Chicago is constantly used by both sides in the ongoing and pathetically small-ranging gun debate going on nationally. We are a city weighed down by violence and the black half of our city is sinking. The murder of the appealing and innocent 15 year old, Hadiya Pendleton, (the 42nd murder in our city in 2013) perfectly exemplifies the awfulness of this problem. But Chicago is divided into two (maybe three cities). The black part of Chicago (south and west sides) are as distinct from the white part (north side) as Paris and London in Dickens' renowned 1859 novel.
I moved here from England six years ago and lived in Humboldt Park until last year. Time and a trivial immigrant-nostalgia can certainly fade memories, but I honestly can't remember having any palpable concept of race until I moved here. In the England I was from, race always seemed like something that only old people, idiots and degenerate northerners (BNP) gave two shits about. Segregation in England (I mean London, which is the only place in that country that matters), seemed to be based in economics.
I was born in southwest London and my people were one of the last white (Irish, so not entirely white) families to leave that neighborhood. Basically everyone on my street was black (usually Jamaican) or Pakistani/Indian. I don't know if you inherit racism (probably), but fortunately my parents were anything but; my father especially, was an early and reggae-centric version of a Wigga.
Eternally immigrating to Chicago, the capital of black-America, was my crash-course in racism... Through osmosis and through a desire to be more Chicago, I started to get it. I found myself looking at a person's race and predicating (often worryingly accurately) aspects of their personality. This small-mindedness isn't just applicable to black or brown people... Some of my harshest and snappy judgments were for the white, whole-food eating, yoga pant and Ugg boot wearing, running-stroller set.
I absolutely adore this place. I love the way they (we) talk, look, think and drink. I would go to war for the honor of my virtuous but tragically-flawed Chicago. I have become a man here and I want to die here, but this city is sick. Segregation is the best ingredient for a healthy racism and as far as I know, Chicago is the most segregated city in the world.
A few years ago, I was doing some day-drinking and decided to be audacious, with a fellow north-side adventurer and go to Englewood on a Saturday night. When we got off the Ashland bus, it was though we were stepping into an area completely virgin to the white-skinned Saturday night drinker... It was. Groups of people crowded around us. The image of aid workers in Africa holding up pens and being crowded by villagers was the only equivalent my Stella Artois addled mind could summon. After about an hour in Englewood, the police picked us up, wrongfully, but understandably suspecting us of looking for/buying drugs. My response to their "what you doing here?" surprised them fully... White people from the north side don't come to Englewood "just to have a look around." I haven't been back to Englewood on a Saturday night since.
This race-based-geographical foreboding extends both ways. My wife runs a non-profit that fights recidivism and her clients often have to be collected by one of her employees because they can't navigate the north side. The bar I parked in front of in Wrigleyville last weekend had a list of prohibited items of clothing, which could have unsubtly been read as don't come in here if you're black or dress in hip hop clothes.
My favorite place in the world is two racially separated sub-cities. I only really know half of this city. I don't know the solution, but I know this is a problem; segregation makes people dumb and segregation enables racism and racism is a worthless poison that has inflicted this country since its birth. If our city doesn't start diluting more, more Hadiya's are going die. Our two cities need to become one.