The Current State of Affairs: Chicago
There have been a number of articles released recently about how this past week's events are reminiscent of the summer of 1968. An article that well articulates how racial systemic oppression has been long embedded in our country's history is featured in The Atlantic: Is America Repeating the Mistakes of 1968?
I've been in Chicago for a month now and I do love this city. There is so much about it that feels deeply familiar to me: the old brick buildings and tree-lined streets make me think of where I grew up in greater Boston. The friendliness and inclusivity in the Midwest has been quite nice to experience pretty consistently. And summertime in Chicagoland -- oh man. Arguably the best city in the entire country to be during this season.
Yet, like nearly every other major American city, there is a sense of division -- or, as my good friend recently said -- pain.
Chicago has a deep history that I am trying to learn as much about while I am here, and I have only scratched the surface. But I am trying to talk to as many folks as I can -- trying to hear their perspective, their views.
But the division can be very noticeable and palpable in this town.
One of the times I notice it the most is when I am riding public transportation here. I was living with some very good friends out in Oak Park, west of Chicago. And Oak Park is one of greater Chicago's more diverse neighborhoods (interestingly, I was told Oak Park did not have restrictive covenants like so much of the city once did -- history is so important).
One time, I took the bus from Oak Park to downtown Chicago -- about an 8 mile or so bus ride. And I only saw literally a couple of white people get on the bus or were out in the streets in general. The neighborhoods the bus went through were distinctively predominantly black or predominantly Latino, and well, there weren't many white people at all.
Conversely, when I spent some time another weekend on the North side of town, particularly the North Shore communities -- it felt overwhelmingly white. I've also taken the El (subway) on the North Side and noticed how many more white people there were there.
With such segregation here in Chicago and in other cities and neighborhoods throughout the country -- how often are we crossing the divide to talk to one another? How many people do we really know who aren't in our immediate circles? And how does that affect our worldview and ideologies?
Black Lives Matter
Last night, I was meeting up with a dear friend of mine who also used to live in Los Angeles. After meeting up, I walked out of the building and saw that there was a Black Lives Matter protest that was formulating downtown. I needed to join.
I've been cross-referencing some of my social media posts here lately -- as they recently have been real-time reflections of my experience (and I know not everyone has Facebook):
At a #BlackLivesMatter protest in downtown Chicago tonight, an elderly white woman was walking through the crowd screaming with tears in her eyes: "all lives matter!" And the crowd continued to move forward, people shouting over her "black lives matter!"
I decided to stop and talk to her. I braced myself for the worst but still decided to go for it. I gently put my hand on her shoulder and asked her if she was okay.
She told me through tears that her son was a police officer on the west side of Chicago and that one night he was shot in the head while on duty and has been debilitated since then.
I then thought of the conversations I've had with so many of you all recently -- the insightful, rich thoughts and stories that were shared on social media over this last week & other one-on-one conversations.
As calmly, gently, and invitingly as I could -- I said to her that what's going on is a result of hundreds of years of systemic oppression since this country has been founded & that we are all not free. That the #BlackLivesMatter movement doesn't want to start a race war but rather end one. And that all lives won't matter until black ones do. <and then I braced myself for whatever was to follow>
There was a long, quiet moment of peace that passed between us. "I know; it's true," she said -- "I just want the violence to stop."
And then I just wanted to show her that this movement is about love and that her hurt also matters. I couldn't hold back as I gave this total stranger a big ol' bear hug in the middle of the street in downtown Chicago.
She thanked me for taking the time to talk to her. And we went our separate ways. Then, an hour or so later -- I ran into her again! Her spirit had seemed to shift. "I can't believe I ran into you again!" we both mutually exclaimed. And I wanted to take the further opportunity.
I told her about how some of my friends in the black community have shared that they have instructed their very young children to do "everything that the police tell them to -- even if they're wrong." And how some of my black friends have held their babies extra close this past week before putting them to sleep wondering about the future. I also told her how glad I was to have this one-on-one conversation with her and said that we need to try to keep talking with one another.
I know not all conversations will transpire this way. In fact, I must be honest and say that I was prepared for this lady to cuss me out! But it had me thinking: if I didn't speak to her in that first moment, I surely wouldn't have recognized her the second time. And I started thinking more about what additional conversations could be had, what other opportunities may be out there.
And once more I try to hold onto what I think is ultimately true: these conversations may lead to realizations, which often leads to further pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge creates ideas, which are fortified through tactical action. Consistent strategic action is what builds a powerful, irresistible movement. And I believe that we will win!
The false binary of "us" and "them"
Chicago is certainly not the first place where I have witnessed this overall dynamic; systemic oppression is everywhere:
- Living and working in a border town next to a reservation was one of the most segregated and hostile environments I have experienced in the US.
- How rural America can be completely isolated from its urban counterparts.
- Spending time in Portland, Oregon -- the whitest city in America.
- The total isolationism of the federal immigration detention center -- and how it can even be located within a major metropolitan area -- right under everyone's noses.
- How the imaginary line/border between the US and Mexico has caused so much turmoil.
I believe that we will win
The magnitude of systemic failure on multiple levels is like a cake with immeasurable layers crumbling -- so many causes, leading to its current effect.
It is so important for us to continue to self-educate ourselves on systemic oppression and what each of us can try to do. Having more conversations and listening to one another. Even Google can be our trusty companion on this. Seriously -- Googling "How to be a good ally" and "what can I do to stop police brutality" are great searches to start. And by taking on this responsibility ourselves, we can help relieve a very small part of the burden.
It has been a despondent week, there is no doubt about that. But I know deep within my soul -- that we can truly win. I hope to see you soon out on the streets soon.