Watching Your Back: Black Life in Chicago (The Hood Series)

The Hood Series

                The Hood Series will comprehensively analyze, dissect, and convey the social plight of black youth throughout ghettoes in America. It comptongang4will investigate the on-going institutionalized racism ubiquitous in city-planning, resource allocation, development strategies and a wide variety of methods that are strategically utilized to create, maintain, and exploit the hood. Furthermore, to keep it authentic, the local Hip Hop scene will be juxtaposed with the latest statistics and research related to the status of black America. In each article, we will tackle common myths that are widespread in America that serve as proof of black progress in the Post-Civil Rights era, such as black politicians , elite/upper class blacks, and classism being a more pervasive oppressive structure in America than race. These myths in Post-Civil Rights America, that serve to obfuscate the plight of black America. In the Hood Series, the following regional areas will be examined:

  • Chicago (Chiraq)
  • New-Orleans (Chopper City)
  • Philadelphia (Killadelphia )
  • Baltimore
  • Compton
  • Detroit
  • Atlanta
  • Harlem
  • New Jersey

Hood Series: The True Meaning of Chiraq p1

mlkrock1In 1949, a mob of 2000 irate whites galvanized in Park Manor to scorch crosses as they passionately chanted, “We Want Fire, We Want Blood” as they organized their next move. In their eyes, they faced a catastrophic social problem which justified violence: a black family had the audacity to ‘step out of their place’ by infesting this all-white neighborhood with their presence.[i] In an effort to prevent this from happening, this group of whites set out to destroy their home.   Dr. Martin Luther King came to Chicago in 1965, seeking to make a change. His goals were to protest the segregated public school system, along with the discrimination in housing, which resulted in dilapidated black slums. During his march, white protesters gathered around him, one with a sign that boldly stated, “King would look good with a knife in his back,” while another protester threw a heavy rock at him which caused him to fall to the ground. [ii]

King stated the racist violence he endured in Chicago was more hostile than anything he experienced in the south. In order to show his chicagopolice3solidarity to black ghetto inhabitants, he stayed in an apartment on the west side. Eventually, Mayor Daley, annoyed by the protests in Chicago, came to a compromise with King by promising to provide fair housing if he would cease marching. Though the Fair Housing Act was passed, whites would resort to redlining, blockbusting, and other mechanisms to maintain segregation that rendered the legislation useless. Douglas S. Massey concluded in his study on housing discrimination: “Since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, the level of black-white segregation has hardly changed.” [iii]Indeed, if Dr. Martin Luther Martin came to visit Chicago today, he would find blacks living in the same appalling social conditions that he came to protest against; he would come to black areas of Chicago still living in slums with cameras on poles utilized to monitor high drug trafficking areas.

bibby34Growing up in one of these segregated areas, Chicago rapper Lil Bibby states, “Came a long way from duckin’ shots in the field.” The Hip Hop industry is often viewed by black youth in war-torn inner-cities as the quickest route to transitioning from rags to riches. Lil Bibby, in particular, through his lyrics explains to his listeners that his life growing up in Chicago consisted of having to continuously dodge bullets, but now he seeks comfort in the Hip Hop industry. The field that he calls attention to is the same place where wars occur; being involved in the drug trade comes at a hefty price. Discrimination in pervasive in employment, and is a huge factor that lures black youth into the underground drug trade. Even in the Post-Civil Rights era, black children living within Chicago’s ghettoes are isolated within peripheral enclaves and, as a result, they have minimum access the language, businesses, and activities of the rest of society. Blacks constitute a segregated group that is Third World Status, which is why the average black male youth throughout disadvantage neighborhoods of Chicago have a lower life expectancy than adult males in Bangladesh.  The now destroyed  Rockwell Garden housing projects, once had  infant mortality rates that rivaled that of third world nations.[iv]

A study by the NAACP found that Chicago Public Schools are still in a de facto state of segregation[v]; four of every five black students wouldchicagowearareyou have to transfer schools in order to be adequately integrated in Chicago’s school system. Within these black schools, the majority of students are low income; the schools suffer from unequal resources when compared to majority white schools. In an interview with Sway, Lil Bibby is asked what is it like being in Chicago to which Lil Bibby responds, ”You always have to watch your back.”[vi] In contrast to when Dr. Martin Luther King visited Chicago and was threatened to be stabbed in the back by whites, blacks must now watch their backs to defend themselves from other blacks in these violent neighborhoods. It was an exhausting effort for whites to continuously bomb, terrorize, and keep blacks separated, thus the consciousness of blacks would be manipulated, and exploitative social conditions would be imposed upon them so that they would carry out acts of violence against themselves.

essexBlack deaths resulting from race riots and lynchings (which were often made to be an entertaining family event for whites to attend), and bombings of black churches are replete throughout the history of America. The overt acts of racist violence in the modern era are continuously condemned and seen as a thing of the past. Yet, what is not properly analyzed and condemned is institutional racism. Black babies in Chicago have infant mortality rates rivaling third world countries, and they continue to die due to racial disparities in health care services; they are continually subjected to poor housing, real estate agents who partake in racially discriminatory practices, and oppressive economic conditions that laid the foundation for today’s gang violence. Despite the high levels of food insufficiency, poverty, and inadequate social services in the black community in Chicago, millions of dollars were spent to build and renovate  Millennium Park, Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and other touroist  attractions. Moreover, Chicago spent $2.5 billion for their share in the cost in the imperialistic Iraq war – money which could have been utilized to provide basic needs for black families. [vii]This is the institutionalized racism which is often more deadly than personal acts of racial violence because it is invisible and ignored.

In the next article, we will look at the on-going instances of institutionalized racism in Chicago which maintains the ghettos within the city.


[i] Racial Oppression In The Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History by Paul L. Street. (pg 103)

[ii] King Brings His Protest to Chicago,

[iii] American Apartheid, Segregation and the making of the Underclass by Douglass S. Massey A. Denton


[iv] Racial Oppression In The Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History by Paul L. Street. (pg 140)

[v] Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History  By Paul Louis Street (PG 91)


[vi] Lil Bibby, And Sway,

[vii] Racial Oppression In The Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History by Paul L. Street (pg 8)

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