Chicago, my potentially outgoing love, sometimes it’s better not to think too deeply about you. I knew when I moved here in 2003 that you were far more segregated than my New York City hometown. But even after a decade on the North Side, where black residents walking down the street still turn some small-minded of Windy City heads, I’m still amazed from time to time when I see that racial separation trotted out in public like it’s a good thing.
Last night, when ABC Chicago covered New Year’s Eve 2014 by televising racially separated neighborhood New Year’s Eve parties–without reporters or attendees batting an eye–was one of those times.
In the hometown of Obama, evidence of our lately alleged post-racial nature would be crowd scenes on local television where it isn’t painfully obvious that everyone is the same color. Not a shot of Hosea Sanders trying to body block the single white woman at a Bronzeville New Year’s Eve party from public view.
I blame Janet Davies. For twenty years, ABC Chicago has suggested that viewers tune into the station’s New Year’s Eve coverage to see the loopy Davies kiss fellow-host Mark Giancreco. Regular viewers know better. We really watch to see just how seemingly (or alarmingly) drunk Davies is going to be by midnight.
When the show opened last night at exactly 11:08 p.m. with Davis and Giangreco already sitting at the bar at the Palmer House Hilton, my Kathy Griffin Scooby ears immediately perked up and leaned forward. But although her opening joke about Giangreco’s twerking abilities might have suggested otherwise, she was boringly sober for the entire hour. So for the first time, I actually paid attention to the show.
I think I get where ABC Chicago was going. Chicago is a city proud of its melting pot of heritages. So why not broadcast one main (kind of but really not really) mixed party in the Loop at the Palmer House, one party out in a (capital of whiteness) north side suburb, and one party in a (historic Black Chicago) South Side neighborhood. This line of stereotype-forward thinking would certainly explain last year’s featured just-for-the-Latino-folks party. At the time, I wondered how things could get worse.
Until this year’s Asian-in-a-bowling-alley segment. Really, ABC Chicago?
If you’re reading this from beyond Chicago, your head is probably spinning right now. Meanwhile, fellow Chicagoans probably think I should leave well-enough alone. It isn’t that we’re proud that we all live so separately in this city. But after many decades of living under an anachronistic political machine that governs via the Cross-Your-Heart-bra theory of democracy–by dividing and separating us–what’s taken as normal social and racial politics in the Windy City is more often than not in reality not so normal.
Seen like that, politicians, residents, and reporters gyrating for the cameras by the twinkling light of disco balls in almost consistently uniracial tableaux makes sense. Just not good sense.
We are five decades past the Civil Rights Act. Governmentally enforced segregation is long gone. It doesn’t mean that being publicly proud of who we are and where we’ve come from isn’t a good thing. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t one hell of a lot of work to do to help self-empower and uplift our challenged communities. And it doesn’t mean that our allegedly unchallenged communities aren’t still full of far too many buttheads who choose to see the world in a single, lily-white color.
But the point is for us all to stand together, rise together, and love together. Inviting everyone to the party might be a good place to start.