When I moved to Chicago in 1973 the city had over a million African American people living here.
A decade later Harold Washington was elected as our first African American Mayor. The African American population in Chicago hit 1.2 million.
By 2020, Chicago’s has lost 350,000 African Americans since the peak.
That is nearly equal to the population of Minneapolis or Miami.
The root cause of the exodus has been white racism in its many forms.
According to a UIC report, from 1990 through 2016, unemployment rates for black residents were around four times as high as they were for white residents. The wage gap between white and black residents has worsened each decade since 1980. And the city’s black communities have been disproportionately hit by deindustrialization and the growth of mass incarceration, which has contributed to the Black exodus.
And so it was an odd if all too typical Crain’s editorial on Friday that raised concerns about the city’s economic vitality and future that focused entirely on the recent exodus of the mainly white residents of the downtown and near north while never mentioning the historic Black exodus of the past three decades.
This unsettling reality is coming into sharper focus, and it’s something that should worry even those who don’t live and work downtown: The pandemic, crime and lingering concerns over the city’s and state’s financial health have combined to form a toxic triple-whammy that threatens to have a lasting impact on the economic viability of the Loop and its perimeter.
But Crain’s has turned the story inside out and upside down. The story has been the decades of deindustrialization and the loss of good jobs, affordable housing, a lack of investment in neighborhood schools and failed racist policing strategies in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
That was the real toxic whammy.
Lee Bey, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side and former architecture critic for the Chicago Sun Times posted a response to the Crain’s editorial on his Facebook page. In part, it read:
But the response of those in power (to the Black exodus) was “see ya; wouldn’t wanna be ya”—because a stream of white middle- and upper-class people were filling up all those new towers, townhouses and condos in and adjacent to the central area.The events of the past summer have shown us the *city* needs to be made safer and more equitable—not just downtown. The way it was, was essentially an ugly and unspoken agreement among the powers that be who were willing to tolerate rather than fix almost a century of disinvestment and crime on the South and West sides — as long as the troubles in those neighborhoods didn’t reach downtown. Now a measure of it has.