Actually, Segregation Matters

Rod Dreher is a conservative whose writing I often find insightful.  However, his recent criticism of a New York Times article about Chicago gun violence is an adventure in missing the point.

The New York Times reports today that the over 500 killings in Chicago last year were primarily gang members killing other gang members. The Times frames the story as — surprise! — racism.

In fact racism isn’t mentioned explicitly in the article, the focus instead being on the segregation in our city.  But by so quickly and cynically employing that blunt word, Dreher does the thing we white people often do around issues of race: he quickly dismisses the author’s premise as too simplistic and offers instead his own read of the situation.  No matter that plenty of smart people have shown the connections between segregation, poverty, and violence in Chicago.

Chicago Race Riots

Policemen during the Chicago race riots of 1919. Segregation and violence have a long history in our city. (Photo credit: Chicago Daily News, CC.)

As disappointing as his quick disregard for these connections is his alternative explanation for the violence plaguing predominately African-American neighborhoods.   “The problem’” he writes, “is rooted in the breakdown of the family.”  Two things are especially bothersome about this explanation, typical among certain commentators and pundits.  First: The neighborhoods profiled in the Times piece are filled with families, churches, mosques, block clubs, and other community organizations doing everything possible to protect and empower the family.  I meet community leaders and clergy all the time whose social values are at least as conservative as those of Dreher.

Second: Are we to understand that only African-American families are breaking down?  Is gun violence so much less in the predominately white Chicago neighborhoods because white people are better at keeping families together?  I doubt this is what Dreher has in mind, though I’m not sure how else to interpret his point.  Far more relevant to the murder rate are the resources available in the white neighborhoods.  These families also experience family turmoil – though external pressures are less than in poor neighborhoods – but have access to the resources that help keep families together.

More could be said about Dreher’s too-simple analysis such as the history that led to our current segregation and the barely visible systems that keep old dividing lines in place.  Again, I appreciate much of what Dreher writes and will continue to follow his blog closely while hoping this sort of analysis remains the exception.

5 comments

  1. Leslie Beckett

    Thanks to your and Pastor Michael’s recommendations, I’ve just started The Warmth of Other Suns. I’m only 1/5 of the way in (that mighty thick book), but already it has provided a deeper context for subjects like this. It’s not the first book on black history or race or civil injustices that I have read, but it has been extremely eye-opening. Thanks for recommending it and for writing this post (and writing in general).

  2. jasdye

    Ick. Yeah, I’d probably close the door on Dreher by now. It may be useful to see how white conservatives (and white liberals in our fair city, for that matter) treat the issue of segregation – but I already know very well how they so readily dismiss the cries against segregation and bring up racial canards (and offer the displacement of residents as a positive solution).

  3. Karen

    Dave, if Dreher’s blog allows comments, I hope you’ll post a link to your response. Maybe he’ll learn something. I feel sad when I hear about these knee jerk reactions from white conservatives (of which I am!).

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