It is with sincere and deep gratitude that I offer the following thanks. First and foremost thank you to Dr. Heather Dalmage who first motivated me in her classroom when I started my undergraduate degree at Roosevelt University. I cannot remember ever leaving one of her classes without feeling inspired or somehow “stirred up” over the science of sociology or the injustices in society. Her rigorous style of teaching did not permit me to get away with memorization of material I would soon forget. Rather, through numerous (very numerous! readings and stimulating, interactive class discussion, she was able to allow me to reach deep to find my own intellectual abilities that gave me the confidence to pursue an advanced degree in sociology and hopefully a long term related career. Heather makes me want to make a difference. (I hope she will forgive me for that last runon sentence! ) I owe my experience in this research to Heather and to Professor Mike Maly, with whom I have had the honor of working over the past few years on this project that led to this thesis.
Both amazing educators and writers; I cannot imagine a richer academic experience. The trust Mike and Heather have in me on this project has given me trust in myself. Their generosity in taking the time to teach me the process of research and share their deep knowledge and experience has been unparalleled. I especially love our conversations about the research that never stay on track; – too much going on in their heads! I am privileged to work so closely with these two experienced authors and incredible individuals. Thank you to my family: my father, Frank; son, George and daughter Ryane who give me a steady diet of encouragement, support and humor. It is impossible to express how much I love and value them. I know my mother, Louise, would be proud. Last but most definitely not least is my husband, George, who is the smartest person I know. He is my partner and my pillar. 3 INTRODUCTION Racial segregation is a global phenomenon with specific formations in various countries, cities and neighborhoods. W. E. B.
Du Bois spoke to this more than a century ago in his poignant line: “[t]he problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line – the relation of the darker to lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the Islands of the sea” (Du Bois 1903:23). The color line is the great human divider or segregator. Racial segregation in the United States has deep roots and includes our long history of slavery and laws, particularly around ideas of property rights and citizenship (Marable 1994, Frankenberg 1993). Citizenship” or as I refer to it in this paper, “Americaness” is embedded in our system of racial segregation (Glenn, 2002). In short, the United States has white neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods. The former are seen as “good and American” the latter are viewed as “bad and burdensome. ” Historical layers such as colonization, slavery, immigration, and institutional discrimination, influence racial identity formation and reinforce differences between Blacks and whites while naturalizing them.
In the end, a system has developed through which whites and white neighborhoods are deemed “good” and Blacks and Black neighborhoods as “bad. ” These are factors that influence a sense of space and self, cultivate racial division and normalize whiteness. In this thesis I address the neighborhood influences on racial identity and the social construction of whiteness resulting from the threat of integration on the Southwest and West Side of Chicago. The thesis is structured in two broad sections. First I explore the development of neighborhood and identity borders of whites. Specifically I analyze the ways white ethnics developed a racialized sense of community amid their segregated and parish-based communities. In the second section I explore the ways in which whites who grew up in segregated neighborhoods that eventually went through racial change think about and negotiate race in their lives today. Specifically I look at the ways whites remember and “frame” their lives, while making housing choices that are directly linked to their experiences of living through a racially changing neighborhood.
To support the analysis of how attachment to the cultural spaces created within the neighborhood and the defense of those spaces is fundamental to identity development and the maintenance of racial ideologies among white “ethnics,” I will explore three primary questions: 1. Why did white ethnics develop communities, networks and friendships within specific segregated and geographic boundaries? 2. How did the racial isolation experienced by whites shape their sense of community and race? 3.
How do the memories of racial change shape their lives and choices today? Methods In order to explore these questions, I embarked on an ethnographic study. The research process involved in-depth recorded interviews with whites who grew up in segregated neighborhoods on the Southwest and West Side of Chicago. Both were residential working-class areas, consisting predominantly of whites who immigrated in the 1930s and 1940s, the second wave of European immigration to 5 the United States, mainly from Northern and Eastern Europe.
Although both areas are ethnically mixed, the Southwest side had a higher population of Irish and Eastern European, particularly Lithuanian, whereas on the West Side, those from Italy were the dominant population. Both were areas that Martin Luther King marched in the mid-1960s which was the impetus of the larger study, the white ethnic response to the King marches and to the threat of integration in these neighborhoods. From this broader history, I am focusing on the ways in which whites created and defended racialized communities in the context of their neighborhoods.
In the spring of 2008, I enrolled in a course at Roosevelt University called Housing the Conflict. We examined in detail, the lives of individuals living on the Southwest Side of Chicago during the era of the Freedom Marches. As a result of my performance in this course, my professors, Heather Dalmage and Michael Maly asked me to work as a research assistant on their project. A large piece of my work included direct interviews, individual’s and focus group interviews, with people who grew up on the southwest and west side.
The interviews were conducted with the children who grew up in these neighborhoods between the 1960s and 1980s. The majority of the 54 interviews were conducted with the children of the parents who moved into these neighborhoods. The interview samples developed through the snowball sampling method. Each time I conducted an interview, I asked the person for the name of others who might be interested in participating. The interview questions were broad, designed to gain an understanding of experiences growing up in these neighborhood, as well as an overall cultural description that captures attitudes, traditions, values, and if/how their life has changed as a result of integration. In this “interpretative constructionist” approach (Reuben 2000:11), a number of questions were planned but overall, the interview process was dynamic, conversational and based on a semi-structured process that allowed for an openness of exchange and a modification of questions depending on the flow of the particular conversation. Within the research process, we have discovered the significance of racial borders and the importance of the memories of racial change in the life choices people make today.
The use of memory has been identified as an important element as these narratives, full of emotion, when told again and again, broaden the racial divide between white and Black or, good and bad and continue the social construction of “other. ” Each interview was recorded, transcribed and coded. Initial questions relating to how whites reacted to the threat of racial integration were found in a combination of factors that add up to white racial identity and their intense attachment to the neighborhood.
When analyzing the interviews within a sociohistorical framework that includes segregation, an existing American racist ideology, and the tenuous white ethnic immigration experience, the connection between their strong sense of space and racialized identity becomes evident. These are factors that cultivate racial division and normalize, “whiteness. ” 7 WHITE FEAR, RACIAL BORDERS AND RESISTANCE AMID RACIAL CHANGE …segregation and white prejudice are mutual causations of each other- a vicious cycle — John O.
Calmore 1995 With the passage and enforcement of fair housing laws, especially the 1968 Fair Housing Act, coupled with a growing Black demand for better housing options, whites began to panic. Until the late 1960s, whites had a legal means to enforce segregation, but once the institutional support for this white advantage in the housing market was removed, whites responded with legal and extra legal forms of resistance and violence. As Blacks began to move toward and into white neighborhoods, they were met by flying bricks, police brutality, and other virulent acts against their property and person.
Organized block clubs encouraged the violence and roving groups of white teenagers sought out violent confrontation, while some priests were using the pulpit to fuel racial fears. Most whites denied association with these outward and explicit racist actions, preferring instead to frame their concerns for the community safety and property value protection (Hirsch 1983, Sugrue 1996, Anderson and Pickering 1986). In other words, racism was framed in a more palatable way – one in which whites would continue to appear “good” and “American,” and even, inclusive, while they worked to maintain segregation.
New forms of organized racism, now framed as community development, arose and included neighborhood and church organizations, block clubs and civic leagues. Each of these organizations was teeming with activists, 8 most with an underlying sense of outrage over the racial changes going on at the borders of their neighborhood. The outrage seemed to reach a boiling point as Dr. King brought the Freedom Marches north and into the white neighborhoods on the Southwest and West sides. In her book Working Class-Heroes, Maria Kefalas suggests: In the struggles for civil rights and racial equality, school desegregation initiatives and Dr.
Martin Luther King’s historic marches through the streets of Chicago left the inhabitants of ethnic white strongholds shaken to the core (2003:31). Numerous interviewees spoke to the centrality of the events Kefalas cites, and had particularly vivid memories of the day Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. Vince from the Southwest side attributes much of the fear he felt as a child to that day: I think a lot of the feelings, fears if there were any, and prejudices if there were any were a byproduct of watching the news and a very important place in our history took place in 1968 while we were living there when Martin Luther King was killed.
My dad was a cop so we saw my dad go into work every day with his riot gear on and we couldn’t wait to hear the key in the door in the evening knowing that he came back safely. We saw the smoke on Madison Avenue on the West Side being burnt, the National Guard right on our front porch. Like Vince, Barb, a middle-aged woman who grew up on the West Side, has a vivid and dramatic memory of the day Dr. King was killed. i Barb remembers 9 getting pulled out of school on the day the riots took place just adjacent to her West Side neighborhood: . . well it was when Martin Luther King [died] and they rioted that night. I was at school and like I said there was a group of maybe twelve of us, and we were the trouble makers. Uh, it was morning, ten, eleven o’clock, I don’t know. Maybe it was the morning after he was shot. And they started calling all of our names down to the office and we’re all like, what did we do? What did we do? All of us, ya know. When we got down there they said, “Your parents have called, you are to get your coat and your things.
Um, and you are to take your Pulaski bus and get off at Armitage, you are not to go any further south. ” Well, there was still Fullerton and then Iowa and then a bunch of them, but they weren’t taking any chances and they said you will be met by family. And we’re like, “What’s going on? ” And they said, “There’s rioting going on, and there is looting and they’re burning everything down. ” And so we had to get off, and all our parents were there. The fathers came home from work, cause it was that bad. Dr. King’s death was on the minds of all folks in the neighborhood.
Parents stopped their children from leaving the house, movement was greatly restricted, and in a couple of cases, parents told us how they had to look for their teenagers and bring them home – all feared for the safety of their friends and family. As the parents kept their children in the house, they turned to the television. For the first time in history, individuals could watch events unfold, in color, in their 10 living rooms. One man, Gil, who joined the military and left for Vietnam as a young man, recalled what it was like during those times: “How could I deny what I was seeing?
Everywhere Blacks went, violence followed. We watched it on our television. ” Some whites, fearful that their lives and lifestyles were threatened, chose to flee while others stayed with a renewed sense of maintaining neighborhood borders and this meant, of course, racial borders. Whiteness and Racial Borders The year Dr. King was killed was also marked by the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. No longer would whites have the legal backing to block Blacks from accessing housing. However, even with longstanding legal barriers lifted, segregation remained the norm.
And, since new legislation permitted Blacks to move out of the Black Belt and into nearby affordable whites areas, whites’ protection of their borders intensified. Heather Dalmage argues in her book, Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multicultural Families in a Racially Divided World: Racial borders include the contested, patrolled and often hostile spaces near the color line. Historical creations, borders have become institutionalized and internalized. They exist in how society is structured and how individuals learn to think about and act on race (Dalmage 2000:36).
