Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Owning My Racism

In ten days, thousands of bloggers, mostly smart and saavy women, will be heading into the beautiful city of Chicago for the annual BlogHer conference.

Another fun fact: Chicago is also the murder capitol of the nation.

In fact, at the same time as BlogHer, there will be another conference in town — an important emergency national summit on urban violence at Chicago State University, led by the Congressional Black Caucus.

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The Sheraton, the BlogHer host hotel, has a special conference rate of $199 a night. Before I found roommates, I searched the Internet for less expensive alternatives. I discovered a good deal at a chain hotel a train-ride away. I DM-ed one of my friends in Chicago to ask about this hotel.

“You know anything about it?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t want to go there. It’s in a very bad neighborhood.”

A very bad neighborhood. Chicago. I bet you are having the same images in your mind that I do — liquor stores, pawn shops, Fried Chicken places, unemployed men, gangs, and mostly black faces. And gun violence.

Poor. Black. Crime. Violence. Fear. The words easily come together in urban America.

“Better you stay at the Sheraton,” said my friend. “Why tempt fate?”

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What does this have to do with the Trayvon Martin shooting or the George Zimmerman trial in Florida?

Nothing. But everything. I live in America. I am part of the problem.

10 Comments

  1. So are you staying at the Sheraton or the less expensive hotel???

  2. So stay there & write a post about how it is for you.

  3. Thank you, Neil. For such a to-the-point, open, honest and raw post. And in so few words you expressed it so well.

  4. Oh man. Are you speaking of the Hyatt hotel (where I am staying)? Now I am scared.

  5. I’ve been thinking a lot about those assumptions and encounters in my life, too.

    Hope to catch up with you in Chicago!

  6. I’ll miss seeing you this year, but I’ll be around at Type A Parent in Atlanta!

  7. Whoa. You’re right on with that.

    My thoughts were your thoughts as I read your words. But what do we do?

  8. We were just in Chicago for four days.  We stayed in our truck at a marshalling yard (parking lot) adjacent to the McCormick Place Convention Center.  For those of you wondering how we spend four days in a truck, see this post: http://www.salenalettera.com/2009/01/if-only-i-could-fit-all-this.html

    We rode bikes every day.  Up and down the Lakefront Trail, up and down Michigan Avenue, in the early afternoon and late into the evening.  Most nights we didn’t get back to the truck until after midnight.  I felt no fear.  It seemed to be a decent area.

    But the night we left to drive south about 30 miles to spend the night in the fenced-in yard of the place we were delivering the next morning, we were told by the security guard at the gate after she let us in, “If you’re thinking of going into town tonight, don’t.”  She was Hispanic if that matters.  

    The area was scary.  Run down, industrial, poor.  There were blacks, whites and Hispanics around.  Now yes, Chicago has a large black population, and yes, a lot of the crime happens in black neighborhoods – we were there over 4th of July and an cute little 8-year old black kid was killed in his own neighborhood by a gunshot – but I do not fear black people.  Or Mexicans.  Or any people of color.

    I fear violence and desperation and druggies and losers.  I have been all over this country – every single state and more towns than I can ever name – and I’ll tell you that there are places with white people that make my skin crawl.  Skanky, dirty, likely unemployed, meth-head looking type of people.  They creep up and ask for money – not in an “I’m starving” sort of way, but in a glassy-eyed, reeking of liquor, looking for their next hit type of way.

    The day after the George Zimmerman verdict, I was in Newark, NJ at Penn Station catching a train.  I took a bus from the port to get to the station.  And I came back to that same station late that night, after 11pm.  I was the only white girl standing on the curb waiting for the bus to show up.  I felt no fear.  There were no “riots” that I saw.  There were just people.  Tired, hot, sweaty, going home from work and whatever, people.

    I’m not saying there aren’t urban areas riddled with crime, perpetrated by whoever lives there – Mexicans, blacks, Asians, whoever.  I’m saying that an area being mostly black is not the only factor that determines “bad neighborhood” for me.  

    And after hearing about all this crap happening in Florida lately, I think I’d actually rather be in Newark or Chicago.

    • You are absolutely right, and this exposes my own stereotypes and fears. I think the fear is mostly of poverty and crime — and our safety — and we use race and ethnicity as a shorthand. It’s interesting how in Los Angeles, there is much more fear of Mexican and Asian gangs, while in the East coast the fear tends to be of black men. I once was in Portland, which is about as white a city as there is — and you are right, the ones to fear were these young, skanky-looking white kids who looked drugged out.

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