FEBRUARY 7, 2012 10:28PM

Easy Racism

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“That’s the easy kind of racism,” Donnie said.

He and I were having an after work beer at a bar with a dirty red door on the lower level of Michigan Avenue, just north of the Chicago Loop. These days with everybody either working two jobs or looking for jobs, nobody saw each other as much as they used to. But his seven-year-old daughter Melinda, my god-daughter, and world’s most beautiful kid, gave Donnie and I a chance to get together more than most. We uncles, aunts, godfathers, godmothers take our jobs seriously. A lot more seriously than Donnie took his UPS truck, parked illegally outside the bar, or I took the cubicle where I did the contract corporate job, making the world safe for software.

 

“What do you mean easy? I said. There’s no such thing as easy racism.”

 

“I mean easy to see. You've seen the news. A November 2009 sales meeting of the German Company Thyssen Krupp. Chicago’s newest corporate citizen. And a guy gets up to do a skit in black face.” That is easy. That’s racist. Everyone can see it. There is no argument. It’s as simple as. . .”

 

“Black and white?”

 

We clinked glasses as we had been doing for pretty much as long as I remember. Laughed because that’s all you can do sometimes.

 

 

“Hard racism is what you do NOT see.” Donnie continued.

 

“You mean like how the black guy had to sit in his car alone every day before he went into work. Just to psych himself in to going inside to start his workday? How every tiny pinprick of the culture poked and jabbed at the guy for no other reason than he was black?” I said.

 

“Yeah cracker north side,” Donnie smiled. Like that. Saying 'it has nothing to do with him being black.' That’s where all the bullshit starts flowing. It’s how this guy can’t get phone calls returned. How he works triple time and it’s never good enough. How there is an email joke that goes around and he ain’t included.”

 

We were quiet for awhile. Then to a subject we both loved more than anything. “What’s going on with my god daughter?” I asked.

 

“It ain’t easy,” Donnie replied. “Both kids can’t play outside at all. We thought it would get better. But Roger, I got two daughters. Seven and nine. And both of them know that when they hear the sound of guns poppin on any given night, to slip off the couch where they are watching TV, and make themselves small, laying on the floor, because so many times the bullets come through some one’s wall and well. . .you know.”

 

I nodded

 

“Tell me again why I bought in Englewood? 25% of the murders in the city. The whole city. And that’s where I live. I am some kind of fool. . .thinking I could get a deal if I bought in there.”

 

“Donnie. Nobody knew what would happen when you bought the place. And you bought it cause it was cheap! And you being one tight ass cheap. . .”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

“So you can’t leave, cause you can’t sell without selling those girl’s future. That is one hard choice my friend.”

 

He nodded. “I don’t know. Maybe it will get better.”

 

“What about that white guy they just put in as district police commander? You think that’s racism? Having a white guy in charge of the cops. 14,000 police officers in Chicago and they couldn’t find a black guy to run Englewood?”

 

“Roger, you gotta read the rest of the story. That ain’t racism. That’s the same shit you got living 4 blocks from the Mayor. You know the real problem? It ain’t that the guy is white. He has 26 years experience on the job. He ran a district and he ran gang crimes, which is kinda the whole ballgame. It ain’t that he’s white. It’s that no one from the mayor’s office or the police department made anybody from the neighborhood part of the decision. They didn't think it was important to TALK with us. It’s not racism. It’s cronyism. That good old boys club. Not letting anybody in that old circle of power. Mayor would have sent some boys over to talk with a bunch of us, asking us, “What do you think?” That would have changed a lot of things.

 

We know the mayor, the chief, they will make the call. We are fine with that. But when that ole boys club circle just sends down the word the same way they always do everywhere, when they say “This is how it is” that is what puts a bullet in that trust they are always talking about.

 

“So the guy who is the new commander. . .he is fine and. . .”

 

“Maybe. Maybe not. But let me have a piece of that decision. We are talking about Melinda being safe. Your goddaughter. And you know I ain’t gonna be taking her to no church! So you are in this too, Mister North Side."

