Black There, White There: The Continuing Racial Segregation in Chicago
Thirty-minute trips by bus in Chicago can mean more than the physical movement of our body from one point to another. What seems like a short trip can also become an avenue to show us inequality among the population of Chicago. This is, at least, what I felt when I visited Kenwood and Old Town on the same day. I moved from one of the visibly underdeveloped neighborhoods, Kenwood to the affluent one, Old Town. It shows me a different ambiance. Kenwood gave me a rustic feeling. Meanwhile, the Old Town neighborhood seemed fancy. It is also common to see more Black people in Kenwood than in the Old Town.
At once, I was worried that it was my prejudice toward the neighborhood that affected my feelings. However, the data from the Government of Chicago validated my feeling. Kenwood was left behind on the social-economy indicator from Old Town. For example, the poverty rate of Kenwood is 25.5 % while, Old Town is around 10% which is still below Chicago’s average. This contrast made Chicago even listed as the most segregated city in the US.
I began to wonder what made the inequality remain so strong in this city. I spent my entire hour trip back home to Hyde Park thinking about what perpetuates the segregation that is in striking contrast in Chicago. There are a few possible explanations in my head, but I believe that residential segregation during the Great Migration created systematic inequality that is difficult for black people to alter. The past racial segregation has contributed to the concentration of economic opportunity in the northern part of Chicago which Black People do not have access.
Upon learning about the segregation as a result of the Great Migration in Chicago, I realized that our past actions can cause long-lasting suffering to the most vulnerable member of society. In Chicago’s case, it is the Black people. Racial segregation leads to internalized discrimination that we began normalizing racial separation. We accept separation as part of our daily life. Stopping the suffering will require us to make a significant change in society.
The Great Migration was supposed to be the Bblack people’s venture in fleeing injustice in their origin states. However, the migration paved the way for another segregation that cost black people their economic mobility. Black people’s movement to the northern states apparently triggered them to be subject to new unfair treatment from the people who already lived there.
When a large number of Black people from the southern part of the country entered Chicago in the early 20th century, the European immigrants who already settled in and dominated the northern part of the city, such as Old Town, objected to their presence. They believed that the presence of these new immigrants in their neighborhood might intensify the job market competition that was already tight due to war. They were concerned that Black people would take over the available jobs. So, they attempted to keep black people away. They created the “Black Belt” that restricted the black people’s movement in the southern part of the city. This began the racial segregation that Black People faced.
Despite this concern, there was already growing prejudice against black people seeking jobs. People seemed to think Black people were only suitable for dirty work such as janitors, clerks, etc. They did not think that Blacks would have the capability to handle white-collar jobs like accounting or even supervising roles. The pay for all the jobs Black people were eligible for was very low. Black people only got 40 cents for every 1-dollar white people received. Black people then had a very limited range of job opportunities that they could choose. This perspective remained unbothered for the next decades. It resulted in black people staying in a more disadvantaged position when it came to job opportunities.
The segregation was further institutionalized by unfair housing policies that real estate associations regulated. There were various efforts by real estate associations and white people to deprive black people right to own property. Black people had to pay rent, at least, twice as much as their white counterparts. Black people mostly rented apartments and their apartments were very small. The facility was also not complete. Real estate developers specified the design of apartments for black people by dividing the apartment into smaller rooms so more people could live there. However, the price was still high. A study pointed out that Black people had to pay $ 580 more than white. Notwithstanding the high price, Many Black people living below Black Belt did not have the access to finance housing other than working. Banks would immediately reject their mortgage applications. Banks saw them as risky individuals given their address. Banks assumed this area was unsafe and was no potential to give the fund. Thus, working was the only viable option. Given the low wage and limited job opportunities, they had to use all their resources to get sufficient funding for their housing. They sent every member of their house to work. It helped them to get sufficient money but, at the same time, it caused them to live in bad living conditions.
Given this situation, black people often face serious problems related to their housing. First, they must share the small space with other family members. It made the place cramped and not conducive to doing anything. They may not even feel comfortable resting at home because there are many people there. Secondly, they also tend to have problems with hygiene. Real estate developers did poorly in ensuring that black people can have the same housing quality as white. It was not uncommon for black people’s housing not to have private rooms. There were even cases where there was only one bathroom in one building. (Unfair housing in Chicago). However, their limited resources barred them from moving out.
This rendered Black people to remain where they already lived. Finances are not the only hinderance that Black people face. Wagmiller (2017) in his writing mentioned that the prejudice against Black people has prevented them from moving outside their neighborhood. So although the environment did not support comfortable living, they preferred to remain there because it helped them to avoid discrimination. It could explain why I saw more Black people concentrated on Kenwood and White people in Old Town
Nowadays, the government of Chicago has removed some barriers, e.g., abolishing unfair housing policies. However, the inequality that the previous segregation created is already deeply entrenched and perpetuated by recent development. For example, the initial segregation has resulted in low education attainment of children from the black community. Poor living conditions in the neighborhood were not supportive for them in obtaining the degree. It was reflected in a higher number of drop-out of people from school among black people than in the white community. Whereas there is a strong link between the degree and economic mobility. The degree can also be signaling to the potential employer that the individuals are skillful. However, Black people could not do that because they were entrapped in an unfair situation. Hence, their economic mobility has not been achieved. As a result, black people continue to get concentrated in certain areas such as Kenwood and whites remain dominant in the northern part.
Old Town and Kenwood, representing north Chicago and south part, can represent how segregation can look like in the other part of the world. Old Town and Kenwood are not the only places with racial segregation. The continuous segregation will normalize discriminatory attitudes towards certain races that usually disproportionally disadvantage the marginal group. A wide and systematic policy that overturns racial discrimination is needed to neutralize the impact of discrimination. We don’t want another Black Belt happening in other places.
 Chicago Health Atlas, accessed on 9 September 2022, https://chicagohealthatlas.org/
 Cherone, Heather. “How Did Chicago Become so Segregated? by Inventing Modern Segregation: FIRSTHAND: Segregation.” WTTW Chicago, February 24, 2022. https://interactive.wttw.com/firsthand/segregation/how-did-chicago-become-so-segregated-by-inventing-modern-segregation.
 Biles, Roger. “Race and Housing in Chicago.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) 94, no. 1 (2001): 31–38..
 Adelman, Robert M., and Stewart E. Tolnay. “Occupational Status of Immigrants and African Americans at the Beginning and End of the Great Migration.” Sociological Perspectives 46, no. 2 (2003): 179–206. https://doi.org/10.1525/sop.2003.46.2.179.
 Crew, Spencer. “The Great Migration of Afro-Americans 1915-1940.” Monthly Labor Review, March (1987): 34-36.
 The Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity, “The Plunder of Black Wealth in Chicago: New Findings on the Lasting Toll of Predatory Housing Contract”, Durham: Duke University, 2019.
 Greer, James L. “Historic Home Mortgage Redlining in Chicago.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-)107, no. 2 (2014): 204–33. https://doi.org/10.5406/jillistathistsoc.107.2.0204.
 Wagmiller, Robert L., Elizabeth Gage-Bouchard, and Amelia Karraker. “Does Black Socioeconomic Mobility Explain Recent Progress Toward Black-White Residential Integration?” Demography 54, no. 4 (2017): 1251–75.