As Dalmage suggests, the borders are real, metaphorical and ideological. The borders include the physical boundaries of the neighborhoods. Within a segregated housing market, the physical borders framed the racial identity as they 11 framed neighborhoods. “Don’t cross Western Avenue” and “Stay away from Chicago Avenue” were a couple of the ways whites marked the border between “us” and “them. ” For whites, the borders were symbolic of achievement, success and earned privilege on the white side and symbolic of failure, undeservedness, and lawlessness on the Black side.
In short, the borders define the “place” of neighborhood and the people. “Place” begins as an abstract, a clean slate until it is shaped by the people who live there. Only then does a place become a neighborhood or community as is assigned meaning, economic, social and historical value. In circular fashion, the neighborhood then becomes closely tied to the identity of those who live there. “…the abstraction of space is transformed into a social and psychic geography. Both a cognitively derived knowing about place and an intuitive sense of place are profoundly integrated into peoples’ identity” (Osborne 2001).
If one were to stop a person on the streets of Chicago who has lived here most of their life and mention being from Marion Park on the City’s Southwest Side, in all likelihood, an instant correlation would be made to the history and persona of that neighborhood and type of people who live there. Further, this person stopped on the street would form a conclusion about the personality of the person who inquired. Places, like persons, have biographies in as much as they are formed, used, and transformed in relation to practice…. tories acquire part of their mythic value and historical relevance if they are rooted in the concrete details of locales in the landscape, acquiring material 12 reference points that can be visited, seen and touched (Tilley as cited in Osborne 2001:6). White ethnics we talked to shaped these largely Catholic neighborhoods on the Southwest and West Side. The neighborhood embodied their heritage, culture and symbolically, their progress. Vince, a middle-aged man who grew up on the Southwest Side speaks to the markers of a good white neighborhood: The houses were immaculate. Every night…and I am older. I am 54 years old.
We are talking 1960, every man was out there with their hose watering their lawn and every lawn was perfect. And every kid…we played on the block. We would get up in the morning and go out until my mother opened up the window and hollered out for me to come home for dinner. And then I would go out and play again…baseball, football until she would call me to come home. With the threat of integration on the Southwest and West sides of Chicago, the concept of the good white neighborhood was ever more emphasized. Narratives from the interviews illustrate how what constituted the “good” neighborhood was socially constructed.
This is one of the many privileges of being white – the privilege of establishing the norm in terms of space. Whites worked to define and demarcate the borders. Coming from neighborhoods like the Back of the Yards, where working class Catholics rented in crowded tenements, the move to the Southwest and West Side indicated a significant achievement, a step up toward the American Dream. Homeownership was a central piece of the step up because it affirmed the status and 13 identity of who one really was, i. e. , an American without qualification (Ehrenhalt 1995, Lieberson 1980).
In her book, Working-Class Heroes: Protecting Home, Community, and Nation in a Chicago Neighborhood, Maria Kefalas has argued that, “The transition from renter to homeowner is a significant economic and moral rite of passage” (2003:99). Vince, a 50-something tradesman, describes what moving to the West Side in the 60s symbolized for his parents, “Well, it was their first house, and, you know, it was just…just success, basically… buying a house, you know, is the American dream. ” Individuals spoke of bungalows with huge back yards, and manicured front lawns as a source of pride.
The front porches where remembered as the gathering place for parents as they watched their kids play, often late into the night. The ritual of parents gathering on porches was about much more than watching children play. The parents were collectively protecting neighborhood integrity, by making note of the upkeep of each others’ homes and yards and the morals and values used in childrearing. They swept their sidewalks, planted rose bushes, meticulously mowed lawns, looked out for one another’s kids, used the back doors…There was the implication that, “our way is the right way, the good way” (Kefalas 2003, Sugrue 1996).
For these homeowners, fastidious housekeeping, upkeep of the lawns, and open displays of proper parenting were viewed as reflections of their character as “good” white Americans (Kefalas, 2003; Abramowitz). Residents also believed that conformity was the key to maintaining property values. In addition to character and property value concerns, these parents were attempting to develop a “social capital” or a collective source of power, they could 14 exercise to their own collective benefit.
Bourdieu (2001:101) refers to this phenomenon as, “signs of distinction,” by that he meant displays of particular “signs” or symbols (lawn care and childrearing) are rewarded socially and economically, Maria Kefalas offers a similar explanation while talking about a Southwest neighborhood she calls the Beltway: Because it is not possible for working class homeowners to distance themselves physically or economically from poverty, they create symbolic distances and create moral boundaries instead.
By strengthening such place-bound moral distinctions between “good and bad neighbors,” the people of the beltway reassure themselves and make it clear to the rest of the world that they are fundamentally different from those just below them on the social ladder. Beltway’s anxious homeowners will not tolerate any ambiguity about what distinguishes garden from ghetto” (Kefalas 2003:100) In short, social capital was exercised in order to separate themselves from Blacks in a way that they could claim superiority and rationalize fighting against integration.
Like most racial fighting, the battles took place primarily at the borders. Protecting Racial Borders I mean they were there a block away but, like I said, that was the divider; Chicago Ave was the divider and I was two blocks off of Chicago Avenue. -Margo, former West Side resident. 15 Through the drawing of racial boundaries and through the use of systematic violence to maintain those boundaries, whites reinforced their own fragile identity (Sugrue 1996: 234). Most White ethnic neighborhoods were on racial borders, that is, the neighborhoods were adjacent to Black ommunities. As Black neighborhoods began to burst at the seams, and legislation allowed for movement out of the ghetto, Blacks moved toward these affordable white working class neighborhoods (Dalmage 2000). The threat of integration was felt in the 1950s however, by the 1960s and 1970s Black families had begun to purchase homes in these neighborhoods. As Blacks moved into white areas, whites engaged in individual and organized violent attacks on Blacks and on their newly acquired property (Sugrue 1996).
Margo and her husband Rick both grew up on the West Side in slightly different sections of the neighborhood. They met as teenagers and later married. Here they recall the violent white reactions when an African American moved into the neighborhood: Margo: I seen them burn crosses in our area; you know when people would move in, the first colored family would move in. Rick: Oh, absolutely, I remember too. They were constantly burning crosses in my neighborhood. Whites also feared they would face violence from Blacks if they ventured too close to the border or across the color line into a Black area.
Yet, despite the 16 potential violence, racial boundaries were crossed for a variety of reasons including the desire to gain access to a business, to get to another part of the city, or simply out of curiosity. These border crossings were always defined through a lens of fear. Jean, a middle-aged woman who grew up on the West Side, attended a high school that was outside of the neighborhood. Here, Jean describes her sense of fear as she’d crossed racial borders to catch the bus. I remember personally, I mean, personally, being afraid to walk to the bus.
It was just there…they were moving closer and closer to us. And, by the time they were within a couple of blocks, there was the whole it was a turf thing. I think Chicago Avenue became the dividing point. Parents warned their children of the dangers of going too close to the borders. Children learned that safety and racial comfort could only be found in their own segregated neighborhood, away from African Americans. Through these parental “lessons,” the dividing lines sharpened and the markers between ‘us’ and “them,” ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ were clarified.
Betsy had an exuberant communication style and articulated detailed stories about her childhood growing up on Southwest side. Here she recalls the warnings of her parents relating to the borders in her neighborhood: We always felt like we were secure and part of a group, part of the neighborhood – it was great. Parents, like I said, didn’t really see it that way…when we would get to go to our friends’ houses and hear things around their table, their moms because they were home, were definitely more, “you know, you really should not be going out a 7 night, we hear that there’s you know, Black people here and…” And even when some of the Black families were moving in around Western Avenue it was like, “Did you hear, did you hear, there’s Black people living there. ” They were just all freaked out and they would talk to the police… to us, because we didn’t know any better for good or for bad, we were kids, we were isolated from it. Betsy’s words illustrate the racial isolation that was a result of tightly protected borders. In addition to direct references to racial borders, many we interviewed overheard many conversations of parents or other adults that translated to racial messages.
Jean from the West Side remembers word for word, what was said following an attempted break in: The police that were there said, “get a gun,” and they said, “somebody breaks in your house, the next time, shoot them. ” “If you’re shooting them and they’re running…” and I’ll never forget it…”If you shoot them and they’re running through your yard, pick ‘em up and drag them in the house before you call the police. ” This is what the police said. And that was the mentality. Like, protect yourself. And my father came home from work that day and had a handful of big nails and nailed shut every window in that house.
Vince from the West Side also articulates that the dialogue heard in his home as a child had an impact and he speculates that it does for others as well: So… and I will say that if you were to take the dialogue that took place in homes back then it wasn’t very kind towards Black people, 18 you know the words that people used and yeah, I don’t know what happened in Black families’ homes, I just know what happened in ours, and it was a culture and an environment that probably bred hate. I believe that some of the bad vibes and some of the bad feelings um, people may have had for other people…. nd this is probably more racial than anything else, is a byproduct of what you heard in your house. I mean there’s no denying it. The racist language and negative inferences that Jean and Vince recognized in their homes was influential. Similarly, Leo from the Southwest talks about how as a child, he absorbed the anxiety that his parents openly expressed: You know, these people were scared to death, our parents. They didn’t know where to go now, “What do we do? This is our neighborhood, where do we go? ” So they were freaked out, because they were freaked out, it just automatically rubbed off on the children.
Whether you realize it or not, you hear the talk, you hear, you see things going on, you realize your neighborhood is starting to go away and nobody wanted it to go away. People still wish they lived there. The racist discourse these children heard at home as and on the streets of their racially segregated neighborhood, became part of their social consciousness and had impact well into their adult lives. In addition to the consequential isolation, racial borders were markers that influenced short and long term life choices for many of these Whites: where they could play, shop, walk and where they would finish high school.
Betsy 19 remembers the complexities of negotiating life near racial borders. When asked why her good friend left the neighborhood before she did, Betsy recalls: …Just because it [the perceived danger] was closer to Western. And she was on Rockwell which was only a couple blocks from Western and she was probably in 8th grade, freshman year and by that time the other side of Western was probably turning almost all Black and so there was, well don’t go walking on Western anymore. Even though we would go to the Sears but we wouldn’t tell them we were there.
