You’ve probably seen the list by now. Some folks are calling it “black women magic.”
Since Lori Lightfoot’s historic victory last week, the list has been passed around proudly as a symbol of the achievements of African-American women in the Chicago area.
While hardly anyone was paying attention, black women rose up and took charge of the most high-profile positions in our city and county government. If you throw in the African-American men also in top spots, the changing political tide is even more astounding.
I have a question, though. If our city really has become the black political mecca it appears to be, why are African-Americans leaving Chicago in droves?
Obviously, something is wrong in paradise.
Everyone knows that Lightfoot will become Chicago’s first African-American female mayor next month. But Toni Preckwinkle’s loss in the heated mayoral race allows her to retain another top position, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. She also happens to be chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.
We’ll also get Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who won last week’s runoff for city treasurer. She joins Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Avis LaVelle, president of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners, and Kari Steele, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for Greater Chicago.
And don’t forget, we’ve got Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton down in Springfield.
Now, add the black men. Chicago has an African-American police superintendent and a black fire chief. Black men also head the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Board of Education and the board of Chicago City Colleges.
Add to that an African-American attorney general for Illinois and the secretary of state.
Chicagoans are beyond being shocked when an African-American lands in a high position. Most of us have come to accept it as the norm. We elected Carol Moseley Braun as the nation’s first African-American female U.S. senator more than 25 years ago. The first African-American president gained his political footing in Chicago as well.
Does that really make a difference, though, to the average Joe in West Garfield Park, among the city’s communities with the highest poverty rates, highest homicide rates and lowest life expectancy rates?
It’s nice to be able to pat ourselves on the back for being a progressive city when it comes to electing diverse leaders, but it’s mostly a facade.
That’s part of the reason Chicago may have had a record-low 32 percent voter turnout in last week’s historic election, according to unofficial results. Many of the low numbers were in predominantly African-American precincts.
Most people don’t have a lot of confidence in politicians, regardless of their skin color. For African-Americans on the South and West sides, areas that historically have seen more broken promises from City Hall than any other group, the apathy is unfortunate, but understandable.
Not only are black people not voting. They’re packing up and leaving by the thousands.
While all of these impressive political moves have been taking place in the upper echelon of government, black people have been pouring out of the city — and state. These alarming statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau might help explain why.
Though African-Americans represent a third of Chicago’s population, about 34 percent of African-Americans live in relative poverty, earning less than half of the minimum wage. Only about 43 percent of blacks own their homes here, compared with 72 percent of whites.
According to recent statistics, 15 percent of African-Americans in Chicago are part of the labor force, compared with 57 percent of whites. Statewide, things aren’t any better — the black unemployment rate in Illinois hovers around 9 percent, among the highest in the nation.
And how can anyone write about blacks leaving the city without mentioning the almost daily ritual of violence.
Having a wealth of black elected officials is a great achievement for our city, county and state. All of us should be proud that we have refused to allowed racial barriers to get in the way of putting qualified people in these important jobs.
Of course no politician is perfect. Anyone who stays around long enough will surely make mistakes and get us riled up every now and then.
Regardless of whether we think all of them are deserving of their positions, the important thing is that they worked hard to get where they are and we, the voters, gave them their shot.
But why haven’t these great achievements trickled down to the lives of ordinary residents? What’s the point in breaking through barriers if your success isn’t going to make anybody else’s life better?
That’s the problem with celebrating historic elections. We tend to bask in the moment of someone breaking through a glass ceiling, but we don’t stick around long enough to see how deeply others get buried in the debris.
We assume that if one woman or one African-American makes it to the top, all women and all African-Americans will soon follow. More often than not, it doesn’t happen.
More disturbing, though, is when a person’s groundbreaking achievement does nothing to further the cause of those they were put in place to help. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of that in Chicago over the years.
Too often when an African-American makes it to the top in politics, it becomes nothing more than a personal achievement.
We will see if this recent crop of black leaders will work together to make sure their success isn’t just about them breaking a glass ceiling. It only matters if they decide to reach back and help the least fortunate Chicagoans rise up from the rubble.
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April 8, 2019 at 05:36AM