The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation

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People are always on the move. When things go bad in a town, people move even more, and that especially includes those with the means to do so. Early this month, The Chicago Tribune told us the New World Wealth report tracks the movement of millionaires. Chicago now has 3,000 fewer people with net assets of $1 million or more, not including their primary residence, then it had last year.

Among the reasons for these millionaires escaping the windy city were rising racial tensions and worry about rising crime. Those 3,000 represent 2 percent of Chicago’s high net worth individuals.

It turns out that black millionaires are well represented in the exodus from the city.

This news was in my mind when I decided to read the book “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.” This 270 page book is an intriguing examination of Chicago’s black community.

The author, Natalie Moore, a WBEZ radio reporter, was born and raised in Chatham, a solidly middle-class African-American enclave of Chicago.

Natalie Moore.
Natalie Moore, Photo: David Pierini

In “The South Side,” Natalie Moore shows us her skills in journalism and her ability to craft a memoir, as she combines history with her own personal reflections. As you read, you can see her ability to investigate and report coming out in the text.

The Acknowledgement tells us “Early on, I learned that the terms ‘South Side’ and ‘North Side’ were shorthand for ‘black’ and ‘white.'”

One chapter is devoted to her childhood in Chatham, and she recounts her father speaking of a de facto “black tax.” This was actually segregation, and it exacted a heavy toll on people who lived in African-American neighborhoods. In those areas, there were heightened public safety concerns, the cost of goods was higher and the value of homes was lower.

“Some serious food for thought for dwellers of all US cities.”The New York Post

the south side book coverAs bad as this was, Moore fairly bristles when the term “Chiraq” is used to refer to the South Side.

Chapter 7 is “We are not Chiraq,” where she explains the racist feeling that comes from comparing Chicago to Iraq, because she says “it plays on fear,” unfairly suggesting Chicago’s black community is a war zone.

That fear makes people who don’t live on the South Side believe all the negative images of it that are seen constantly in the media.

Moore has made this mixture of anecdotal storytelling and academic analysis more accessible to us. She makes the point that this marginalized area of Chicago is misunderstood.

“Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emmanuel have touted Chicago as a ‘world-class city.’ The skyscrapers, the billion-dollar Millennium Park, Michelin-rated restaurants, pristine lake views, [the] vibrant theater scene, and stellar architecture tell one story.

Yet swept under the rug is another story: the stench of segregation that permeates and compromises Chicago … It’s clear that Chicago is defined by it.

In this intelligent … narrative, Chicago native Natalie Moore shines a light on contemporary segregation in the city’s South Side … [his book] highlights the impact of Chicago’s historic segregation – and the ongoing policies that keep the system intact.”

 – Excerpt from the Bookjacket

The South Side
by Natalie Y. Moore
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $27.99
270 pages
ISBN: 978-1-137-28105-2
Book Review by Kam Williams

Order a copy of The South Side, at: www.amazon.com

Kam Williams is a popular and top NewsBlaze reviewer, who gives his unvarnished opinion on movies, DVDs and books, plus many in-depth and revealing celebrity interviews.