Living while black in Oak Park

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By ShaRhonda Knott Dawson

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Racism in America and Oak Park is nothing new. But calling out racism of white liberals is new. Most white conservatives own and are unapologetic about their racism. I believe that to stop racism we have to do two things: 

1) clearly define racism and 

2) clearly name when someone or something is racist. Here is a form of racism that happens often in Oak Park, called, #LivingWhileBlack (LWB).

#LWB describes when black folks are harassed, antagonized, and terrorized by white people for ... well ... just living their lives.

This is the #LWB pattern: 

1) White woman sees person of color (POC), usually a black person, doing something that is none of their business, but it makes them "nervous." 

2) The white woman then self-appoints as an "authority" and begins to "police" the POC. 

3) POC ignore the white women because they are just "living their life" 

4) When POC fail "to obey the orders of the white woman," the police are called.

White women are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of #LWB racism, and are given cute nicknames like "BBQ Becky" or "Permit Patti." But let's be clear, there is nothing cute about their actions. Calling the police on POC for just living their lives is a form of racism. Further, when the police enter the situation, for POC, there are potentially dangerous consequences, regardless of "why" the police were called.

During a community conversation about this topic, I was introduced to Ms. C and her story of #LWB in Oak Park. Ms. C. is a 25-year black resident of Oak Park. She is a homeowner, whose children attended Oak Park schools from K-12, and she is also the owner of two beautiful Pomeranian dogs.

Ms. C has a racist neighbor, I named Pomeranian Peggie (PP). PP has been stalking and sending threatening letters to Ms. C, and to Oak Park authorities about Ms. C. According to PP, Ms. C's "crime" is "failing to take care of her dogs." You might think I'm jumping to play the "race card." Maybe PP had valid questions about Ms. C's dogs? We can all agree valid questions would be: Are the dogs starving? Are the dogs being trained to fight? Are the dogs being tortured?

Get ready to be shocked at the "caucasity" of the questions of PP, who threatened to call the authorities on Ms. C because "she did not look happy enough when she was in the backyard with the dogs." Yup. This is not a joke. I read the letter.

Here is the story in Ms. C's words, "My neighbor sent me a note that said I did not look happy when I was in the backyard with my dogs. Can you imagine? She is so convinced that she should supervise how I care for my dogs in the privacy of my own home and just how happy I should look in my backyard! She also sent me an article on how to crate-train my Pomeranian. She said I need let them (my dogs) sleep in my bedroom in the crate versus in another room."

When I first heard this story, I laughed. It's ridiculous! However, after speaking with Ms. C, I was not laughing; I was pissed. Ms. C is terrified to live in her own home! She has been documenting "proof that she is a good dog owner" for the authorities. Threatening to call the police on POC for living their life is racist. POC are not required to make white people feel comfortable. Especially in their homes, which they own, with their own dogs.

I'll end with Ms. C's own words, "I would say to white Oak Parkers, please don't talk to me, pretending to be friendly. Please don't try and make small talk with me, when you are really just being nosy about how I live my life. I don't want to chat with you. Please get yourself together and learn to mind your own business. Stop trying to police me and other black people in Oak Park. I have the right to peace and relaxation in my own home."

ShaRhonda Knott Dawson is a west suburban resident who is involved in multiple service organizations and projects in, and around, Oak Park. Her writing can be found on her blog, sharhondatribune.com. 

Reader Comments

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Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 2:51 PM

@Nick, I guess I can see that everything is open to interpretation, but I honestly wasn't trying to call you, or anyone, "an intolerant white person." I can't know your race, and "intolerance" has specific meaning that I did not intend. My understanding of the comments here would be more along the lines of folks who seem more upset about someone pointing out racism to them, than they are about the racism itself.

Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 2:47 PM

@Ramona, I mean no disrespect, but this isn't just about you. Racism is something that impacts all of us. You might not personally want my help and that's fine, but you don't live on an island (I don't think?). I'd like to live in a world where people don't have to be afraid for their lives when they see a police officer, where parents don't have to worry that their children will get killed because of the color of their skin, or experience these sorts of situations just living their lives. There are plenty of people who don't believe in vaccinating their children, but I still wish they would, because their choices impact all of us. If we're all in this together, which I believe we are, then why shouldn't we care about what happens to everyone? Besides, just because these sorts of incidents are only documented on social media every few weeks doesn't mean that there aren't many more examples that don't make it to social media, nor does it mean that there aren't many more significant ways that racism impacts peoples lives, every day. Maybe you're fine with that, but I'm not.

