An older woman celebrating the 2018 murder conviction of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in the Laquan McDonald case | photo by Carolina Sanchez [The TRiiBE]
The People is our section for opinions on all things concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, writer and award-winning columnist Derrick Clifton asks white Chicagoans: What are you doing to dismantle racism and support Black communities?

White Chicago, here’s a question worth considering during this holiday and election season: What are you doing to dismantle racism and support Black communities?

Because whether you realize it or not, you and earlier generations of white people have benefited from racism and economic exploitation at the expense of Black people.

Feeling apathy or guilt about injustice against Black people isn’t enough. Performing and proclaiming your wokeness on social media isn’t enough. And during the holidays — or any other time of the year — keeping quiet while relatives and family friends use racist language and express racist beliefs isn’t an act of maintaining civility. It’s an act of complicity.

The momentary discomfort felt when a family member, friend or colleague is challenged for expressing racist beliefs and biases doesn’t begin to compare to the everyday trauma, violence and economic struggles endured by Black people.

As a Black, queer and gender non-binary person who came of age in the 1990s in Black Chicago, I’ve often had to bite my tongue for the sake of survival, even when I felt like screaming about the troubles I witnessed or experienced. 

By the time I turned six, I was taught how to fall to the floor and steer clear of windows while hearing gunshots ring outside, not because the neighborhood was bad as some might say, but because it had been disproportionately affected by economic turmoil. During my pre-teens in a different neighborhood, I wondered why the white friends I’d come to know suddenly peeled off one by one and why the demographics of my school changed in the years prior. The answer, I soon realized, was white flight.

While attending college in a predominantly white and affluent area, I was pulled over multiple times by multiple police departments because either my car “fit the description,” or to be asked “what are you doing in this neighborhood” for no apparent reason. And I’d travel to visit family on occasion, and look around in sadness as the Great Recession, by stark comparison, gave way to many visible foreclosures, demolitions and small businesses being shuttered.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In Chicago, and elsewhere in the nation, Black people are more likely to get stopped and profiled by law enforcement through various means, including error-ridden gang databases. Black mothers face higher infant mortality rates in large part due to racial biases in healthcare settings and barriers to healthcare access

The Black unemployment rate, while currently near a record low of 5.5 percent in November 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is still nearly double the unemployment rate for white people, a trend that has persisted for years. And this doesn’t include how the gig/freelance/sharing economy contributes to underemployment and low wages. 

Black people bear the brunt of housing policies and development initiatives that give way to gentrification in neighborhoods like Bronzeville, where white people with deeper pockets get ushered in at higher price points, engage in culture vulturism and attempt to erase well-established community traditions.

These scenarios don’t exist in the abstract. In fact, it’s happening in various parts of a city you share with Black people. For example, Uptown’s demographics in 2019 don’t seem to resemble what they were when I lived there in 2012, both in terms of race and class. That means some Black people have had no choice but to find other places to go. And scores of Black LGBTQ+ people don’t feel as comfortable in Lakeview because they know they’ll encounter disproportionate policing, or ignorant remarks from their white counterparts. 

Members of the community continue leading the way through various neighborhood projects, political organizing, activism and other methods of chipping away at the inequities. Are white Chicagoans donating money to support these causes?

White nationalists and white supremacist sympathizers currently occupy the nation’s highest office and get routinely revealed to be part of police departments and immigration enforcement. Are white Chicagoans paying attention to how their Black counterparts are evaluating presidential and other political candidates in 2020? Are you considering policy proposals that directly address racial justice? Are you canvassing for these candidates in areas where Black people would otherwise face physical or other risks because of race? 

Whiteness comes with a license to enter and inhabit spaces where Black people and other people of color are often absent, ignored or excluded. Sometimes, it’s the comment thread of a Facebook post steeped in racism. But quite often, it’s a meeting where a hiring decision will be made, at a holiday party or family dinner, or when white people publicly target or berate Black people. Are white Chicagoans standing idly by and remaining silent, or are they speaking up to recognize and challenge the racism they witness? Are they using their whiteness to signal boost the pain and discomfort expressed by a Black person who has been dismissed or silenced?

White Chicago, ask yourself this holiday season and during the 2020 election cycle: What am I doing to challenge any racist beliefs I still harbor? How does my behavior affect the Black person who sits next to me at work, on trains and buses, at local parks, and in other public spaces? If I profess myself to be an “ally” to Black communities, are my actions in line with my beliefs?

If not, it’s time to get to work.