Warning: This may be a little NSFW as I’ve used a few expletives. Save it for the privacy of your own home.
This is an international blog, but I want to write about classism and racism going on very close to my home, quite literally. I live in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, where I own a condominium with my fiance. The area in which we live in is referred to as “Boystown,” a historically gay white male neighborhood. It’s where the Pride Parade takes place every year in Chicago. It’s also known for being very accepting to a diverse array of people.
My partner and I chose to live in this neighborhood for its vibrancy, for its closeness to public transport, for its restaurants and shops, and for Lake Michigan that’s only walking distance from our place. We live on a busy street, only steps away from a gay nightclub that seems like it’s open all of the time.
When we moved here about a year ago, we hadn’t spent a significant amount of time in Boystown but knew we liked it. We realized, however, within the first week of moving in, that it’s a loud neighborhood at night. We’re used to that–both of us have lived in New York City in the past, and I grew up in the city of Chicago, so we’re attuned to noises at night (we even have a white noise machine to help). The [very] few times we go out at night, we notice that the neighborhood completely changes.
This is not about gentrification; historically white people have always lived in this neighborhood. During the day, Boystown is filled with [mostly gay] white [males] people walking around; they’re going to work, getting in a workout at the local fitness club, eating a meal with friends, holding hands, etc. Later at night during the week and on weekends, the streets are filled with youngyouth of color–mostly LGBTQ in particular. Many of them, from the south and west sides of Chicago (Boystown is in the north part of Chicago) come to our neighborhood because it’s the only neighborhood where they’re accepted. Chicago is a very segregated city, and Boystown allows them to be who they are. Sometimes they come to a place down the street called the Center on Halsted whose sole mission is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth. They also offer life-enrichment classes and much of what the city doesn’t offer for them–space.
There’s always been a ton of robberies and loitering in the neighborhood. But recently, there have been a series of violent incidents, and one in particular, that involved a knife stabbing less than a block from my condo. Needless to say, someone captured it the incident on video, and you can see for yourself that it involved all youth of color.
After that final incident, people were furious. Understandably so–I was a little angry myself. Then there was a CAPS meeting (for those who are not Chicagoans: CAPS means Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy), meant to discuss ways to safeguard the neighborhood. Instead, it turned into a meeting where people aired their thoughts about the loitering and LGBTQ youth of color “invading their space.” I was not there at that CAPS meeting, but you can read about it here. Needless to say, nothing really was accomplished and people just wanted to complain.
The common complaints in the CAPS meeting and on the interwebz have to do with black people invading and loitering the Boystown space and blaming the Center on Halsted for bringing these people into the neighborhood. At one point in the meeting, as articulated in this article, one woman points out:
What is CPD* doing to examine the role of race in this violence? How are Boystown and its residents welcoming diversity?
Amen, I thought. By isolating these most recent incidents and blaming the LGBTQ youth of color and particularly the Center on Halsted, how is that accepting diverse backgrounds?
It was revealed a few days ago that the incident involved a man from Indiana (a 24 year-old) and the victim was a 25 year-old from the southside neighborhood of Englewood, Chicago. In an article, the victim says that the fight was “simply senseless” and not racial. Ironically, this fight had nothing to do with the Center on Halsted.
There have been several times that I’ve wanted to scream out my window, day or night, to people being loud on the sidewalks particularly and loitering in general. There’s a comedy club right across from my condo, and when it gets slightly warm in Chicago, they decide to do their loud and obnoxious improv games outside in a parking lot surrounded by apartment buildings. Every time I walk past them they are white. I also recently saw an adolescent boy walking with a beer can and decided to put it down on the sidewalk in front of my condo–excuse me? I asked him, “Please put that in the trash can that’s right there.” By the way, he was a young white kid probably floating from a drunk Cubs game (for those who are familiar with Chicago, Wrigleyville is not too far from Boystown). Also: recently my downstairs neighbor had his condo broken into. I wake up [almost] every morning to walk my dog, where I see trash near the stairs of my condo (I always think, Jesus, the trash is 10 feet away, why do you have to throw it on my stairs?). When I go to walk my dog late at night, there are a ton of loud youth walking the streets. Many of the times they are black. I’ve woken up to people talking right outside my bedroom window, which is near an alley, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs volume level of “You silly crackwhore!” (no joke) and my favorite is when I received an email from a neighbor a few days ago that said:
Someone decided to glue a fake target onto the building last night. it said “all i want for christmas is a thimble with poop on it”… or something like that. i started ripping it off this morning.
i wish i had as much time on my hands as these people.
Okay, you get my point. For some reason everyone wants to literally and figuratively piss all over our neighborhood. But what I’m trying to get here, is that you can’t just point fingers at the LGBTQ youth of color. This is Boystown, gaddammit, and we accept people from all backgrounds. Yes, carrying a knife and stabbing someone is not cool, agreed; it’s actually more than not cool–it’s horrible and wrong. But a few isolated incidents should not be pointed at LGBTQ youth of color. It’s racist, and they have a right to occupy our streets just as much as the residents do. Just please, if you walk through Boystown: don’t piss on my window.
In all seriousness though, Boystown needs to address the aspect of race and class in this issue besides just adding extra police on the streets. This is an institutional problem that many residents of Boystown don’t seem to grasp. Erica Chu at The Huffington Post wrote a fantastic piece as to how to best address this issue:
While few middle-class whites feel hatred for youth of color, racism and classism are exhibited in much more subtle fashion. Annoyance and resentment over minor infractions by poor youth build up over time, and when opportunity strikes, the middle class turns with suspicion, fear, intolerance, and accusation.
Chu advocates for more LGBTQ shelters for homelessness youth, providing more safe spaces for LGBTQ youth (e.g. there need to be more Center on Halsted’s!), and finally, respecting the youth:
Respect their right to be in the neighborhood they call home. Be intolerant of violence, but be tolerant of ways of expression that may not be similar to your own.
I’m not going to point the finger for all of the loitering and volume level in the neighborhood to them–after all, I’ve witnessed loitering done by different colors of people. If I want people to be quiet, I’m going to follow Chu’s advice:
If the noise they make is disruptive, ask them to be quiet as you would ask any other group. If they are belligerent, warn them you will call the cops if they don’t quiet down or move. Some of these kids don’t always make wise decisions, but they are worthy of your respect. They are individuals with their own stories and reasons for making the choices they make.
They have every right to be in this neighborhood, as a Boystown resident, we should welcome them with open arms. And as Chu states, they are worthy of respect just as much as anyone else who passes through Boystown. This is the only neighborhood in Chicago in which they can feel safe, and we should respect that.
*CPD=Chicago Police Department