So I think that’s probably you know, why…because we were closer to Kedzie and a lot of my immediate friends…we were on Whipple, Albany, Troy, um, so I think that there were probably stages and because the majority of us were on the other side of California we didn’t have to move again and we finished high school there and we graduated from there. The borders are at the same time symbolic markers of racial neighborhoods, and through the isolation they create, are symbolic barriers of identity. As seen in the vignettes above, depending on which side one belongs, the borders indicate much about one’s constructed identity.
Further, they signify safety, status and privilege of those who live within them — it is the borders that define community. The borders that were boundaries of segregation and difference helped to create fear. When the interviewer asked Ron, a man who grew up on the South 20 Side, what is was like when the neighborhood started to change, Ron, very directly responded: “Fear. The whole thing was fear; huge amount of fear. ” The racial borders were maintained in part due to the constructed association around Blacks and crime (Massey & Denton 1989).
These are stereotypes that are ingrained and become part of the White habitus and foster the fear that Whites have of Blacks. The fear that was expressed in the interviews often seemed to derive from this manufactured image of Blacks rather than from actual confrontations or experience with Blacks. Protecting the White neighborhood and all that it symbolized, an isolated lifestyle coupled with existing racist ideology, fueled fear and irrational behavior in reaction to the threat of Blacks compromising the borders.
This was illustrated by a number of conflicting messages in the interviews regarding dangerous confrontations with Blacks. There were a few examples mentioned of altercations between Whites and Blacks but more so, there were contradictions to the messages we received that fear was justified as a result of actual encounters with Blacks. The construction of racial images is rooted in our nation’s history of the dehumanization of Blacks which helped many to accept the horrific fate of Blacks during slavery.
Media images have created a broad fear of and disdain for Blacks – images that have been insidiously constructed into the fabric of American society (Street 2007). Mary Pattillo argues that the idea of the threat is often “symbolic” rather than a “reality. ” 21 The evening news hour in every major American city is filled with reports of urban crime and violence. Newspapers fill in the gaps of the more sensational tragedies about which the television could provide only a few sound bites; rounding out the flow of urban Armageddon stories are the gossip and hearsay passed informally between neighbors, church friends, and drinking buddies.
For many middleclass White Americans, the incidents they hear about in distant and troubled inner cities provide a constant symbolic threat, but infrequent reality (Pattillo-McCoy 1999). The constant messages that produce fear continue to reinforce an imagined reality, which nourishes the identity of person and place. Fear as an influence on the social construction of the neighborhood can be picked up in Sarah’s admonition below. Sarah, a “young” middle-aged woman from the Southwest Side talks about the association with the Southwest Side as a place to be feared.
Her comment relates to the perceptions many have about the Southwest Side and how the media helped to precipitate this: I do remember when I was working and I was living downtown and interacting with people and they’d ask me where I grew up and I said from the South Side and they said, “from the South Side!? ” “Do you carry a knife with you? ” “No, why would you say that? ” Some sections of the South Side were very poor and that’s where some of the real gangs were at…all the White flight and, they did have those 22 images on the TV or they heard that you can’t live on the South Side [because] its way to dangerous.
Consistent messages of the Black “other” as dangerous combined with the expressions of the fear of this “other” crossing the borders into the neighborhood was a common thread. The sentiment was, “they [Blacks] are practically on our doorstep;” “well never on the doorstep but perhaps on the same block;” “well, never on the same block but perhaps just a couple of blocks over;” “never just a couple of blocks over but just on the other side of “Chicago Avenue” or, “Western Avenue,” depending on whether it was on the west or the Southwest side.
Most of the Whites we talked to when pushed went from “Blacks were moving in” to, “they are all around us” to, “well we really never had a Black living on our block or going to school with us. Actually, we didn’t have much interaction with them at all. ” Similar to contradictions around fear, there were numerous contradictions in the interviews about the actual presence of Blacks in the neighborhood. This exchange below, along with many others that were similar, illustrates contradictions.
When asked to quantify, it was often the case that few if any Blacks lived on the same block or went to the same school as those we talked to. This is illustrated in the following exchange with Bob, a pensive man, who spent his childhood on the Southwest side: Interviewer: Now your block didn’t change though? I mean did Black families start to move in? 23 Bob: No. Not on my immediate block…I can’t remember any…but shortly thereafter. We moved in ’70; it was I wouldn’t call it a mass exodus but it went downhill pretty quick; well, downhill is maybe the wrong term.
People were selling. A similar exchange with Vince on the West Side also shows contradiction based on many of his earlier recollections. Interviewer: I’m assuming your dad didn’t have any Black friends or your mom, any Black friends? Vince: No, none. Interviewer: Did you have any, I mean interaction? Vince: Uh, the one kid we had in school, his name was Colisco Wiscano. He was not what I’d call my running around buddies but uh, I can’t ever remember him ever being shunned by people but look at it from my perspective, he was one of 800 kids in the school.
Interviewer: Wow, that’s amazing. There was only one? Similarly, Pete, spoke in contradictory terms: Interviewer: 24 Now did you know any Black kids that were…? ” Pete: Didn’t know one. There wasn’t one in our grammar school. Not one. Not one on our block. No. The idea that Blacks were taking over the neighborhood was more figurative than literal for many we spoke as the vignettes above indicate. Many stories that began with, “it got really bad… very dangerous,” when pushed a bit turned to, “we moved before it got too bad. It was typically the case that most individuals we talked to fled the neighborhood before they shared their block or had concrete experiences with Blacks. There were a few exceptions when White families stayed in the neighborhood. The layered encounters around race that children experience growing up, and the natural absorption of racist family culture, help to form one’s habitus. It appeared from these and other responses that fear was a tool that rationalized racist behavior. The complexity of fear is that it is difficult to identify its exact source – what causes one to have fear?
We learned from the research that fear came from layered experiences and symbols that children received. Margo from the Southwest Side perhaps spoke of fear as “just in the air. ” It wasn’t one specific thing that turned you against them; it was just in the air. If you’d see them walking down the street and you were with your mother and father then they told you, nigger or something like that. That was just the way you were brought up, that was just the way of life. 25 The set-up for the recollection that Vince spoke of is important; his tatement below took place toward the end of an interview and after he made a number of statements regarding the continuous fear and dangerous situations that forced his family to move out of their West Side neighborhood. One such example that Vince mentioned at the beginning of the interview was about a confrontation between a Black man and his sister. The following exchange took place towards the end of the interview: Interviewer: There wasn’t any kind of direct confrontation [in the neighborhood]? Vince: No, I had very few if any confrontations with Blacks. There’s nothing that stands out.
Interviewer: Your sister and your brother other than those incidents you talked about, there wasn’t any other…? Vince: No, no. There’s nothing that I can pinpoint and as we were getting better at baseball we would play the little league games against Blacks and Puerto Ricans but I don’t remember anything where we were fearful or anything. Personally, I had maybe a little slap fest with a kid in grammar school but that’s it. There were many examples similar to this one where much of the conversation would lead one to believe fear was a result of actual confrontation but when more 6 direct questions were asked, often examples were not available. Jean, together with her husband Rick, both from the West Side, recall a vivid story about visiting the neighborhood after moving away: Jean: …The kids were babies. We took them to Lincoln Park Zoo, so I had the three of them in the back seat and I said to him (husband), “Go down my old street. ” I said, “I want to show them where I grew up. ” And he went down the street and it was a summer day and the guy in front of us was parallel parking or stopping and that was it, they [Blacks] were circling the car.
Rick: Well, they were all standing in the street and she was having convulsions. Jean: I want you to know that I was literally, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! ” My babies and he yelled at me and he said, “Don’t you show them your scared, sit up and don’t you show them you’re scared! ” And I’m going, “Oh my god, my babies were in there! ” That’s the kind of fear I had and all they were probably doing, he’s right, was just standing, you know, hanging in the street. That’s the fear I had. The intensity of Jean’s story illustrates how fear, whether rational or not, has a very genuine effect on one’s behavior.
Fear is an element that continues to inform racial 27 identity development and affirms the notion of the “good” White and “bad” or dangerous Black. Creating a White, “Sameness” I personally had no friends that were Black or other races at all. I mean we were just all Italians and we weren’t exposed to anything else. – Jean, a long time resident of the West Side The neighborhood, defined within specific borders, allowed the symbolic and real space in which morals and values could be framed racially.
Such a framework allowed whites to proclaim their difference and superiority to Blacks. Parents and other adults used “fear” to keep youth away from the borders. As such, the neighborhood was defined as monolithically White, that is, safe and good. In fact, many folks we spoke with had not even had interaction with Blacks and yet, lived with overwhelming fear of Blacks. Betty: …what was very interesting about people on that block was that at least four or five of the families there grew up in the same town in Italy. The close-knittedness of the community cannot be overstated.
The idea that “everybody knew everybody” was articulated repeatedly. These words capture a memory of a tight knit and safe community in which folks looked out for and cared for one another. Lee, a middle-aged, gregarious man who grew up on the West Side, elaborated on this sense of community: 28 …[we}stayed by each other, it didn’t matter where you were. You know what I mean? You go by anybody’s house, wow, a call from your mom, “Are you coming home? ” Everybody knew everybody and they’d watch no matter where you went.
I used to do things five blocks from my house, by the time I got home, my old man would be waiting on the porch. And I’d say, “So what’s up? ” He’d say, “You don’t think I know people in this neighborhood?! ” You know what I mean? He’d get a phone call that would beat me home. Leo, a middle-aged man who lived most of his life on the Southwest Side, recalls the close-knit culture of the neighborhood: If I remember correctly, my mom used say we had eighty some-odd kids on our block, yeah, because we had a double block from 1600 to 1800.
And so, everybody knew everybody. You know, someone would call up my mom and say, “Could you watch the baby for a couple hours? ” “Oh, yeah, just bring him over. ” Leo captures the closeness of the community and the caring for one another. In addition to this interconnectedness, Barb, who grew up on the West Side conveys that there was a sense of excitement and safety that came with being surrounded by friends and family: It was like, because you had this close family there was always something going on. Somebody was always visiting. Um, you had like three mothers.
Um, and if you left the house and went down Chicago Avenue, you were just always going to run into people you 29 know…someone at the bakery, or friends, or your aunt and uncle. There was always something going on. It was that type of community where you didn’t worry about anything happening to you, because you knew someone on every block, or several people on every block. In addition to the sense of excitement and safety that comes by being surrounded by so many familiar people, often mentioned as in Pete’s recollection, was the idea of shared parenting.
This was referred to often and added to the image of a cheerful and congenial atmosphere. Pete, a silver haired man who grew up on the West Side, also illustrates this sense of excitement and community and the idea that growing up in the neighborhood with so many family members close by made for a truly unique experience: So, in twelve houses not only did my grandparents have four children, all of their children’s spouse’s relatives lived within 12 houses. So every night was just my aunts, my uncles – you were in and out of any house on the block, it was all family.