Nick Polido  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 12:55 PM

Ruth you commented: "Every time Ms. Dawson writes a column here, seems like there are many folks happy to step up and prove her point with their comments." Ruth Is there another way to interpret your post?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 12:15 PM

"quite a few Oak Parkers"

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 12:12 PM

Hey Bert I agree with you except for one little but important detail. You said: "I can't imagine anyone is taking this nonsense seriously." Your post then seems to equate the political stances of Arti Walker-Peddakotla and Ms. Dawson. May I remind you that Ms. Walker-Peddakotla was recently elected to the Village Board over some very solid, and in my view, sensible candidates. So I would suggest in fact, contrary to your statement, that there are quite Oak Parkers who do take this "nonsense seriously."

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 9:33 AM

@ Ruth. Perhaps I set my expectation too high for our local newspaper? Yes, she is an activist no doubt, but I fail to see why that gives her a pass on her standard of journalism. Would you give a white male the same pass? I NEVER said there wasn't racism in Oak Park Ruth. That is quite the leap you are making based on my what if statement. I'm a woman of color and am very aware racism is alive and well. Why do you feel as a white woman have to "do something about racism"? Personally, I don't want your help Ruth. I prefer you just get out of my way. I can navigate the world without you. People of Color are quite capable. Just treat me like you would treat everyone else. That's it. I don't need your "activism". In the scope of life, yes, this is a rare occurrence. We see this on social media every few weeks and in a country of over 300 million people, I would consider this relatively rare.

Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 8:39 AM

@Nick, where did I call you an "intolerant white person"? What difference does it make where Ms. Dawson lives? Are you saying that only Oak Park residents get to comment on Oak Park racism? I live in Oak Park. If I tell you that racism exists in our community, will you take that seriously?

Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 8:38 AM

@Ramona. Actually, I don't think Ms. Dawson is a journalist, I think she's more of an activist, but that's besides the point, and if you really want the details, they are available on her blog. Are you trying to say that if this turned out to be about a mentally ill woman rather than a racist woman (maybe both?), then that means there is no racism in Oak Park? C'mon Ramona, you know this isn't a rare occurrence, why doesn't that bother you? My guess is that some racist acts are committed by people who are also suffering from mental illness, but that doesn't make it OK or less distressing that as a community we don't care, does it? I don't think anyone is trying to say that every white woman, myself included, is guilty of this specific kind of racism. I do think that every white woman, myself included, who isn't actively trying to do something about racism, is guilty of supporting racism in our community.

Bert Fischer  

Posted: May 18th, 2019 8:35 AM

This lady has become a joke even for Oak Park. I can't imagine anyone is taking this nonsense seriously. To be filled with such hate is so sad. She does the exact thing she is supposedly speaking out against and directs her hate towards an entire group of people over and over again(her target has been white women for a while now). Her worldview is that everything negative that happens to black people happens because of racism.If she is walking down the street and someone doesn't say hi, its racism. Though everyone regardless of color encounters crappy behavior on a daily basis.Reasonable people can separate that behavior from racism.. I've heard enough second hand anecdotes of "maybe" racist behavior in Oak Park by terrible white women. These stories are more telling of the mental health issues we are facing than racism. People like her and Arti have taken themselves out of any real conversation and we will never change their minds. They are bridge burners intent on destroying everything and as long as the Wednesday Journal highlights this nonsense and the other ridiculous articles they write every week on equity and race we are going to be stuck in this infinite loop of idiocy.Time to talk about anything else. At least one other topic. MOST PEOPLE AREN"T RACIST. SOME PEOPLE ARE BAD. Life goes on.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 17th, 2019 9:35 PM

Bruce, Dan Haley grew up in Oak Park and lived in Oak Park for more than 50 years. If he has any "preconceptions," they were formed in Oak Park. Get over yourself.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 17th, 2019 4:00 PM

I agree Nick. Both Ms. Dawson and Mr. Haley - as non residents of the community of which they are constantly critiquing - remind me of old time anthropologists bringing all their preconceived bias and prejudices and then making all sorts of ludicrous observations and conclusions about communities of which they really know nothing about. Both Mr. Haley and Ms. Dawson are modern day Margaret Meads. And like Mead they report only what they see through their narrow focussed and highly biased lenses.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 17th, 2019 12:12 PM

ShaRhonda, with all due respect (and I'm fairly sincere in that, though I'll admit to a tiny smirk as I type thinking of Dan Haley's May 7th column) - your constant use of your own invented vocabulary, hashtags, acronyms, alliteration, made-up nicknames and other linguistic tricks makes your writing seem to be little more than an exercise in self-indulgence. I do feel that you often have valid points to make but I tend to get too distracted by other aspects of your writing to follow the point you may be trying to make. But that's my fault, due undoubtedly to my "caucastic" shortcomings, since I am not a POC nor am I LWB.

