‘Chicagoland’ is about class disparity — and a lot more

By: Craig J. Harris March 21, 2014

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

Liz Dozier, center, principal of Fenger High School in the Roseland neighborhood, is featured prominently in the CNN documentary series “Chicagoland.”

Liz Dozier, center, principal of Fenger High School in the Roseland neighborhood, is featured prominently in the CNN documentary series “Chicagoland.”

I’m thankful for Crain’s Columnist Greg Hinz’s insight and wisdom on the CNN series “Chicagoland.” It was refreshing to see someone who can see beyond the hype of the production and really get the gist of what we were trying to do.

I have the unique perspective as a native Chicagoan, being born in Englewood and splitting my childhood between Englewood and the Roseland area, and as the only African-American lead producer for the show. A number of the stories were a result of my connections to those communities, where I have maintained ties, and with the individuals, with whom I share a common experience.

Mine wasn’t an outsider’s observation; it was the observation of a lifelong Chicagoan during a tumultuous year that saw the closing of 50 Chicago public schools, continued rampant gun violence, first responders’ tireless efforts as public servants, a Blackhawks championship, the growth of art and music festival scenes and a mayor dealing with a budget shortfall and vocal critics.

I have heard from critics who believe “Chicagoland” is only about “negative African-American stereotypes.” I remind them not to pass judgment until they’ve watched all eight episodes of the series because we show many positive and uplifting institutions and events in the African-American community — such as the Chosen Few picnic, the Bud Billiken Day parade, Urban Prep Academies, etc.

However, those critics who see only black versus white miss the point entirely. As Mr. Hinz’s column demonstrates, this is a “tale of two cities.” This is about class disparity, not race. Unfortunately, many blacks on the South and West sides are denied the economic and educational opportunities afforded other parts of the city, which in part results in the gun violence and gang activities that are depicted.

DRAWING ATTENTION

It is my desire that the show starts a true and meaningful dialogue to address and close the huge economic disparity gap. Some critics asked why I couldn’t do that without “airing the dirty laundry” of the African-American community. To them I say, I seek not to air the laundry but clean it. For me, ignoring the problem isn’t an option — action is. “Chicagoland” isn’t a “reality show”; it’s a long-form documentary. I’m holding a mirror up to society, and that sometimes is uncomfortable for people.

No movement attempting social or policy change (the civil rights movement, the French Revolution, the abolitionist movement) ever was enacted or successful without publicizing the bad acts or inequitable conditions created by the status quo. The only way to stop and correct such disparities is to draw attention to them.

There was a time when people were appalled by the images of “strange fruit” seen in the Jim Crow South, there were those who begged Mamie Till to close the casket, and others who cringed at the sight of African-Americans being sprayed with fire hoses. These regrettable and unfortunate images buoyed the civil rights movement. If we want change in our community, we can’t hide from the unfortunate truth. We must confront it.

Critics of “Chicagoland” who don’t live in the Roseland and Englewood communities, not wanting to see the gun violence and the reality of conditions in these neighborhoods, have the luxury to ignore these communities as they pass them on the expressway or by turning off the TV, but the people living in those neighborhoods unfortunately don’t.

Thank you again, Mr. Hinz, for your contributions to this ongoing dialogue.

Craig J. Harris is a producer, screenwriter and actor originally from Chicago.


TakeAways

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Let me echo the warning of this author. Like him I grew up in Chicago and am appalled by the callous way in which the Bicycle Movement has decided to ignore the situation around this city for the sake of green paint and PVC bollards. We have schools closing in black and brown neighborhoods, which means that families will be displaced. Pushing forward with what are frankly “unnecessaryProtected Bike Lanes (given that the citizens of many of these neighborhoods do not use bicycles as their main transportation) is outrageous given the circumstances. They only make sense in the context of “gentrification“. And that seems to be the aim of the City of Chicago and the Active Transportation Alliance who in concert are attempting to remove cars wherever possible from city streets.

As the movie line goes, “We have a failure to communicate“. You cannot argue that bicycling and its attendant “movement” are the most egalitarian if a city cannot find monies to keep its school open but can to paint the pitted surface of streets with green paint and “sharrows“.

It would be easier to have everyone admit that the “Bicycle Movement” is intended to attract well educated “elites” from outside the city limits to come in and rehab large portions of the city and/or purchase units which have been rehabbed by those looking to reap windfall profits. And knowing that these folks travel by bicycle, Chicago has suddenly become “bicycle-friendly“.

In essence the Bicycle Movement is being used as a declaration of war on those with less means to survive in this city.