It was the greatest, greatest thing you can ever imagine. As these interviews suggest, the neighborhood was structured in a way that extended families lived there and looked out for one another. There were businesses within walking distance that kept residents within the boundaries of the neighborhood. This made it possible for people to get “anything they wanted,” without leaving the neighborhood. Pete embellishes on this as he reminiscences: 30 Our whole life was there. My mom’s whole life was there.
My dad, our family, all our friends were there, everything we knew, all our safeguards were in that neighborhood, there was the Italian store… every store you wanted on Chicago Avenue Anything you wanted. Being surrounded by close friends and family and not having to leave the neighborhood were features that made the neighborhood idyllic. Importantly, traditional gender roles were enforced. That is, men were the bread winners and left the neighborhood for work while women stayed home and raised the children.
Often the women did not drive and thus, life began and ended in the neighborhood. Education, church, socializing, and shopping – everything that mattered, happened in the neighborhood. Barb remembers the distinction in gender roles and its importance in creating an isolated community: My father was a bread man for Gonella [Bread Company] and my mother never worked, she was a housewife and that was it. My mother didn’t drive, my aunt didn’t drive, Pete’s mom didn’t drive – the only one that drove was my uncle’s wife and they thought she was something!
Similarly, Leo from the Southwest Side notes: …my mom didn’t get her driver’s license until she was forty or something. You know, because in Beverly you could walk to the plaza, you know, you’d go up on either 103rd or 99th Street and it had all the stores you wanted. The bakeries, the drug stores, the grocery stores, uh, the five and dimes, uh, the cleaners and um, so it was really, you really didn’t need to drive. 31 As described here, it was rare these mothers ventured away from the area with the kids.
The business districts were within walking distance, and they were surrounded by extended family, and “there was really no reason to leave. ” This was a sentiment that carried over from the parents to their children, and staying within the boundaries of the neighborhood was the norm. Margo shares: Basically, you know, we lived in the city but I didn’t know how to get anywhere because I never left that neighborhood! Living in a segregated neighborhood and rarely leaving that neighborhood leads to an isolated racial existence.
With little interaction across race lines and venturing away only through their televisions, racist stereotypes and racist imagery were left unchallenged. In circular fashion then, racial isolation led to greater isolation as individuals acted upon and built lives around their racial fears. The Church, the Community and Internal Divisions among Whites The old Chicago sort of thing and when people talked on the South Side, they’d say, “Where did you grow up? ” Well. they don’t really name streets, they name parishes. You know, Saint Rita” or, “You know, St. Bracard. ” It [the neighborhood] was all about the parishes that surrounded it. – Betsy, grew up on the Southwest Side Segregated neighborhoods made it easy for Whites to carve out cultural spaces that provided a sense of community. The church was the core of the White ethnic neighborhood community and thus played a central role in maintaining community ties. 32 The church also made it ok for different White ethnic groups to be separate from one another.
That is to say, Italians, Irish, Polish and Lithuanians worshipped separately and the children attended different schools. Children with mixed ethnic parentage were often teased. A man who grew up with his Italian mother and Irish father, for instance, remembers the kids calling his mother a “wop. ” He also spoke at length about his mother’s sense of outsidedness and alienation in the predominantly Irish parish. Henry, a community activist in the Southwest Side of Chicago, likewise remembers the strong ethnocentric character of the neighborhood and church.
So the point was, with a lot of people, it was like – to me it was sometimes unfair to isolate what they said about Blacks from what they said about everybody. Their next door neighbor that happened to be of a different ethnic group — I mean, there were still issues of inter-ethnic marriages in that community, okay? And I don’t know how much you know about, like, Chicago. The Ukrainians still are fighting over which church, if you go to St. Nick’s or that other one. I mean this community—I mean, Chicago — is very ethnocentric.
Here Henry expresses a view we heard often: racist behavior on the part of people in his community on the Southwest Side should be more tolerable since Whites also expressed difference toward their neighbors of different ethnicities. The structure of the Catholic Church made human separation normal. In short, despite an overarching awareness of the racial border, among themselves, Whites identified by parishes and thus, ethnic groups, rather than as solely “White” 33 (McGreevy 1996). Grace and Betty Berg, sisters who grew up in a close-knit Southwest Side neighborhood, explained the experience of growing up in ethnically defined areas:
Grace: Well, part of the experience stems from our parents growing up because um, if you were Italian, they had a parish priest that, I know sounds crazy in this day and age, but he was an old country, you know, Irishman and he didn’t want Italians to go to that church so… Betty: So, at the time say, Mary of Mt. Carmel didn’t have a school so the Italians kids – most of the Italian kids went to public school and Father Angelo came to be the pastor for St. Mary’s which was a mission church, it [St. Mary’s] was not part of the archdioceses.
It was very interesting, he built a school, and built a huge church, he was there for about 15 years. In Grace and Betty’s vignette, the separation between ethnic groups is clear in that the Italian kids, even if their parents would have preferred they go to a private school, went to the public school until an Italian, Catholic school was built. This is just one way the church enhanced the ethnic differences. In other words, the “sense of belonging” these ethnics felt stemmed from the churches’ cultivation of “sameness” based on nationality of origin (McGreevy 1996, Ehrenhalt 1995).
The White ethnic acceptance of, and perhaps desire for, sameness led to a sense of separateness and exclusivity. In his book, Parish Boundaries, John 34 McGreevy refers to this as “oppositional consciousness” that is, intolerance of differences, and specifically for the Southwest and West Side, this lay the foundation for a nearly absolute intolerance of racial differences (McGreevy 1996). Despite ethnic divisions, whiteness was still a position of solidarity—the racial borders worked to unify disparate White ethnic groups (McGreevy 1996, Lipsitz as cited in Rothenberg 2008).
The taverns, for instance, in the Lithuanian section of Marion Park, were known as “Lithuanian” but were open to other White ethnic groups. They were not open to Blacks. The club-like taverns were social gathering places that catered to the Lithuanians living on the Southwest Side. Mark, a Lithuanian who spent much of his young adult life in Marion Park and is the keeper of much of the community history, explained “eventually they put a ‘members only’ sign on the door to keep certain people out. ” When the interviewer asked if this was to keep people from other ethnicities out, Mark replied “No. When she followed with the question on whether the sign was “a racialized thing? ” Mark responded: “Yeah. ” He elaborated: It’s [ the Lithuanian community] always viewed as so exclusionary, and it was, okay, but really, and I know that the march on 64th is sort of, I guess a personal irritant of mine, made it sound like the Lithuanians were anti-Black, they were just anti-anybody. Mark’s statement here like Henry’s earlier, seems to be an effort to dilute the negativity in the racist behavior of the Southwest Side residents using the excuse that they were (in the word of Mark) “anti-anybody,” not just Blacks. 5 Yet, in reality, the signs were used racially, not ethnically. Whites of various ethnic backgrounds developed a shared interest: Keep Blacks out. Ultimately, then, whiteness was the link that brought the various ethnic groups from differing parishes together. While a number of groups existed within the neighborhood including neighborhood organizations, block clubs, and loosely organized groups like the Lithuanian tavern-clubs, the most prevalent organized force in the community was the Catholic Church. Each of these organizations provided places for White ethnics to go for camaraderie, kinship, and shelter from “others. All created a sense of safety through isolation or taught safety and comfort in the context of learning racial hatred. As bell hooks writes in her book, Teaching to Transgress: Education and the Practice of Freedom, hate taught in the context of love is some of the most difficult hate to undo. (hooks 1994). Here, Barb provides an honest portrayal of the combination of fear and hate she (and many) had for Blacks as a child: Interviewer: How did it feel? Did you feel as a child that something was going on? Barb: In all honesty? Oh my god, I hated them.
I mean I’m going to be real honest here; I hated them. I was scared of them. I was terrified of them. While these were tight-knit communities, the neighborhoods on the Southwest and West sides were structured mainly by parish to maintain ethnic differences. These boundaries helped to provide a sense that the community was a safe and good space. To be sure, the church was the hub of the 36 community, yet it was not strong enough to counter that whiteness matters in America. WHITENESS MATTERS IN AMERICA The neighborhood signified comfort, safety, a sense of family.
Even though they were not conscious of doing so, White ethnics gave up their idyllic communities in their continued pursuit of whiteness. Ultimately, American whiteness was more enticing than a sense of community in which they experienced both comfort and safety. The process of these White ethnics fleeing their tight-knit communities’ shows, in concrete terms, the social construction of a White racial identity and how this identity adapts when there is a desire for more power. In this section I will examine how White ethnics traded in their sense of community to become “more White” and thus, more American (Glenn 2002, Frankenberg 1993).
I address the ways White ethnics achieved whiteness focusing on three primary processes: shedding of ethnicity, creating a cultural of deservedness, and then in an odd circular twist, reclaiming a White ethnic identity as a location from which to make claims toward whiteness. Shedding Ethnicity When the White ethnics arrived in the United States, their cultural traits, language, accents, food, clothing, and religious customs caused them to stand out from Whites already established in the United States. The fact that they were different made it easier to label them as “other. When a group is “othered” it is more easily marginalized. Even with American citizenship, they are considered 37 less of a citizen, thus ultimately, denied access to many forms of power. Although the White ethnics were viewed as European and thus potentially White, they were not yet accepted as really White (Novak 1972, Lieberson 1980). Ruth Frankenberg captures this concept well in the following: Whites within this discursive repertoire became conceptually the real Americans and only certain kinds of Whites actually qualified.
Whiteness and America-ness both stood as normative and exclusive categories in relation to which other cultures were identified and marginalized. And this clarifies there are two kinds of Whites just as there are two kinds of Americans: those who are truly or only White, and those who are White – but also something more, or something less? (1993:198) Once acceptance was granted and one could consider oneself a “White American” without qualification, one had no need to negotiate one’s identity.
The idea that southern and eastern Europeans were not considered White was a result, in large part, of the racist thinking at the time that “sanctified the notion that real Americans were White, and real Whites came from northwest Europe” (Patterson, 1997: 75). Shedding one’s ethnic characteristics was the first step to achieve whiteness and gaining inclusion into the dominant culture (Novak 1972, Karst 1986, Marable 1994). Hiding or removing ethnic markers such as one’s native language was one way to blend in. Barb from the West Side refers to the ethnic characteristic of language: 8 Um, we didn’t speak Italian as a second language in our home, although they would speak the language when they didn’t want us to know certain things. So I understood a little bit of it. Now, I had friends who spoke it fluently; my husband, because it was spoken in the home. My father and mother wanted us to be Americans. As Barb recalls, her parents, like so many other White ethnics, did what they could, quite consciously, to help their children fit in – be more American. Eventually, the kids were successful in gaining whiteness.