Nick Polido  

Posted: May 17th, 2019 9:06 AM

Ruth, I guess your referring to me as a intolerant white person, whom is unaware of these struggles when you point out the mixed experiences residents in Oak Park have, I would like to point out again this author does not reside in this town and seems to have made it her mission along with Dan Haley to paint Oak Park a racist unwelcoming community.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 17th, 2019 6:42 AM

@ Penny Lane: Just to get it straight there are no all white communities within 15 minutes of Oak Park. I don't know if fear is the enemy of love, I thought indifference or apathy are the enemy of love, Strangers are not my neighbors. Skin color is not a good proxy for risk, unless skin color is a part of that proxy like a description given to the police by a victim. Particular practice may be part of risk in medicine, however when offenses and victims are a issue, particular practice may be part of the risk issue as well as well as the bad person.The rule and regulations book of the OPPD is about three inches thick, so I don't know what or if any best practices are left out. Police work is adversarial, not mutual. Peace without liberty and freedom is laughable. There was peace in Vietnam for about 10 seconds when the communist took over, then the mass murder started. See The Killing Fields. I can place you in a prison cell, you will have peace. Little else.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 10:08 PM

@ Ruth. Ms. Dawson claims to be a journalist and in good journalism details matter. Did Ms. Dawson do her due diligence regarding this story? Did she interview Peggie? Is Peggie mentally ill? Does Peggy need professional help? Did she interview other neighbors of Peggy? Does she act like this towards her white neighbors as well? If so, then Ms. Dawson's claim of racism goes out the window. Ms. Dawson takes this ONE incident and assumes every other white woman in Oak Park is just like Peggy without any evidence, data or research to support it. That includes YOU Ruth, assuming you are white. That is literally the definition of being prejudice. She claims these white women "terrorize" people of color. I'm curious how she would describe a car jacking when a young black man puts a gun to a woman's head demanding her keys while her child is in a car seat in the back of the vehicle. Ms. Dawson's standard of journalism speaks volumes to her lack of integrity and blatant racist agenda. Looking forward to next quarter's satire.

Penelope Lane  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 10:06 PM

@Brian Thanks for replying. While few places are truly all white, and 15 minutes is just an approximation, I refer you to a map made by UIC Institute for race and public policy that show Chicago and nearby suburbs by race. ( available at http://stateofracialjusticechicago.com/mapping-inequality/ ).You can see pretty well the division of which I talk. Chicagoland is very segregated. Now, I never said fear didn't have some justification. Crime is real. Just read the OP police blotter. Most living here have lost a bike or had their car broken into. And violent crime and shooting is rightfully scary. But fear is the enemy of love.(Indeed, hate is often the child of fear) And loving our neighbors takes courage, especially when we look at our neighbor and see that which we have been taught to fear. I'm not trying to bash people, I'm just asking people to be courageous in how they love their neighbors. Also, I find situational awareness a useful tool, particularly in deciding if crossing the street or calling the cops is appropriate. Because, we are taught by society (see previous post) to use skin color as a factor when we do a risk assessment. But skin color is not a good proxy for risk and so, we should pause and ask if it biasing our decisions. . (Other things however are risks , such as environment, context, or body language,) If you are a policeman, thank you. I love our police. Please don't confuse my mention of changing policing polices with not liking police. But, l know medicine, and medical error is a real thing that kills people. And often it is not a bad person, but a particular practice that created the risk. Changing that practice to a "Best Practice" saves lives. For example, surgical teams do a "time out" and verify everything (patient , surgical site, etc) by a checklist before starting.. Likewise, there may be Best Practices in policing, that could be adopted that may help both the suspect and the polices, regardless of race. Thanks! Peace.

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 8:57 PM

Every time Ms. Dawson writes a column here, seems like there are many folks happy to step up and prove her point with their comments. You all can pick apart at the details, of this experience, or a specific story in America to Me, but that won't change the reality that black people and white people have different experiences living in Oak Park, and racism is alive and well. Hasn't anyone ever heard that if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 2:09 PM

@ AG: To my minimal mind, banning her or her column is the same thing. The last article response was eye opening when she assumed calling police for a service call was the same as calling the police for a suspicious person, which I think in her mind was the same. Thanks for the challenge.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 9:35 AM

Brian: I'm not suggesting that Ms. Dawson be "banned". However, if her column is to focus on bashing white women in the manner it has, then I'd hope that oakpark.com would discontinue that column.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 9:09 AM

@ Alex Garcia: I disagree that she should be banned from posting. Whatever she posts, I want to read and challenge her on. @ Penelope Lane: Please list the all white suburbs 15 minutes west of Oak Park. Remember, all white. The discussion of fear should start with the victims. As far as seeing that poor urban black person we don't know and we cross the street, that was taught to us by Rev. Jackson who made the footsteps statement stating he was glad the footsteps were made by white kids. A far as police action, I am an expert. All positive trained police officers work solely on probable cause and an arrest is an arrest. The Daily Work Sheet shows a box for how many arrests, not skin color of arrestee. A white arrestee will do as nicely as a black arrestee.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 5:09 AM

Taking all of Ms. Dawson's columns together, she REALLY does not like white women. Given her blatant hostility towards an entire racial and gender demographic, I'd ask that oakpark.com discontinue her column as a clear violation of its own acceptable use and comment policy.

