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Superficial analysis but a revealing look at Chicago
on September 27, 2008
Aside from the irritating and unnecessary practice of using fake names for the neighborhoods explored (a basic knowledge of Chicago and access to Wikipedia makes it easy to figure out which neighborhoods they are), this is a solid ethnographic exploration of race and class in four very different South and Southwest Side Chicago neighborhoods. The researchers participated intensively in neighborhood life and are able to reveal the consistently racist (sometimes shockingly so) attitudes that whites and Latinos carry around with them. The field work was done from 1993 to 1995 - not during the racial upheavals of the '60s and '70s - so it's sobering to see that naked racism is alive and well in one of the most segregated cities in the country.
The authors' analysis of the problems is much weaker. They do a good job comparing the varying degrees of racial tension among the neighborhoods and finding explanations for this variation in both the racially-structured competition over resources and the very American confusion of racial difference with class inequality. Yet they don't go deeper into the social structures that actually create these dilemmas.
They regard competitive racial identities and the existence of class as almost forces of nature that can never be eliminated, and their prescriptions are therefore remarkably timid: increase federal funding for city programs and try to convince privileged urban and suburban citizens that extending aid to the poor will help the metropolitan area as a whole economically and socially.
This may be an attractive agenda to the policymakers who see nothing fundamentally wrong with the severe inequalities and social tensions produced by a racially stratified neoliberal capitalism. But to those who believe that breaking down racial boundaries and ending class divisions are both possible and urgent tasks, a more ambitious program will be necessary.