This can be attributed in part to shedding their ethnicity. A major piece of losing their ethnic identity and becoming more White was to become racial oppressors, that is, racist toward “others” not considered White. In her essay, “Five Faces of Oppression” Iris Marion Young states, “Oppression has often been perpetrated by a conceptualization of group difference in terms of unalterable essential natures that determine what group members deserve or are capable of, and that exclude groups so entirely from one another that they have no similarities of overlapping attributes” (1990: 44).
As Young expresses here, there must be “no similarities of overlapping attributes. ” White ethnics, who were also victims of dehumanization as a result of being oppressed, were, in fact, White, which was ultimately beneficial in establishing a group to oppress (Lieberson 1980). In time, they learned from the existing culture of oppression and exploitation in America that achieving whiteness involved becoming oppressors themselves (Kefalas 2003, Reider 1985, Sugrue 1996, Dalmage 2003). 9 Since White ethnics had been economically and socially closer to Blacks than other Whites, they learned to distance themselves from Blacks in order to “prove” their whiteness and gain privilege. Some argue that White ethnics’ own history of being oppressed helped them to understand how the existing oppressive system worked in America — those doing the oppressing had the power (Roediger 1996, Sugrue 1996. ) As Allen Johnson states in his essay, Privilege as Paradox, “That Whites as a social category oppress eople of color as a social category, for example, is a social fact” (Johnson as cited in Rothenberg 2008:20). David Roediger (2002) and Noel Ignatiev (1996) have shown through careful historical analysis that this “social fact” was at the root of Irish American anti-Black racism. The very act of oppressing another group was a way to gain power and in the case of White ethnics, move up in the racial hierarchy. Pierre Bourdieu uses the term, “symbolic domination” (Bourdieu 2001) as a concept for which groups attempt to influence how they are perceived in order to secure domination over another group.
The socially constructed racial order then becomes part of the White belief system and affirms the racial hierarchy as “natural” and static. Ultimately, White racial superiority has become a central defining aspect of White racial identity. In order to maintain a sense of superiority, Whites had to believe themselves to be better. And that if they worked hard, the government should work for them. A Cultural of White Deservedness The immigrant story and “bootstrap” mentality is deeply entrenched in American idealism. Credit for White ethnic success was connected to their 0 immigrant struggle and hard work under difficult conditions. The concept that they were “pulled up from their bootstraps,” was used to represent the experience (Street 2007, Dalmage 2006). However, not as pronounced in the telling of the immigrant story is the assistance offered to White ethnics through governmental policies, programs and racial exclusion. The bootstraps mythology has served as a convenient way to ignore and forget the history in America of conquest, slavery, and segregation. Moreover, such a telling allows Whites to continue to believe that they have earned, through hard work, all that they have.
They do not need to come to terms with the historical reality that slavery, segregation and other forms of institutional discrimination allowed them enormous advantage. White support was framed as universal and deserving while support for “undeserving” Blacks was viewed as “hand outs” and a drain on the nation. Dorothy Roberts has argued that: …welfare programs, broadly defined, can also work to eradicate structural barriers to social membership so that citizens not only survive but also flourish. Unlike people subject to state control, citizens are entitled to state assistance as a matter of right to compensate them for heir valuable contribution to society or to ensure their full participation in the polity (Roberts, 1996). ii In Dorothy Roberts’ quote, if the word “welfare” (which in today’s political environment is socially constructed to be negative) was replaced with “government assistance,” it would reflect the exact outcome for millions of Whites who received government support: “eradicate[ing] structural barriers,” “social membership,” “the 41 ability to flourish,” and, “compensation for valuable contribution to society,” “full participation in the polity. This type of language does not apply to Blacks who accept government assistance. The categorization of who is deserving and who is not has been racialized — those defined as undeserving are overwhelmingly Black (O. Calmore 1994-1995). The support given to Whites can also be called institutional discrimination. That is, the institutions such as finance, real estate industry, state and local governments led to the preservation of racial borders and expansion of segregation to White advantage (Dalmage 2003, Guglielmo 2003, Maly, 2005).
Private property, specifically, homeownership, has been the source of much of the institutional racism that has created a great deal of wealth and advantage for White Americans. “Homeownership,” signifies a central piece of being an American. The ideal of Americaness through homeownership was supported ideologically and financially by the federal government and corporations. Assistance directly from the government included “White-only” loans. In addition, through the FHA, discriminatory practices in mortgage lending, insurance and real estate industry were promoted and encouraged (Guglielmo 2004).
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) loans enabled millions of Whites to purchase homes while systematically excluding Blacks (Sugrue 1996, Guglielmo 2004, Jackson 1985, Dalmage 2003). These loans along with the GI bill and other veteran readjustment programs opened up educational opportunities and ensured entry into the professional labor market for Whites. Some of these benefits for veterans were open to Blacks on paper only. Discriminatory systems relating to 42 distribution of these benefits, along with labor market inequities, kept Blacks from receiving them (Street, 2007).
A culture of deservedness, then, is a characteristic of whiteness. Government assistance allowed Whites to purchase newly built homes outside of the city. This resulted in White flight and the surbanization of America (Lipsitz as cited in Rothenberg 2008). Even though our interviewees described their neighborhoods as idyllic, most of the parents of those we interviewed, chose to continue down the path of whiteness rather than to remain in the neighborhoods they so revered. White ethnics, unlike Blacks, have been characterized as having what it takes to achieve the American dream.
The emphasis on meritocracy and hard work led to the belief that White success was a result of White ability rather than governmental policies and programs. In short, given the dominance of this mythology, Whites could then believe that the social order is a reflection of “natural” abilities and hard work (Whites are smart and hard workers, Blacks are not smart and they are lazy), rather than a reflection of historical and institutional racism. However, because race is a social construction and the social order was far from natural, White ethnics had to engage in a great deal of work to be White.
I will now explore the race work these ethnics did, specifically analyzing the strange path they took from denying their ethnicity to become more White, to later claiming their ethnic identities in response to Black demands on the state. Of particular note here is the circularity of whiteness — we have gone from the shedding of ethnic identity as a requirement of whiteness to the need to revive ethnic identity. The shedding of ethnic traits leads to acquiring power, and the need 43 to revive ethnicity was a means to maintain it.
The latter ties to the White response to Black power. Reclaiming an Ethnic Identity: Against Black Power, For “More” Whiteness Whiteness constructs itself against an ever shifting historical, political, and economic backdrop, often acting in a contradictory manner, yet always maintaining the strength to punish those viewed as the greatest threat to White privilege at a given moment -Heather Dalmage (2006: 308) “The category of “American” represents, simultaneously, the normative and the residual, the dominant culture and the nonculture” (Frankenberg 1993:198).
It was this realization of “nonculture” that began to become problematic for Whites. The new emphasis on racial and ethnic pride and unity Whites saw from African Americans led Whites to rethink their identities. Many turned to their immigrant experience [White ethnic revival] as a tool to address and rework whiteness in order to maintain power (Jacobson 2006, Gallagher 1996). In the mid to late 1960s with explicit forms of racism now illegal, new measures of preserving power were adopted by Whites.
The White ethnic revival, a renaissance of White ethnic identity, took place in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and was a shift from White ethnics as “melting” into the American culture to an emphasis on separate ethnicity (Guglielmo 2004). What was needed was a rethinking of whiteness. This renaissance allowed Whites to proudly claim and use ethnicity as a way to make demands on the state and oppose integration while circumventing being called racist. I argue that with shifts in the economical, 44 political and social tenor of society, this became a means to maintain privilege and power.
Thus, the White ethnic revival coincided with the emergence of Civil Rights organizing, the Black power movement, and the shifting color line in the housing market. The White ethnic revival was amplified through numerous forms of mass culture such as television, photography, literature, film, theater, that told the story of European immigration in grand, epic fashion. Films like, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Rocky,” “The Godfather,” or “Flashdance,” for example, were the conduits that sent the messages that left the deeply embedded imprint of the experience and identity of Irish, Italian, Poles, and Jews who landed at Ellis Island (Jacobson 2006).
These stories captured the character of America’s downtrodden, through actors displaying characteristics that embody strength, determination, decency, courage, industriousness, hard work, strong family values, and fearlessness – all qualities that led to the harnessing of the American dream and normalization of whiteness as the standard of American-ness. In addition to reviving whiteness, these films sent subtle messages that this new time of Black progress and politics, including affirmative action and social welfare programs, was unfair to Whites.
As in the film “Rocky,” there were images of new Black elite up against the White, ethnic working class now pushing hard to “make it. ” Indirect messages were sent that the White power structure was at risk. While representations of the European immigrant evoked sensibilities of honor and respect for a difficult journey that ended in success. Characters who were typically people of color were depicted as the antithesis to this. Blacks were characterized as lazy, unintelligent, deceitful, dangerous, fragile and subliminally, un-American. 5 As Jacobson states in Roots Two: “when the presence of people of color are acknowledged at all, it is in either a problematic or a fully troubling way” (Jacobson, 2006: 96). The effect that mass culture can have through 90 minutes of imagery and storytelling is powerful. The result can be (and has been) manipulating enough to have lasting effects on our belief system and on actual politics and policy. In the case of the White ethnic revival, it helped Whites achieve their goals of reversing the effect of Black power.
White identity was retooled as a result of the ethnic revival and the Ellis Island brand of ethnicity skillfully and systematically connected the symbolism of who is American—who belongs and who does not. By making claims to their ethnic roots, these Whites were making claims to their Americaness. These claims were then anchored in the community through heightened consciousness of the racial borders. All ‘others’ are just that, “other,” as eluded to by sociologist, Manning Marable: “All American” is by definition not to be an Asian American, Pacific American, American Indian, Latino, Arab American or AfricanAmerican.
Or viewed another way, the hegemonic ideology of “whiteness” is absolutely central in rationalizing and justifying the gross inequalities of race, gender and class experienced by millions of Americans to the politically peripheral status of “Others” (Marable 717). Much of this ideology is revealed, albeit at times subtly, in our interviews with second and third generation European immigrants. Individuals whose ancestors 46 did not get here through Ellis Island (e. g. , African Americans), were constructed as less American.