Penelope Lane  

Posted: May 16th, 2019 12:01 AM

Nick, Michael and Mary, Yes, this old lady sounds like a TV parody. We all know, a "Nosey Nelly"/ "Old Biddy"/"Gladys" who doesn't like much of anyone. But is she also a racist? Well, Ms. C certainly felt so after their interaction. But, she is a symptom of a problem Oak Park has concerning race. Oak Park is a bit of an anomaly. Go 15 minutes west and you will find only white suburbs. So yes, we should be proud of our diversity. But, we also live near black communities that have high poverty and crime. And, the fear that a person from there could victimize us, scares many of us. And the reality of that fear is something we have to talk about. I think part of the problem is that the media gives us two different images of black people. I call it the "Oprah/ Thug dichotomy." We (generally) like our (rich) black next door neighbors. We take civic pride in OP's attempts to integrate. Oprah is welcome. But, the media also feeds us stories of "black thugs" and fills us with images that makes us associate black skin with violence. And every night on the evening news we see reports of shootings and violence in Chicago. And it scares us. So we don't know Austin as a community with a diversity of mostly wonderful, but poor/working class, people. We imagine it as only home to "thugs" "gangbangers" and "addicts" who might try to hurt us if they cross into Oak Park. And of course, there is real crime in Oak Park, making the issue complex and reinforcing our fears. So what happens is this: We like our (not poor) black neighbor. But if we see a black person we don't know (particularly if they look "poor" or "urban") we fear, clutch our purse, cross the street, or call the police. And s a result, the black members of our community are suffering. But if we own up to our fear, and stop being worried about losing our "liberal card", we can address and fix issues, like policing policies and personal actions. And I think that is a conversation worth having. Thanks!

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 1:39 PM

Mary Rita Earle, if you want more information about this case, including paperwork for authorities, you can find the extended story on my blog: www.sharhondatribune.com

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 1:29 PM

I bet they have an awesome block party on that street

Mary Rita Earle from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 12:55 PM

I am puzzled. I am not saying that this incident didn't happen and that Ms. C. privacy wasn't invaded, but the author's point is about white women calling the police on people of color. The reason I am confused is that nowhere in Ms. C.'s story did she say that her neighbor threatened or followed through with calling the police on Ms. C. Hmmm

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 10:09 AM

The nosy neighbor reminds me of Gladys Kravitz. What Ms. Knott-Dawson is describing is a rejected episode for Bewitched. Trust me, I read the script. I was appalled. At the end of the episode Endora turns Gladys into a newt

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 9:00 AM

True to form, the author once again targets white women for introspection. True to form, for all the talk of equity, social justice, restorative justice at the schools, no one, no one, from the School Board, Administration, teachers, and patents make any effort to identify and terminate racist school employees. Possibly the "racist" school employees are needed to keep a specific narrative alive. These racist school employees can be identified and are allowed to keep their jobs and to continue to injure or children. Strong union perhaps?

Nick Polido  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 7:41 AM

This unsubstantiated column reminded me in episode 2 of America to me when Ke'Shawn's mother tells a story as a student in the 90's and being relegated to a room known as OC "Outta Control." to watch Jerry Springer as reported in this paper and I quote from an article: "Danielle's time at OPRF ended when, after undergoing surgery and stitches, she asked for an elevator pass to get up to her classes on the fourth floor. She was denied. (Her dean, in fact, reportedly told her, "I will give you nothing.") So she took the elevator up anyway, and when she arrived on the fourth floor, a security guard was waiting. He radioed, "I've got her, get her paperwork ready." After the security guard claimed Danielle tried to show him her privates, she was expelled. (She says she was showing him her scars from the recent surgery, which she told him ought to be the only pass she needed to use the elevator.)" Of course the filmmaker chose not to substantiate any of these claims but let them stand as facts. This paper chooses to give a regular forum to Ms.Knott Dawson (a non resident) to promote alleged stories to promote her blog making Oak Park in her view a racists community. Dan Haley and this paper should be ashamed in perpetuating this myth, it is truly disgusting!

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