Monday, July 17, 2006

The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky

Some classmates took a trip into Toronto not too long ago, and I was interested to hear them remark on how they perceived the quality of ethnic diversity there: more integration in the neighbourhoods, less of a sense of underlying racial tensions.

I've been here in Chicago for almost a year, so I'm used to the place. I guess I've forgotten what it was like the first time around. When I visited as a prospective student last spring, I apparently felt some culture shock.
One of my first acts in the city was to catch a cab at O'Hare. They have a pretty nice set-up for cab-catching, complete with a shelter, place for a line up, and friendly attendants. When I joined the line, it was pretty short, consisting of two people (including me). So I stood there with an Asian businessman, and two attendants, one black and one middle eastern. It turns out some white guy wasn't familiar with the procedure at O'Hare, and had gone up the lane trying to catch a cab without standing in line. As they called him back, the black attendant made a joke something along the lines of "Isn't that the way, white guys always act like they run the place."

And that's when I realized I was in America.
Of course, that's comparing Chicago to Vancouver. As a good Vancouverite, I've never been able to imagine any reason why I'd ever want to visit Toronto, so I can't speak from personal experience as to how things work out there. But I guess it's an all right place, too.

(I grudgingly note that Toronto is statistically more ethnically diverse than Vancouver. Or so claim Torontonian websites.)

Forget anecdotes, though. It's been decades since segregation got kicked out of the law books, but according to the stats Chicago hasn't done a very good job of figuring out how else to organize itself.

Now, that's Chicago as a whole. I live in Hyde Park, and here in Hyde Park, we're all integrated. a city that's among the most segregated in the U.S., the crowd here is incredibly diverse -- African American, white, Asian and Latino. Well-off and poor. Jewish, Muslim, Christian. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Hyde Park is about 46 percent white, 38 percent African American, 11 percent Asian and 4 percent Latino, making it one of the truly integrated communities in the city.
And it is indeed an integrated community, if by "integrated" you mean: people of different races living on the same block.

Because people of different races do live on the same block here. Hell, yeah.

Not only do people of different races live on the same block, they also pass each other on the street.

And sometimes they even have conversations with each other. For example, sometimes a non-black customer will exchange small talk with the black clerk while paying for groceries.

You can't trust stats sometimes. As far as I can tell, the population in this neighbourhood is split into the University Community (students, faculty, in some cases staff, and those living with the above), and Everyone Else. The University Community is pretty diverse. The vast majority of Everyone Else is black. Members of the University Community interact with each other, and race is not as much of an issue here. But there is vanishingly little genuine social interaction between the University Community and Everyone Else.

Though they do often live together on the same block.

(Full disclosure: unlike Stephen Colbert, I do not have a black friend. I came close once, but I wasn't properly focused on establishing my liberal bonafides at the time, and I let that chance pass me by.)

1 comment:

christian said...

I had a black friend in high school. his name was smudge. I shit you not. that's how I was introduced to him. I didn't find out his ACTUAL name was "mike" for two years. everyone called him smudge. ironically, he was born in alberta.

smudge was so black that he'd have to smile at night or he'd disappear entirely. it was kinda creepy. like some weird ass cheshire cat action...