression is that there are no visible African-American middle or elite classes here. Class inequality highlights and exacerbates racial inequality and segregation. I feel that my experiences have been so atypical and provided me a perspective that I really value. I don’t know, maybe everyone feels that way.

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