Q: What's black, white, and red all over?
A: Chicago circa July 27, 1919.
My kind of town. Today, the high in Chicago is supposed to be around 85 degrees. Seems like decent swimming weather. But when it's 90+ degrees in the mighty Midwest, jumping in a large body of water seems like an imperative, and the only way to escape the humidity that makes the city all groggy--we complain little and bear the moisture hanging in air the because we remember winter. I suppose that's what some young black boys were thinking when, ninety years ago today, they decided to go swimming at a beach on the South Side. (Yes, Michelle Obama is from the South Side. Move along.)
Back in 1919, Chicago wasn't segregated in the traditional sense. (Big Shoulders likes its racial stratification a little more indirect--instead of colored only signs, it just built things like highways and such.) But with a gang of Negroes migrating up north to places like Chicago, I suppose a color line needed to be drawn somewhere. There was one in the water that day when those black boys went swimming. And I guess they (accidentally) crossed it. Which made white people throw rocks at them. The boys threw rocks back (so I hear). The police arrested a black man instead of a white one, and black people protested--you know, because they thought those amendments had given them rights. This, in combination with the overall assault on black life in Chicago--including gangs who attacked black communities and police who didn't seem to care--resulted in a week-long riot. And by riot I mean seven days of white folks attacking black neighborhoods. Eventually, the National Guard came in and shut things down. Thanks.
That riot was the worst in a summer full violent outbursts. There were so many that James Weldon Johnson, the Secretary of the NAACP at the time, coined the term "Red Summer" to describe it. Nearly a century later, summer is a lot less red, but there are small reminders. Instead of rock throwing, black and brown kids are just politely turned away from the swimming pool. The denial had nothing to do with racism, of course; after all, we are post-race. And as long as Tyler Perry uses some of those greenbacks (with blackfaces) to send them to Disney World, we can move on. Nothing like a trip to Disney to efface the memory of racism past. Wait. Is that ironic?
And the police keep arresting wrong guy. Or (accidentally) shooting the wrong guy. And instead of thinking that maybe the President got it right (did I just say that?), we discuss the class implications of calling a police officer's actions "stupid." We worry about how police morale was affected by such comments rather than the lessons this teaches young black boys--and girls. Because a grown (wo)man's self-esteem is more important than a black life. On any day. On any stoop.
The block is [still] hot. Not red hot. But hot, nonetheless. Don't burn yourself. Be cool. Y'all know the rules.
20 hours ago