This was the period when Blacks began to cross the White geographic borders that were seemingly impenetrable just a few years earlier. A consequence of the White ethnic revival was a greater acceptance of ethnic differences among Whites and increased intolerance of racial differences (Sugrue, Lipsitz as cited in Rothenberg 2008). Notably, given the symbolism of the racial borders, the neighborhood was a place where differences were exhibited. Descriptors of difference that related to the appearance of the neighborhood came up often in the interviews.
By making claims to their ethnic roots, these Whites were making claims to their Americaness. These claims were then anchored in the community through the heightened consciousness of the racial borders. Barb, the women who was pulled out of school because of the freedom marches, speaks to these differences: …they [Blacks] would get those houses because they were cheap but they still didn’t have like the know how to, to, fit in and take care of the neighborhood, like everybody always took such pride in those neighborhoods.
And that’s what we would see, playgrounds that we had played at. …when my grandmother was still living with us we went south to Garfield Park, look that up and the map, beautiful park. With swings, the best swings, the best slides the best little ice cream store. My father still had a couple of his cousins living there, right by the El tracks, and we would go and visit and they were just destroyed, 47 it was just destroyed. Destroyed! And people drinking, visibly on the street, and it was like, just, oh my god, like, how can anyone live like this.
As articulated by Barb in this vignette and in many other interviews, the neighborhood and the community was a defining element of life. In part, as a result of the White ethnic revival, White ethnic identity could now be displayed proudly through the neighborhood. This resulted in even more pronounced borders which magnified difference and led to deeper divisions between Black and White. The characterizations of the neighborhood that Barb talks of embodied their heritage, culture and symbolically, their progress.
At a time when Whites saw Blacks, as a self-conscious and unified group, making gains on the state, they saw their ethnicity as a potential site to make their own voices heard. As Whites they were labeled racist for speaking out to maintain community boundaries, however, as White ethnics, they reasoned, they could make claims. Race and ethnicity were once again used as coterminous as White ethnics struggled to gain the privileges of whiteness while attempting to maintain the strong community ties that they took such pride in.
Looking Back on the Old Neighborhood: Whiteness Today Much of the discussion about whiteness so far has addressed how the community neighborhood fostered whiteness. Also addressed is how whiteness was achieved by White ethnics and altered when necessary in order to maintain power. As a result of this research, it became apparent that White racial identity continues to develop as a result of nostalgia and lingering emotions such as fear and a sense of loss. In the following section, I will focus on the continuation of White 48 identity as a result of nostalgia.
For those we interviewed, fear and a sense of loss were emotions relevant to the childhood experience of growing up in a “changing” neighborhood. This was articulated distinctly in the recollections expressed. Each individual we spoke to described their childhood as idyllic as a result of the neighborhood community and then the course of the conversation usually led to how this all changed once the borders were approached by Blacks. As expressed, with this change, fear and a sense of loss and other highly charged emotions began to set in.
These emotions, imagined or real, are socially constructed and are established as a result of external societal forces but also exist as a result of one’s family history and cultural background. In fact, much of one’s ideas about what is good or bad, “common sense,” and desirable is a result of what Pierre Bourdieu has called the habitus. The habitus is the internal guiding lens developed within our particular locations and socialization in the world. The habitus guides the reaction of Whites as Blacks approached the racial borders and is the basis for claims to what is “common sense. ” Habitus is both an internal and external structuring.
It is internal in that it is part of one’s unconscious; their internal being, but external in that it determines one’s presence in the social world and triggers how one acts and reacts to others and the world. Habitus is also informed by social structures and the socialization processes within society, all of which is absorbed by an individual and becomes part of who they are and how they function. In short, habitus is an internal system that is informed by external systems and vice versa. (Bourdieu 1998, 1992) In his direct words, Pierre Bourdieu explains habitus as, “the strategy generating principal 9 enabling agents to cope with unforeseen and ever changing situations…a system of lasting and transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions and make possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks” (Bourdieu, 1992: 18). Important for my work is that one’s familiar environment; being surrounded by friends and family just like you, cultivates the habitus, as is the case for White ethnics whose lives were intensely tied to the neighborhood.
As argued by Brian Osborne in his essay, Landscapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Identity in Its Place, “Commonly held sets of symbolic meanings about places have often been developed to reinforce peoples’ identification with specific social values” (Osborne 2001: 3). When these places are threatened by difference, discomfort sets in and one’s habitus begins a process of guiding choices and actions in an attempt to regain a sense of “normalcy. This desire for one’s sense of “normal” is inevitable as we are fed, in a sense as a child is fed food for sustenance, by the external messages we consistently receive that, like the food we eat, become part of us, help shape us, become inextricably linked to our physical and psychological composition. Connecting this to the neighborhood, one can see how the social construction of the neighborhood nurtures identity (Osborne 2001:3). This interplay of personal (internal) and the external forces of society can be detected in the discussions with the interviewees in the research.
For example, the ideas about racial differences; who and what constitutes “good” and “bad,” are passed along from family members and the church and become ingrained in one’s consciousness, 50 become part of one’s internal being. Structurally, internalization of how institutions operate, messages received from the media, the effect of racial borders, government support of Whites, also influence one’s consciousness. As per Bourdieu: “the body is in the social world but the social world is in the body” (Bourdieu, 1992: 20).
In short, the history of White supremacy and racism in Chicago becomes a construct of habitus and in a sense normalizes racist behavior. Thus, habitus is part of the foundation of whiteness: “Habitus is a systematic part of the infrastructure of the social field of whiteness and White privilege, and the conditioning mechanisms generated by the system serve to locate the various positions in to a hierarchy that appears normative” (Hargrove, 2009:95). What began as a discomfort over differences was transformed into irrational fear and then rage. These formidable emotions are elements that emerge through memory and nostalgia.
Those we interviewed spent significant time thinking and talking about their life there, in the old neighborhood – how it was idyllic, “until…. ” Brian Osborne explains that: “world-building, place-making, and constructing places constitute basic tools of historical imagination through multiple acts of remembering, conjecture and speculation” (Osborne 2001:4) He quotes Keith Basso: If place-making is a way of constructing the past, a venerable means of doing human history, it is also a way of constructing social traditions and, in the process, personal and social identities.
We are in a sense, the place-worlds we imagine (1996:7). Here Basso eloquently draws on the association between memory of place and identity. What one imagines through constructing the past is what one is. The 51 concept of “historical imagination” (Osborne 2001:4), involves looking back and reconstructing places, people, experiences. One recreates herself through the telling of the past. The interviews were steeped in reflections of an idyllic place, rich with family and friends and security and all that was good in the world.
This symbolism, through the identity of the neighborhood, translates to what and who constitutes “good. ” Reviving through memory a snapshot of the appearance of the homes and yards, tied in to the character and values of the interviewees and remain markers of whiteness. Memories, fueled by intense emotions, grow to be distorted or embellished over time. The process of retelling the past in a way that supports a racist ideology becomes a mechanism for the construction of a collective, negative sensibility one group has toward another (May 2000).
Expressions that were articulated in the interviews of an idyllic neighborhood were quickly followed by recollections of the neighborhood changing from good to bad and the memory of being forced to leave. Margo laments: I didn’t like the fact that the neighborhood was destroyed from it, ‘cause it was. It was destroyed. Beautiful homes, beautiful…. people were pushed out, people…there was no way you were going to integrate. There was no way.
The moment one Black or two Black families bought on that block… 52 In a similar fashion to Margo, Ann from the Southwest Side makes a stark comparison of how the neighborhood looked when she lived there and how it has changed. Note her use of the word “jungle. ” My memories of, like the summer for example, everybody took care of their lawn. People had gardens. (Now) It’s a concrete jungle. No, no pun intended or anything…its concrete, its dark, no vitality, you don’t see kids running around.
The deep-set emotions tied to the experience of White ethnics, the bitterness they felt towards Blacks as they blamed them for the loss of the neighborhood, leads to memories that, along with an existing racist ideology, continue to shape White racial identities. A Sense of Loss: Why Did This Happen To Us? You know, we can’t sugar coat the fact that there was a lot of anger, besides the fear, there was a lot of anger and bitterness about, why, why do we have to leave…? -Grace from the Southwest Side. Similar to fear, a sense of victimhood and loss were frequently articulated.
Joe, who lived in a couple of different places on the West Side, explains: You hear the talk, you see things going on. You realized your neighborhood was going away and nobody wanted it to go away and people still wish…” Many individuals, like Joe, spoke of the inevitability of the change. They felt powerless against it. Like Joe, Lee felt himself inseparable from the neighborhood, 53 as if the neighborhood “belonged” to him. This feeling made leaving the neighborhood even more disturbing for Lee: I mean that was MY neighborhood. It was like, not a betrayal but you felt like you were being invaded.
I mean I moved to that neighborhood when I was five years old. And I learned how to walk to school which was a mile away. I spent my whole grammar school, my whole high school years there. Now all of a sudden you are chased away. ” Henry, who grew up on the Southwest Side, and Barb from the West Side both communicated a sense of loss, and the expressions of both captured a trace of their past emotion as they explained what they were (I argue they still are) feeling over the notion of Blacks crossing the borders of their neighborhood.
Henry: It was when I was 13 or 14, eighth grade or freshman, I remember wondering why? “You know, we don’t want to move by you, why do you want to move by us? ” Barb: It was like what happened to OUR neighborhood? Like…OUR neighborhood! In each of these vignettes, the particular bond to the neighborhood comes through. The idea that the neighborhood could physically and ideologically change if Blacks moved in was a constant threat to whiteness.
The element of “being forced” to move was the justification used to overshadow the choice made to leave the 54 neighborhood in the continued quest for whiteness. As George Lipsitz states in his essay, “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness,” “…this White unity rested on residential segregation, on shared access to housing and life chances unavailable to communities of color” (Lipsitz as cited in Rothenberg 2008: 71) The agonizing memories of these White ethnics remained within the boundaries of their individual worlds.
Henry’s admonition below is poignant in that it touches on many of the key threads already discussed: the connection between immigrants, homeownership and the American dream, a sense of deservedness for hard working Whites – all overshadow, “the bigger picture things. ” In his statement, he admits that few were thinking about the reasons for the movement of the color line. …all these bigger picture things… but nobody was thinking about that because that was your home. You know, in America, your house. Everyone wants to live in their house, that is their dream.
These were immigrants, blue collar workers. My uncle had a good job because he was the supervisor of the truck drivers. Barb from the West Side expresses blame and resentment- – emotions that seem to linger long after she left: There was a question, like, why are you doing this to us, I never did anything to you. I’m sorry this how you’re living, I’m sorry for the way you’re living and everything about you, but I didn’t cause those problems and look at what you took away, look at what you took away from us. 55 In Barb’s expression, one can see that she does not look beyond her own, individual victimhood.