 

“Yeah, I know. That’s my job.”

 

We were quiet for awhile. Like old friends can be. Finally I said, “So there is easy racism and hard racism. Easy you can see. And hard racism. Hard is how our Melinda has to dive off the couch in your living room and hit the floor every time she hears a bullet pop outside.”

 

“No, hard is that she has to even think about doing that. That’s hard.”

 

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Photo Credit---Chicago Bar Project
Roger, too bad we don't have anyone in the NYC metro area with your gift for writing these great stories! There's a lot going on around here that I just don't hear about--although there's been a lot of negative stuff coming out about the NYPD on a regular basis. As always, thanks for writing about your neck of the woods with your special perspective.
I think you just inspired me to do a post on my own racism story. Our long despicable history of racism is what I call the Curse of Columbus -- you know, like the Curse of Cain -- visited upon generation after generation, 'cause you see it ain't just black people -- as if anybody is actually black (and most particularly not our President) -- that suffer from racism. White people -- as if anybody is actually white (I use to have a boyhood friend who suffered from albinism and even he wasn't white -- that's why we called him Pinky) -- suffer, too.

But unfortunately, racist whites don't see how their racism hurts them, too, they don't see how scurrilous politicians like Lee Atwater and Ronald Reagan and Bush the Elder and Karl Rove and Bush the Lesser -- and now Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney -- use racism to distract racist white folks from the fact that they are being screwed royally by divide and conquer politics.

The fruits of racism are strange indeed -- exceedingly bitter.
There is much subtle (or blatant) cruelty out there and not necessarily based on race...
Great post. Love your perspective on things. Rated.
Your so good and today your Great. Black is beautiful but so is fairness and mutual respect for others.

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Gingrich railing against blacks on food stamps, when a lot more white than blacks are on them. Hard or soft?
superior...great writing and I admire the beautiful formatting.
Easy and hard racism. I never thought to differentiate, but it makes sense. You could write the same (wonderfully written) story in DC. ~r
Was Thyssen/Krup just kismet or deliberate? Hell, I'm Irish and those two names make my skin crawl. Brilliant piece though.
designator--Thanks! I'd imagine that the tensions and lack of trust between police and neighborhoods are tough everywhere. And I'd bet money (if I had any) that there is an Englewood in NYC. Crime is actually going down in Chicago as a whole. But NOT in Englewood. And the under-reported part of this story---which I really tried to get across here--is not that just that the new police commander is white. It's the lack of communication and lack of trust between downtown and the neighborhood. So the Mayor and PC's choice could be very right---but the way it was done was unfortunate and bush league.

TC--Write Tom write! (Am gonna be off line all day today. . .but when I come back young man . . .I want to see something from you!)

Patrick---Sure is!

Hey Deborah! Thank you.

Algis---Here's to musical hearts!

scanner---EXCELLENT question. That's the kind of conversation I was looking for here. I'd call it hard because it's misdirection. You have to go under the rock to find his racism. (Big rock). Newster's whole routine on turning little kids into janitors---same thing. He is speaking in code. There is no pointing at the black kid and saying "You"---there is only the implication. That makes it hard.

At Thyssen Krupp, it was easy. (And that is a true story) A white guy in blackface. In 2012.

Spudman---That's cause I have to look at tiny spreadsheets all day!

Joan---My brother lives in DC---you are so right.

Bob--I could not have made up those names! That is the name of the company! And it was deliberate.
'Twas kismet then. Thyssen/Krup were the good folks that built Hitlers death machinery from the gas chambers to the crematoria. No shock that this would have passed muster with those fine members of the master race.
I like the thinking that emanates from noting the distinction between hard and soft racism.
A piece leads the top of the feed today which has bits and pieces of alleged black dialect in it describing The Blues. I think it is meant to show....you know what, I don't know what it's meant to show it just bothers me and this isn't that post.
So, it's important to have the antennae extended at all times. Taking in the news, having a beer with a friend or any other time the veiled and confusing language appears.
This coming from a kid who was known as Pinky who grew up to be known as a blues musician.
I thoroughly enjoy looking at things through your eyes, Chi. This piece is especially good.

