Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How significant is race in America -- we'll find out Tuesday

When I was a kid growing up on the Southeast Side of Chicago, race was a major issue. It was tough enough being Arab, dark skinned (olive) living in an all-White mainly eastern European community. We lived in a little pocket of serenity in that environment, Arabs, Jews, all clustered together in South Shore Valley nestled between Pill Hill, Jeffrey Manor and South Shore.

but in 1968, the world changed when realtors brought in a Black Family that rented a home from a white family. They had a daughter who was mentally challenged and the girl would walk through the neighborhood. It was almost as if the realtors planned to frighten and antagonize the racial divide and they did, to their profit.

Within six months, most of the White Families moved out of the Southeast Side enclave, selling their homes at lightening speed for costs far below market value. And the Realtors turned the fast sales into their own profits, selling to Black Families.

They told Whites, "The Black people are coming." They told Blacks, "You can have the American dream just like White people."

In the end, it was a time of great consternation, too. JFK had been assassinated, a few years earlier and in 1968 RFK and King were murdered, too. Tensions were high.

Since then, we have come to live with each other in a balance of tolerance. We don't hate each other any more -- at least we don't fret about it any more. If we do hate Blacks or Blacks hate Whites, no one openly admits it except for the fringe extremists in both communities. We work together. We even live together, to some degree far more than we used to, but not nearly enough. It's not a melting pot. It's a patchwork of some spots in the fabric of American life.

We sit at restaurants together, live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same movie theaters, and patronize the same shopping centers.

But there is a cultural divide. We have diffierent cultures and societal mannerisms. Neither is better or worse, just different. And we don't really socialize together. We don't really come together and enjoy each others lives. We acknowledge each other. Tolerate each other, but tolerate as long as you don't marry my daughter syndrome. Black. White. We're all the same.

Tuesday will be the big test. Can White America elect a Black President? The polls say yes, but the polls reflect the first layer of tolerance where we patronize the same areas of life, but we really don't share or socialize. We are in the same vicinity but not the same mind set.

If Obama loses, people will say it is because of race. White Americans will go into the polls telling pollsters they will support a Black Man, but inside, vote their fears.

Oprah Winfrey doesn't help. Oprah doesn't really like mainstream White People although she has done a great job of exploiting the problems in White America. She hasn't helped. She's hurt us. She isn't an American. She is a Black American. And until Oprah becomes an American, no longer Black,a nd until Whites become Americans, no longer White, we can't really achieve that level of coexistence that goes beyond simply walking past each other at a shopping Mall.

We'll see Tuesday if Whites and Blacks int he shopping mall of life actually stop and start talking to each other.

Or, whether they walk past each other, acknowledge each other, but go on their individual cultural ways.

-- Ray Hanania

PS ... I published a book online about my experiences in the great White Flight of 1968 on Chicago's Southeast Side. It will never make Oprah's Book Club and it would be showcased by Mayor Daley either. But you can go to my web site and then click on the book section and read it. It's called Midnight Flight ... we went to sleep saying good night to our White neighbors and woke up shocked to see they left, replaced by new, Black faces who became our neighbors for a short period of time, until the rest of us fled, too.

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