Comments from a not-so-invisible man
Editor: I have attended many meetings and forums over the past 26 years in which white people have debated issues, problems and questions involving African American/white relationships. At these gatherings I might as well have been an "invisible man." This is the rule, rather than the exception, for all blacks in the same circumstances.
The proclivity of whites to treat blacks as though we were invisible extends to the overwhelming majority of journal articles on the subject as well. Illinois Issues' article by Bill Kemp ("Community organizing in south suburban islands of poverty," May 1989) is a good example. From word one to the last, the African-American reader is presented with the implacable judgments of whites as to what the basic issues relating to black people are and, consequently, what the best programs for the resolution of those adjudged problems are.
Practically all articles that focus on the relationships between African Americans and whites involve poverty, crime and the like, even when, as in the Kemp article, the locale of the discussion is the suburbs. It is next to impossible to locate analyses of the relationships between African Americans and whites of the same economic class.
But this scenario is becoming less and less valid. Kemp is correct in saying that solutions to racially based issues will have to venture into ". . .uncharted territory. . ."; but then his article dwells on the same old issues. The article's locale is the south suburbs of Cook County, an area encompassing about 40 municipalities, many of which have substantial black populations. Yet Kemp's article focuses on about four dysfunctional communities. One would barely guess that the majority of black families in the south suburbs are of the same economic class as the whites. In fact, black families make up substantial proportions of the most affluent towns in the area.
But those African Americans are ignored (as though invisible), as white organizers create groups to deal with racially based issues in the area. Many assumptions, presumptions and ignorances about one another need to be squarely faced, and the Kemp article contains numerous propositions that could provide a solid base for critiquing the situation.
During a recent political campaign in the Village of Park Forest, for example, the local NAACP branch held a candidates' forum in which the four candidates for trustee (all white, incidentally, in a town 25 to 30 percent black) were asked about making employments and economic allowances for African Americans because the town had barred them for the first third of its history. If they weren't, the candidates should have been embarrassed at their answers, and yet they purported to be fit to resent black people.
Kemp ends his article correctly by saying, "The challenges are immense." But it is important first to know what the challenges are. That needs to be faced more squarely than it has been to date.
William Simpson, Editor
Readers: Your comments on articles and columns are welcome. Please keep letters brieft (250 words); we reserve the right to excerpt them so as many as space allows can be published. Send your letters to:
Caroline Gherardini, Editor
July 1989 | Illinois Issues | 10