Lezlie
jane---the godfather was easy. its me

also--the antannae---that's the important part.

I did pitch the story to the editor, cause this was a piece I liked (which is rare) and all of it comes from today's news and it is black history month. But I respect editorial decisions. It is not an easy job. So no worries!

Hi Lezlie! Thank you. I'm the godfather here---so this is through my eyes. And it's interesting, Thyssen Kupp officially apologized today.
Which is a nice first step. But as somebody who works onchanging organizational cultures for a living (the writing is for fun--cuse no one really pays for writing) I can say that this company has a LONG way to go!
"Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list." -- Denis Leary
Excellent point Stim!
I don't know if it's racism or the cruel scourge of poverty and hopelessness. Regardless, it's indicative of a society in desperate need of redemption, and we won't find that in the platitudes of politicians, but only in the renewal of our moral fiber. Good luck with that, huh.
It is shocking that those two girls, and countless other children like them, have to grow up and be taught the instinct of diving for the floor. Or to hear gunshots threatening their sense of safety in their own home.

But as Donnie says, there are a thousand more subtle and hard to pin down ways to make a person feel excluded. And take a long time to realize they're not imagining it or being 'too sensitive'--they are being rejected.

rated
Steve---probably some of all of that. As for that renewal thing---that's for sure. Not exactly like changing the oil in your car.

Melissa--It is shocking. And the kids don't even KNOW that. But they do have really cool parents! "Donnie's" wife (I gave him another name for this just in case this piece was featured for a large audience) has many times brought up your point about being seen as "too sensitive." Smart woman. Why she married him I have no clue.
Well said. Racism sure is taught and not in us from birth.

Crime is actually going down in Chicago as a whole.
Having an inside view on that, I'm skeptical. There isn't much media coverage on the everyday plague of shoplifting teen hordes and adult theft crews that's gotten so much worse along with the economy. There are a lot of other crime issues that grow like mold - spreading and damaging, but unknown by most people until they're completely out of control, and then the lid is off, whether the mayor and police superintendent like it or not.

There's often a certain amount of number fudging in police statistics, especially in how crimes are categorized and officially charged. That has a major affect on what gets to the media and the general public. In some areas, crime may be down. In other areas, it's not looking so good.

Through a bike project I'm working on, I recently met a young white guy who lives in Englewood and wants to open a coffee shop there. I hope that his efforts succeed, and that his business can be one more strike against racism and segregation.

I ride my bike in neighborhoods all over the city. In many areas of the south side, mine may be the only white face in sight. I've found that my experiences on bike are much more positive than being in those same neighborhoods in a car. Many of the face-to-face conversations I've had with people when we're waiting at a railroad crossing for a freight train to pass, waiting at a stoplight, or when I stop to admire someone's garden or pet their dog have led to some wonderful moments.

I've been on the receiving end of racist comments and evil looks, too. Hate hurts everyone. I've had so many good times visiting with neighbors, riding bikes and enjoying the fine cooking of people of other races and cultures. To those who fear and hate, I say "You don't know what you're missing."

I think I need to write some stories about my south side experiences.
bike---Yes you do need to write those stories!

I totally hear you on the stats. They say that there is a decrease in crime, BUT

1. Can we trust them?

2. Does the decline in crime really matter if you live in Englewood?
Which is my point here.

Many thanks for the thoughtful reply from one who does know.

I wish I could have made this a more universal message---because the larger truth is that what happened in this story goes WAY beyond Chicago.
Rated this earlier, but didn't have a coherent comment. I like Bikes statement:"You don't know what you're missing."
I'll echo that.
HI JULIE!---I agree. Bike said it well.