Wow! Blacks like Oak Park for the same reasons whites do

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Lynne Adams-Whitaker

I cheered when I read John Hubbuch's column [What's going on? Am I racist? Viewpoints, Dec. 8]. For the first time, an Oak Parker admitting that, while a lifelong liberal, he actually knew nothing about black people and didn't even really know any. Honesty! So refreshing!

For the first time, I see an Oak Parker revealing that he doesn't know anything about African-Americans, even though there is an almost iron-clad meme that every white person in Oak Park knows and understands blacks, and not only decided to reside in Oak Park because of its vaunted diversity, but lives a life of active cultural diversity. The author is saying something he believes is unique about himself, but I think is not. Many whites in Oak Park don't know what makes African-Americans, even in their own communities, tick.

I have noted this especially when it comes to the issue of why blacks want to live here. Over the last 20 years, when my husband and I have attended gatherings where Oak Park is being discussed and when we attempt to say why we like it here, we have often been cut off by folks telling us why we should be grateful to be living here as opposed to any other community. Why grateful? Because we are told over and over that many residents chose not to flee to all-white villages when blacks started moving in. We also have never been able to understand why discussions of diversity were always limited to black and white interactions. What about Latinos, Asians, Native-Americans and other ethnic groups? What about different economic groups, religions, generational gaps? Diversity is not just about race.

I cannot speak for every black person in or out of Oak Park, but want to explain exactly why my husband and I, both black, like living in Oak Park.

We love Oak Park because it is physically beautiful with its mature trees and abundant greenery, its old and varied architecture, and its environment of peace and home that's hard to find in these times.

We love Oak Park because it's near our doctors at Loyola University Medical Center.

We love Oak Park because it was halfway between my husband's job in the Loop and my job in another suburb.

We love it because it's near the "el" and the expressway and affords quick access to Chicago, where I was born and raised and my remaining relatives live.

We also like its proximity to Chicago because of that city's fun and excitement, its plethora of city pleasures and diversity of lifestyles, cultures and neighborhoods. The city is an asset to the region and just plain enjoyable.

We love our friendly and community-minded Oak Park neighbors and low-key, old-fashioned block.

I don't like it when Oak Park residents and others announce or assume that all blacks want to live in Oak Park because it is the only or most progressive or "diverse" community on earth. Can't blacks just enjoy living in Oak Park for the same reasons others enjoy? Other communities are diverse — yes, blacks are present in many suburban and high or moderate income mixed communities. Is it so incomprehensible that sometimes blacks choose to live in certain communities for the same reasons whites do? We looked at other villages and neighborhoods within the city. We noted the presence of blacks in Oak Park when we moved here but that was not conclusive proof for us it was the place to be.

When we moved here 22 or so years ago from Washington, D.C., we had trouble being shown acceptable housing or receiving financing commensurate with our double lawyers' incomes in Oak Park. We had to challenge, legally, our rejection for financing of the home we initially selected at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. We used several real estate agents, including one who, although specializing in Oak Park sales, took us to view properties in Western Springs and LaGrange. Why? She blithely told us the prevailing feeling in Oak Park was that it had "suffered enough" by accepting blacks, and it was time for other west suburban communities to "shoulder the burden."

After we went to the bank board and it intervened, we finally were able to purchase a home here, but not the one we really wanted. We have spent the last 22 years moving on with our lives, but the memory of those struggles to live in the "jewel" of the diversity crown still reverberates.

Reading Hubbuch's viewpoint article resonated deeply with us. We remembered the struggle we had to even live here, the condescending lectures we have received on why we should be grateful to live amongst "progressive" whites and their "noble experiment," and it reminded us that we should not be surprised that there is still much to learn about one another, and many more bridges to cross in this village of ours.

Mr. Hubbuch is not racist. He isn't using his power and racial bias to deny us anything. Neither ignorance of other cultures nor lack of friends from other races is racism. His article makes me believe he is a thoughtful, self-aware person, and probably a good guy to know. But he seems to be coming to the realization that diversity and cross-cultural understanding and communication are not sunk-in-concrete concepts, but are ever evolving and must be constantly nurtured and explored by all regardless of color or culture.

Lynne Adams-Whitaker is an African-American lawyer who has lived in Oak Park for 22 years.

Reader Comments

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Violet Aura  

Posted: December 18th, 2010 12:49 PM

What a well-written and insightful article! As someone of mixed heritage, I have found that liberals (as opposed to progressive, LOL) can be quite patronizing while bending over backwards to prove how "tolerant" they are. But here's a little secret for you: most of them don't mind if you showed up in the moving van and had polka dots; it's an income/class thing.

M  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 9:23 PM

The claim of acceptance of diversity in Oak Park has always been a facade. The establishment has always been white anglo saxon protestant - going back decades. The in your face insult of the deligitimization and minimalization of the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the sake of football games puts the lie to the breast beating. I've been wanting to say this for years. It feels good finally getting it out there.

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 10:13 AM

I appreciate Ms. Adams-Whitaker's thoughtful reflection. She reminds us that our race only partially defines us. We are also defined by our gender,sexual orientation,occupation,rearing,hobbies et al. Each of us is unique. Perhaps what is even more interesting is the lack of response to both my piece provocatively titled "Am I a racist?" and now Ms.Adams-Whitaker's commentary. Both have received less interest than a debate over which area Italian beef stand is best.

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