Chicago, the city that gave the country its first African American president, has been crowned the most segregated city in the United States. On Dec. 26th, 2008, using data from The Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University, The Chicago Tribune wrote an in-depth report on segregation in Chicago. The report appears to have drawn little attention. It details how Chicagoans live in a city sharply divided along racial lines.
Segregation Is in Chicago’s History
Chicago is an old city; its long history is at the root of the problem. Institutional segregation was at first enforced by law and by force. One hundred years ago, these systems and laws created parts of the city for not only particular races, but also for ethnic groups as well.
When institutional segregation came under greater and greater legal pressure, it gave away to subtler, but very effective techniques for maintaining segregation such as red lining and steering.
What Are Redlining and Steering?
Redlining is the now-illegal practice of lending institutions refusing to lend to borrowers, or increasing the costs of loans, for homes in certain, often racially determined areas. Redlining goes beyond home loans however; other services important to people that were denied based on location include insurance, access to jobs, health care, and stores.
Steering is the illegal practice of real estate agents directing buyers to. and away from, particular neighborhoods based on the buyer or renter’s race and/or ethnicity. Red lining was justified over and over with statements like, “You will be happier here among your own kind,” and “You don’t want to live there?you wouldn’t be comfortable.”
Another not-so subtle strategy that is particular to Chicago was physically dividing the city racially by using the Eisenhower Expressway as a fence: African Americans to the south and Caucasians to the north. For years it has stood as a marker for all of where you should live based on your skin color. “The wrong side of the tracks” became, “The wrong side of the highway” in Chicago.
Segregation Is Hard to Uproot
For well over 100 years, segregation has been the rule in Chicago. This history is now extremely difficult to overcome. The families and the institutions that they love and rely on are now a driving force in keeping the city segregated. Institutions like houses of worship, stores, restaurants, and schools that cater to one ethnicity or race tend to ensure that the people who are in the area, stay in the area. And, when a family member or a friend moves to the city, they are also more likely to live in the same area and the trend not only continues, it deepens. This is the same with all ethnicities and races?it’s a major reason Chicago became a city of over 200 neighborhoods.
Chicago’s Racial Breakdown
This study also pointed out an interesting statistic. There are more African Americans in Chicago than Hispanics or Whites. Of Chicago’s nearly 3 million people, 35% are African American, Hispanics are 30%, and Caucasians are 28%.
EDIT: 2010 Sept 21 – This post continues to draw a large amount of traffic and interest, so I felt I should add a link to a newer, more refined map of Chicago’s ethnic areas by Bill Rankin. If it doesn’t load, you can find a backup copy here.Email This Post To a Friend.