She places blame directly on Blacks and in an individualistic fashion, she vows, she is not responsible for the problems of Blacks. A culture of segregation all at once promotes whiteness, stigmatizes Blacks and creates an opposition culture that not only keeps Whites from looking at the structural reasons but “legitimizes” their perceived failings. This is touched on by Douglass Massey and Mary Denton in their explanation of “oppositional culture”: “It is a culture that explains and legitimizes the social and economic shortcomings of ghetto Blacks which are built into their lives by segregation rather than by personal failings” (1993:167).
The basic ideals of the American society that place Blacks in opposition to the cultural identity of Whites, is key to why the White ethnics we spoke to couldn’t grasp sharing their neighborhood with Blacks and the reason why, ultimately, they fled. Choice of Neighborhood Today: The Legacy Remains Living through the turmoil of a changing neighborhood has had lasting effects on these individuals. A central place we can see the legacy is in the choice of neighborhood one makes.
Some of the individuals with whom we spoke had no question: They wanted to live in a White segregated area and continue to do so. Others experienced the change as the most difficult piece and thus moved to stable integrated areas where they would not have to “live through” that kind of racial transition again. Regardless of choice, it is clear that the trauma they felt still matters. 56 Many we spoke to moved to areas like Oakton along with their family members, which in a sense recreated the neighborhood they left.
This affirms the likelihood that a history of segregation leads to a life of segregation. One gentleman we spoke to from the Southwest Side freely admits that he moved to “the White suburban mecca,” Oak Lake. The fact that so many we spoke to moved to neighborhoods that were racially and ethnically similar to where they left demonstrates an unwillingness to change and continued anxiety over sharing space with those who appear different and have different lifestyles which would ultimately threaten their whiteness.
Vince was asked whether there was tension in the neighborhood he moved to when he left the West Side neighborhood he grew up in. He responded: Um, no. Whatever tensions that did exist…keep in mind that there was new tension if you will’ cause you’re getting older. So, if there’s a new tension, that’s the new tension- totally different than existed in the old neighborhood because everybody in the new neighborhood was White. Vince continues: Yeah, we were the first ones to move and actually one of my aunts was married in 1958 and she and her husband lived in the home we lived in until she got married.
They moved to the far north West Side when they got married. And uh, we were moving…when we moved, we moved to the north West Side we moved about a mile away from them. I don’t know if it was by design – I don’t think it was 57 necessarily by design but uh, she was about a mile north west of us, then an aunt that lived in the neighborhood moved on the same block, then another aunt and uncle lived a couple miles away and another aunt and uncle moved in that area so we all moved right in the general area.
Moving from one segregated neighborhood to another makes for a vicious circle that leads to the reproduction of racism as Whites’ continued isolation from Blacks keeps them from the a path that would have led to a more progressive racial path. Birchdale, on the South Side, is similar to Oakton because it is a White ethnic enclave of Chicago, in this case, predominantly Irish. When asked by the interviewer whether certain stigmas relating to racism have stuck on the Southwest Side, Sarah recalls the following incident.
But you know what’s so funny about it [racism] is I think that it exists still and depending on what neighborhood, I didn’t realize that that same attitude is still so strong on the South Side where I live, but it came home during the election that where there were Obama signs and everything all over and I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought oh, the 19th ward, we’re so progressive and so I came to the women that owns the yarn shop near us and I was talking to her one day and she said, “can I ask you? Do you have an Obama sign on your lawn? ” and I said, yeah, I do.
And she said, “I can’t put one out because of my neighborhood, my neighbors would get so angry with me. ” And I looked at her and I said, “Wait, you’re in Mt. Greenwood? ” And she 58 said, “Yeah. ” I sort of went, oh yeah, there’s all the policemen and the firemen and there’s really a lot of racism there and it’s really right there in your face. And when she said that to me, I had forgotten that we aren’t beyond this and that some of the same people I associate with if I go down that road and they’re one of the largest racist vocal people around and they’re in Mt.
Greenwood. Sarah’s memory illustrates that growing up in segregated neighborhoods and choosing to continue to live in segregated neighborhoods continues to foster whiteness. Another unusual facet of the continuation of whiteness and suppression of racial open-mindedness occurs as a result of going back to the neighborhood. Many others chose to move to integrated neighborhoods or neighborhoods that they knew would not radically change over time. Some explained that they made this choice in order to “never go through what they went through again. Others were much more open about interacting with Blacks and sharing space with them. They were less concerned that integrated space would challenge their whiteness and more accepting of what and who was different. They were secure enough with their own identity to not feel threatened. These were typically people who were exposed to Blacks with more regularity and often had at least one parent who also had direct experience with Blacks, somewhere away from the neighborhood, mainly in the workplace, and there was less race talk in the home.
Therefore another perspective was introduced in the home which seemed to influence the openness in some we interviewed. These folks didn’t seem to adhere 59 to the same White racist ideology or pursuit for whiteness as most. This quality can be identified in Sarah’s flourish: And I also think that [reason for choosing to live in an integrated neighborhood as an adult] I went to college.
I lived downtown for two years, I worked downtown, I had a broader base of who I was interacting with on a daily basis, where and at least in my husband’s case, they didn’t, and in some of my friends cases, they didn’t… where they were sort of still surrounded by the people they grew up with where they went to college. They were in their dorms with these people and where they went to work, they worked in a very blue color environment where, ok, you know she’s in the office and its all White people in the office and Black people are all the janitors.
When the interviewer asked what allowed her to have this other perspective, Sarah was prompted to think about how it is that she has a different outlook on race then her friends and family who grew up in the same Southwest Side neighborhood: The only thing I keep coming back to is that I worked and I worked outside of the neighborhood and I went to college but I didn’t go away to school so I wasn’t in a cocoon inside dorms.
I was working full time and I was going to DePaul full time so I was in the real world in my mid-20’s and to me that’s just the way it is, you know, that it’s just a very mixed city…that’s just the way it is and I lived downtown for 60 two years and I did have to make a conscious decision as to where I was going to live. Rick from the West Side remembers his mother having a much different response to Blacks than his dad. Here is what he said: …and then I started thinking about it and I was just like, you know, I never really heard my mom say anything the way that my dad and my uncle did.
And I thought, you know, my mom was a working career person so she worked with a lot of people so maybe there is something to this whole work if you’re in a professional or blue collar job. My mother was always different, because as far back as I could remember she always worked with them. So she always wanted it to be like…she worked with them at the hospital, so they were always like her friends. You know what I mean…where my father just… Sarah from the Southwest Side expresses never wanting to go through racial change again; this is the reason she chose to live in an integrated neighborhood: I want to know who my neighbors are.
I don’t want to worry about changing again. …I don’t want that tension with everyone else with not knowing or not understanding or having the unknown about whose moving in next door and I want to get beyond it because in my mind, and granted, some of my friends didn’t have the same view, they were like…”eeeeuu, why are you living there,” but I just had the attitude, “you know what, it’s people, they’re people, just people! ” You know, I 1 don’t care…they can be jerks no matter what nationality or what the color of their skin As seen in the vignettes above, those who have left the neighborhood and either by choice or by attrition live in integrated neighborhoods, and/or work in integrated workplaces, have more progressive racial identities. These are people who have actual interaction with Blacks and tend to develop an understanding and acceptance of Black culture.
Those unable or unwilling to escape from their lingering experience of “the neighborhood” have made little progress or have remained stagnant in their racial existence. Their memory of their experience combined with an exclusive life of whiteness had became so embedded it appears to result in a lack of analysis of the structural factors at hand with regards to integration of the neighborhood. Verbalizations like Margo’s illustrate this embedded-ness to a point where even Margo herself tries to rationalize why her memory of the neighborhood is so prevalent. Her remembrance illustrates he power of nostalgia: Maybe it’s because my mother and father were alive and maybe because everybody was there and your grandparents and all your aunts and it’s just a different…it’s a great memory, a great memory, I will say that. I still dream of that house. Whites experienced racial change as a trauma of which they were the victims. The perspective of being the victim kept them from looking at the structural reasons for Black demands on housing. Rarely explored were the problems of concentrated poverty, government driven ghettoization, institutional discrimination, housing 2 policy and the history of legalized segregation that left Blacks in desperate need of housing (Hirsch 1983, Sugrue 1996). Instead, the overwhelming majority of our respondents attributed Black disadvantage to the nature or character of Blacks or to the idea that their neighborhood would be doomed if Blacks moved in. Going Back to the Neighborhood A common thread brought up the discussions was the act of going back to the neighborhood from time to time. This is yet another way these White ethnics continue to secure whiteness. Some we spoke with dreamt of going back to the neighborhood and even expressed hopes of living there again one day.
Margo from the West Side recalls going back often and thus is continuously reminded that “she was right all the while about what would happen to the neighborhood. ” …and I would go back there almost every Friday and Saturday night for the seven, eight years. Driving, we got off the expressway to get to our house and we had to drive through these horribly taken care of neighborhoods. And sure enough as I am living out in Oakton and coming to visit my friends by St. Marie, I would go by our house … I couldn’t even believe that that was the house and that was our block.
It was so bad. It was so degenerated. Everything, just like we thought. Henry from the Southwest Side expressed: And the reason I think people left that, not because Blacks were moving in even though they were racist, is what they saw that was happening and three years later everyone… three years later they said, 63 “we were right, look at the crime. ” You’d be afraid to drive your car around the block. The houses were in horrible shape. The following exchange with Betty, one of the sister’s, is another expression of things as different after the “good” Whites left.
Betty recalls the time she went back with her Dad once. Even though the house was no longer theirs, her Dad felt “put out” over the path in the lawn. I went once with my dad and we had been out at Sears on Western and 63rd, so I said let’s go past the house, and he said, “yeah, let’s go. ” So we drove over there and I was surprised at how everything looked smaller to me–which it does, and we had a White picket fence in the front of our house and, uh, it was a chain link fence then, and apparently they had a dog or something because there was a path worn in the grass which my dad was kinda put out about.
It was a meticulous lawn. We got a lot of looks when we were there. Leo from the South Side was recalling the King “riots. ” In the following, he describes going back to that same spot where he stood “when the whole West Side was on fire” and what the area looked like when he went back to that spot years later: And when the Bulls were playing their championships, my wife and I went down to some of the games, uh, I went every year to at least get a program and stuff like that, and some of these buildings were still boarded up from the ‘60s.
