Our segregation footprint

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Two cities in one. How do we change that?
I've learned from writing regularly about segregation that the subject makes many white people squirm. It often provokes defensive reactions designed to end the conversation. Such as:

—Where do you live? (I.e.: shut up, you hypocrite.)

—Blacks want to be segregated.

—Integration is impossible—so why even talk about it?

It's that last response I'll talk about today.

There's no doubt that residential integration, racial and economic, will be hard to achieve. In Chicago, segregation was foisted on African-Americans beginning about a century ago. Nothing with roots that deep can be eradicated simply.

But impossible? That word is trotted out by conservatives about many social problems, in hopes of discouraging challenges to the status quo.

I wrote last week about the progress Chicago has made on racial integration over the last few decades. It's been much too little and too slow, and African-Americans on the south and west side continue to pay a steep price because of segregation's persistence. But the progress suggests more progress is possible.

Regarding racial integration, the bromide "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is crucial advice. Not many whites who believe in integration are going to move from Lincoln Park to Washington Park. That doesn't mean there's nothing we can do. A starting point might be thinking about how we can reduce our segregation footprint.

Our carbon footprint consists of the greenhouse gas emissions we're responsible for that help cause climate change. We can shrink it by driving less and flying less, recycling and composting more, unplugging electronics when not in use, and in myriad other ways.

Our segregation footprint consists of the choices we make that contribute to racial and economic separateness. Where we choose to live and where we send our kids to school (if we have kids) are at the top of the list. But many of us also contribute to segregation in more mundane ways. What's the clientele of the stores we shop at, the restaurants we go out to, and the venues we choose for entertainment? Where do we vacation? Who do our kids play with, and at whose home? Who do we befriend at work, and who do we keep at arm's length?

The focus on our carbon footprint isn't intended to take government off the hook regarding the environment. Likewise with segregation. There needs to be more fair housing enforcement, more affordable housing in affluent suburbs, and city-suburban magnet schools that promote desegregation. But personal choices can work in concert with policy changes. And awareness is the first step.

Our transportation choices are often key contributors to our segregation footprint. I'll talk about that here tomorrow.

Steve Bogira writes about segregation every Thursday.

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