An Interesting Week in History: July 1919-July 2019

Every day, we deal with the distractions from the White House on race, immigration, misogyny, multiple phobias and hatred. We allow Trump to rile all of us up, white nationalists and progressives alike. We cheer or are outraged by ignorant statements that are designed to deceive and separate. 

Each time that I drive downtown and exit at Wacker Drive, I encounter the glaring reminder of TRUMP tower. He has let us know that if you own something, you put your name on it. What better way to achieve that goal than to have your name splayed across the Chicago river facing the great lake in front of it. A steel and glass middle finger to Chicago, the city that DuSable founded. Trump and his ideology are the embodiment of the country’s divisive legacy that was built on free and cheap labor, cheating and exclusion. He’s owned it, he stops at nothing, he distracts and he is not alone.

What does it mean? Are we too “owned” by this ideology? When Black youth in Chicago cannot safely come outside of the walled environments predetermined by their demographics to participate in the amazing assets of the city without being profiled or called animals or criminals, we lose potential. When our economics select those, who can and those who cannot, we lose opportunity. Chicago has always been a city that thrives based on our diversity and has excelled through our resilience. As we live through this summer with historic stereotypes built up and the fever is 1919 high, what can we expect?

On this 100th anniversary of the nationwide race riots, it is important to know that this history was never shared with most; those people who call Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, or Arkansas home were never taught the reality of these events. Generally, people know that they have a history and a stake in the development of their cities, but they cannot claim their ownership. The riot in Chicago was precipitated by a Black boy floating in to the “White side” of Lake Michigan. The riot has forever maintained and entrenched a division of people and their culture and the solution, a division of resources and accessibility.

But the truth is the truth and it is what we make it. It is history, it is narrative, it becomes determinative of futures.

A part of the race riot story that is little known is that Richard J. Daley was a part of one of the Irish youth gangs that used the lakefront incident to maraud and increase the terrorism in Black neighborhoods during the riot. Black peoples’ homes were already being bombed and random acts of violence against blacks were increasing as migration to Chicago increased in the early 1900’s. The boundaries that defined places where Black citizens were allowed to live were being stretched and the tension was growing. Black people were working and assimilating and it wasn’t welcomed. The Black migrants were not docile and they were willing to fight for their rights. Daley grew up to become mayor of the City of Chicago but Eugene Williams never grew up. The policies and practices that resulted from this experience shaped Chicago for the twenty-one years of Daley’s term and beyond. Burke and Vrdolyak were the legacy tokey components in keeping this narrative going. The Daley storylegacy is part and parcel of the history of ethnicity in Chicago. Dawson, Johnson and Washington were the answers to the resilience of the people who maintained that Chicago was their home too.

What’s more widely known currently is the history of the current President of the United States.  From discriminating against working eligible black tenants in order to keep them out of his buildings, to the young boys called the “Central Park (Exonerated) Five,” to questioning an African American President’s birth right or “birtherism.” The policy and practice that is Trump’s experience is shaping the United States’ future. And as written by Andre Perry from the Brookings Institution, “Racism is not a distraction; It’s Policy”. From Trump, the master of distraction, this is policy that is being put in place that will reverberate and can impact us for centuries.

Enslaved people were prevented from learning to read and yet today we close schools in under resourced neighborhoods and replace them with police training academies.  We no longer drag boys from their homes for ostensibly whistling like Emmett Till, we shoot them while playing in the park like Tamir Rice. Internment camps are built for black and brown immigrants, but Celtic and Slavic peoples freely access our eastern and western shores. This is the new American policy, but it is not set in stone. I’m not willing to take this risk with my family. It’s not irreversible, but our action is urgent.

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