Mitchell: Writer puts a spotlight on the South Side
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I recently caught up with Natalie Y. Moore, the author of “The South Side,” the latest treatise on Chicago’s infamous brand of segregation.
Moore, an award-winning journalist, is the South Side bureau reporter for WBEZ.
Her life has been a whirlwind since the release of her book exploring institutionalized racism and how it has affected neighborhoods now stigmatized as high-crime.
While there are countless books about Chicago’s segregation, Moore, who grew up in a solidly middle-class family, weaves her life story through a well-researched account of the policies that have shaped Chicago into a city often described as separate and unequal.
“As cliché as it sounds, I really want to start a conversation,” Moore says. “We Chicagoans don’t always think about [segregation]. We accept it as just the way it is, like air and water. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
She recently drew an overflow crowd to a book-signing at Columbia College Chicago — so many people that she ran out of books. And the room was still buzzing with conversation long after the event ended.
Not yet 40, Moore represents the generation of black people who are the offspring of the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement.
“My generation is somewhat in-between,” she says. “A lot of my Chicago friends, their parents — like my dad for instance, was the first generation in corporate America. We are the sons and daughters of some of the trailblazers.”
She opens “The South Side” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99) with an idyllic look back at her neighborhood:
“I grew up in black segregated Chicago. Not in a neighborhood decimated by the 1968 riots, blight, poverty, white flight and boarded-up buildings. My South Side black cocoon was a solid black middle-class neighborhood. Judges, teachers, lawyers, doctors and city, postal and social workers live in Chatham.”
She told me that, “Even though I am writing about the ills of segregation, I didn’t want to paint the black community as these horrible places that white people needed to fix.
“Chatham was a great place to grow up. It informed so much of who I am and how I grew up. I often think people don’t see the diversity in black neighborhoods. They see the South Side as one big blob of vast wasteland.”
There are some stark differences between middle-class and low-income African-Americans, but there are also commonalities when it comes to race, according to Moore.
“This is why I frame [the book] in racial terms and not class terms,” she says. “Poor people are affected. Middle-class people are affected. The example I give is that you can earn $100,000 and still live in a food desert if you are black.
“You can live in a black neighborhood, and you are trying to build the American dream and do all the right things, and you are still at a disadvantage. It is not because black is inherently bad. It is because the system views black as inherently bad.
“Change is possible,” she says.
And despite the ills inherent in segregation, Moore still honors the South Side as a “magical place.”
“I don’t know if there is any place like it where generations of friends know each other. It’s almost tribal like. And I celebrate that.”