Isabel Wilkerson lived in Oak Park for a long while when she worked as the New York Times Chicago bureau chief. She received a Pulitzer for her work at the Times, the first Black woman to win that award. She also wrote at least part of The Warmth of Other Suns while in Oak Park. That book was her powerful reporting on the lives several African Americans found when they left the South and moved North and West in the last century.
Sunday her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, was excerpted as the lead piece in the Times Sunday magazine. The essay was updated to reflect an America shaken, hopefully hard enough, by the murder of George Floyd. Its premise is that the 400-year history of the colonization of the American continent is only explained by identifying a caste system — yes, like that embedded in the DNA of India. Yes, like the hideous goal of Nazi Germany.
What we see mainly through the horrific and true prism of racism has an undergirding, Wilkerson explains, in a caste system.
“The shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste system in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement,” she writes.
Looking for an anti-racist read, here you are.
Lonnie Bunch, another former Oak Parker, was also prominent in the Sunday Time’s business section. In his time in Oak Park, Bunch headed the Chicago History Museum. But 15 years ago he was tapped to invent the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture. More recently he was chosen to head the entire maze of the Smithsonian’s museums.
In the interview he was asked about his views as a historian and as a curator on removing statues honoring Confederate leaders. In a moment when there is so much noise, starting with Donald Trump’s bizarre and racist take on propping up the Confederacy, there is nuance and power in Bunch’s view.
“What is crucially important about this is that removing statues is not about erasing history. Removing statues in many ways is about finding a more accurate history, a history that is more in keeping with the best scholarship that we have out there. So for me, it is about making sure we don’t forget what those statues symbolize. It’s about pruning them, removing some, contextualizing others and recognizing there is nothing wrong with a country recognizing that its identity is evolving over time. And that as this identify evolves, so does what it remembers. So does what it celebrates.”
Here are some other things learned about those with Oak Park connections from reading newspapers and social media lately.
Tavi Gevinson, remarkable woman of many talents, was spotted starring in the new CBS All Access version of The Twilight Zone. The second season episode was titled, “A Human Face.”
Now this was a while ago but have seen nothing on Twitter to dispute it so I’ll report that Betty White, now 98 years old, and 97 years out from her days in Oak Park, is riding out the COVID-19 pandemic in her usual cheerful, future-focused manner. No news about Bob Newhart, who was born at West Sub but is claimed as a son of the Austin neighborhood. Can report exclusively that I used to play with his nephew Ned Newhart who was definitely from Oak Park.
Sean Doolittle, the Nationals star closer, has Oak Park area connects in the off season. He’s in the news right now for telling the MLB it has to get its act together pronto on COVID testing and PPE if there is to be a baseball season. Lots of pushback which does not seem to bother him much.