You know, it’s absolutely amazing. It was so sad. You know, because they did nothing but hurt themselves. 64 Returning to the neighborhood after it had transitioned supported White notions of “good” and “bad” and resulted in an affirmation that “they were right all the while about Blacks. ” During conversations about going back, those we spoke to rarely made institutional connections regarding the conditions of these neighborhoods; all they saw was destruction.
A visit back to the neighborhood is another channel of the continuation of racial identity formation and secures these White ethnics’ posture as it relates to race and validates whiteness — “they” moved in and see what happened. ” Color-blind Racism and the Continuation of Whiteness I mean…that is just the way we speak. You spoke like that for 25 years and that’s why sometimes when we are driving down the street and if I say, ooh look at that nigger over there…and I know it is…I know you have to be politically correct now…you have to say the right things. I don’t say it out of.. o be hatred or mean. I mean I grew up saying that word there was nothing ever wrong with it. And now all of sudden well you can’t say that word (sarcastic sounding). And then your kids will hear and say “Oh, dad, why do you say that, you are so old fashioned? You shouldn’t be saying that word. ” Again, nobody lived through the times that we lived through. At least our kids didn’t. –Rick from the West Side. A question in response to Rick’s vignette above: If his kids and the generations after them stop talking about race, will it simply disappear or will we just lose a 5 language to deal with racial issues? I for one have learned a great deal from Rick’s dialogue about race. “After the country’s dismantling of the most oppressive racist policies and practices of the past, many have come to believe that the United States has moved beyond race and that our most pressing racial concerns should center now on raceneutrality and color blindness” (Shapiro 2004: 7). Quite the contrary, most race scholars point to the covert nature of colorblind racism and the idea that it is a strategy to maintain White power and privilege.
This is expressed by Ballard when he talks of the change from segregation to integration and acceptance of other races in South Africa: “While the acceptance of ‘other races’ was billed as a moral shift away from apartheid, the change from segregation to assimilation is not necessarily a weakening of the ‘White” social agenda but a shrewd move that ensures the sustainability of ‘White’ social control within the suburb’s” (Ballard 2004: 56). These along with other examples of Ballard’s writings of post-apartheid in South Africa parallel the White experience in the United States.
With the new “conventional White wisdom,” our now “color-blind” society is one where the “state of mind” of racism is behind us (Street2007). Gone and not illegal is the burning of Black homes and open racist affronts and separate housing and discriminatory hiring practices for Blacks…as least on paper. Today’s politically correct climate wouldn’t have it. The racism now, which actually is nothing new, uses more insidious and covert ways of disenfranchising Blacks that are also more threatening.
Just one example are the tactics used in our criminal justice system like the war on drugs and mass incarceration. A color-blind society is one with the 66 continuation of segregation, a deepening of racial divisions and a more overt attempt at maintaining White supremacy. The most concerning effect of colorblind racism is that it is an ideology that keeps racial issues under cover. We are losing the language to talk about race issues and therefore they become compounded (Dalmage 2002, Street 2007). This loss of language was an element in the interviews.
Trying not to appear racist had the effect of coded and careful language. The color-blind discourse and coded language heard in several of the interviews can be attributed to a number of factors. Most prevalent was carefulness in order to not sound racist in this new sociopolitical arena, to protect White privilege by blaming class over race. Also picked up in several interviews are expressions that had an apathetic tone – – that now, Blacks are actually at an advantage today over Whites and that they use past history to attain this advantage. Rick from the West Side articulated this.
And every now and then you will still find one…well, you know, they’ll cry the blues in the Black community. You want to tell them, “You know, you didn’t live through it. ” Don’t come and tell me…they weren’t slaves. Some of these guys, they still try to bring that upon them [selves]. That’s their excuse they still try to use that as an excuse now. And my feeling right now is that they have a better opportunity today than a White person, because if you go, for instance, for a city job or Chicago police job or this job, they have to hire so many minorities first. 7 Rick was pretty straight forward here and spoke of his sense that now, Whites are at a disadvantage. Others we spoke to were more careful about not trying to appear racist. Trying Not to Appear Racist The “moral shift” (Ballard, 1996: 56) that Robert Ballard refers to in his writings on post-Apartheid South Africa can be compared to the post civil rights time and racial posture of political correctness in the ‘60s and ‘70s that paved the way for color-blind discourse. We picked up signs of color blind discourse in many of the interviews.
As questions were posed about how their experience of growing up in ‘the neighborhood’ impacts their life now, there were expressions of “today times have changed. ” There was the implication that we have moved past the racist era, and Barack Obama was often mentioned as proof that there is a new acceptance of Blacks in society and that Blacks now, “not like before,” are different. Often, language was used to try to steer away from direct references to racism; interviewees would catch themselves and quickly switch a term or expression.
Probing further, there was the sense that under this veneer was the more sincere sentiment: discomfort with border crossing. In many interviews, it was alluded that interaction with Blacks today is still hampered by the experience of having to leave the neighborhood, but this sentiment often needed to be excavated through coded language. About half of those we spoke to felt compelled to tell us they were not racist and they did just that – several said, “you know, I’m really not racist. ” Often, tension was felt during this part of the interview when the question was posed 8 regarding whether one sees oneself as racist or not. Margo from the West Side states: I think I’ve probably come a long way. I think I can say yes. But, now I think I’m a lot fairer and I judge by their [Blacks’] personality and by…. no, I think I’m a lot better. Maybe at one time I was pretty racist. (Giggle) But I think I’m better…no, I do! The concept of judging by one’s personality is a commonly articulated sentiment that is used to signal neutrality when it comes to race. Margo perhaps is “better” but her choice to continue to live a segregated lifestyle is a more accurate measurement of her racial identity.
In this vignette, Barb from the West side tries to make sense of whether she or her parents were “racist:” Umm, I wasn’t a racist, I can tell you that. Now my parents probably were. My father to a certain degree, I think he knew it had to be like, because the rest of the family was like that, but he understood why they were the way they were. I don’t think he would have minded someone who kept their lawn up and wasn’t going to rape his daughters and had a hard working job. Barb’s expression here is full of complexities and contradictions.
At the same time she proclaims she is not racist, she uses stark and harsh racist markers in her mention of rape and the inference to Black as lazy but she infers (using confusing syntax) this was what her father was speaking. At the same time, she begins with a defensive statement, saying that her father “understood why [Blacks] were the way they were. ” 69 This was often a point in the conversations where interviewees spoke of Black friends that they had and usually they knew them from at work. Rick explains since he has to work with Blacks, he becomes friends with them.
You know and then you get into the work force and you gotta deal with them and work with them and then they become your friends and it’s not as bad as it was but you know there’s still always, not a tension but there’s still always that factor; it really is. Note Rick’s language here and his use of the term, “them;” highly unusual if one were talking about true friends. Rick, unlike many we spoke to, did not paint an altogether rosy picture in that he continues to refer to the tension. The same is true for Margo’s recollection in the following vignette.
Even with “wonderful Black friends,” Margo from the West Side recognizes the racial divide: And, I don’t care what you say; I have wonderful Black friends but if it comes down to it where there’s something going on – fire drill and you have to stand close; anything that they’re doing at work, they’re going to congregate in one area and you’re going to congregate in one area and yet you’re working side by side with this person all day – know what I’m saying? Almost best of friends at work, but yet I really believe if it comes down to it, there’s still that separation.
Notice the contradiction in Margo’s use of the words, “wonderful friends” but they wouldn’t stand together if given a choice. Both Margo and Rick live the majority of their lives in racial isolation and do not partake in the kind of interracial 70 relationships that would lead to true friendships, much less an understanding and ease around Blacks. CONCLUSION “The problem arises when working-class Whites fail to acknowledge how their own fear and racism contribute to the demise of ‘stable’ neighborhoods. it is not simply that Blacks arrived and the neighborhood went down.
A whole constellation of forces (namely globalization, segregation and deindustrialization) destroyed America’s inner cities. However, what working class Whites believe is that the arrival of Blacks sounded the death knell for good, solid, and respectable neighborhoods” (Kefalas 2003: 42). Where we live, the neighborhoods we choose, are an extension of our identity. Living in segregated neighborhoods is a foundation for racist identity formation. The identity of White ethnics has been inextricably tied to their neighborhood.
In addition, fear of Blacks and the Black “other” is developed through American culture, i. e. : American history, the media, politics, our institutions, and the criminal justice system. The memory of the neighborhood plays out again and again for the Whites we interviewed and consists of a potent mix of emotions that risk becoming exaggerated or distorted over time. This mix includes the remnants of fear, anger tied to the feeling of being forced out of their idyllic neighborhood, and discomfort felt over a difference in cultural lifestyle.
These memories, along with contemporary racist social systems and the constant reminder that since their 71 neighborhood is not the same now as it was then, leads to the affirmation of racist beliefs and continued racial identity formation. In the case of Whites who left the neighborhood and choose to continue living in segregated spaces and ultimately segregated lifestyles, racist identities are fortified. The social construction of whiteness followed a path that can be linked to the White sense of space and formation of the “good” neighborhood from which the “bad” neighborhood emerges.
This path, which can be attributed in part to trends in the social and political arena, began with the White ethnic immigration experience dominated by the need to become more “White,” the salient traits of the bootstrap mentality and struggle to achieve the American dream. This was followed by the passage of the civil rights bill and a period of Black progress and increased competition for political and social resources, which led to the need for Whites to define themselves, which, was in large part accomplished through the White ethnic revival.
Then, with the onset of globalization and a changing political climate, and the threat of exposing White privilege looming, the new color blind ideology takes shape (Gallagher, 1996). And, finally the potent combination of the highly emotional White experience that they perceived as being pushed out of their idyllic neighborhood for which their identity was completely tied to, and the memory of this inimitable place they believe they can never go back to. Spatial segregation leads to “otherness. Segregation of space and the choice to live a segregated lifestyle leads to a lack of understanding of racial differences and leaves one with an illusory reality of experience with those of a 72 different race. Further, is the perception of meaningful interaction and friendship (“I have Black friends”) with Blacks even if that interaction is trivial. As seen with the White ethnics we interviewed, this lifestyle informs a racial identity and racial superiority.
Add to this the potency of the process of memory relating to the emotional experience of having to leave the neighborhood as a result of the threat of Blacks, and the continuation of a white racist identity is advanced. If either by choice or by opportunity, one lives in and experiences a socially integrated environment, this exposure leads to an actual understanding of racial difference and deters racist identity formation. Most importantly integration promotes a sense of humanity and respect for cultural and racial difference. 73