Border crossing, as my grad school professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls it, is a part of all our lives in some way or another. We have all had to cross from spaces where one norm or belief that is held by the group or most salient is shocked and challenged through the process of transcending into another space. This could be moving from one neighborhood to another, changing jobs, visiting a new place or country, or even experiencing an activity in a different way. I have always taken pride in my ability to cross borders. W.E.B. Dubois calls it the “seeing through the veil.” Rudyard Kipling calls it “walking with kings and keeping the common touch.” And in truth, I believe that the ability to transcend borders and unite people is the noblest endeavor that we can embrace in the battle to build coalitions of diverse minds, attitudes, origins, demographics, and beliefs. I truly enjoy engaging in the fight to close the gaps. Through facilitating conversations about race at school, helping to design workshops around race for work, and planning events within the queer community in the hopes of bringing people of different backgrounds together, I see the work as challenging, fulfilling, and rewarding.
Except when it’s not. Because it frequently isn’t.
Despite the best efforts of many equity and equality warriors, spaces still remain distinct. Rivers remain un-forded. Due to forces greater than the sum of the efforts of those trying to build bridges, divisive systemic structures seem too deeply rooted to unearth. I don’t believe this to be a cause to give up or stop the work, but it can be incredibly frustrating and invalidating. Some scholars characterize the feeling of being exhausted from the plight of building bridges across difference as a sort of “fatigue” (I am most familiar with this term when it is referring to “racial fatigue”). I have seen some of the greatest equality warriors and racial advocates I have had the honor of knowing needing to sit down and back off from encounters due to their fatigue. In the past, it has always somewhat confused me. How can we aspire to make a difference by bridging difference if we find ourselves tired of having the conversations and doing the work? I liken it to teaching, which at many points felt like a fruitless, uphill battle. Regardless of your fatigue, you had to show up to work every day and give your all.
Recently, an article I read refocused my attention on an idea that I had forgotten while in the trenches of doing the work of bridging gaps. In the article, Marlon James writes about how problematic it is that when attempting to work across difference the rhetoric always turns to expecting or wanting the marginalized or out-group to do the work to meet the in-group halfway, when the burden of the work should really be on those in power. “If QPOCs are so concerned about why gay bars aren’t more diverse, then why don’t they come to the bars more often?” “All the black kids don’t have to sit at the same lunch table if they don’t want to; why don’t they come sit over here with us?” “It’s totally fine for gay people to come into this venue. I don’t get why they feel so uncomfortable.” “Yeah Chicago is segregated, but the Northside is just better. I don’t get why more people aren’t trying to move up here and leave the Southside.” All of these statements are ridiculous and insulting. They ignore and erase the perspectives of those marginalized and take no accountability for the systems that marginalize in the first place. In working to bridge gaps, we have to stop expecting one side to work harder and reach further. Moreover, it is way past time that we acknowledge that those marginalized are frequently asked to stretch to reach those in positions of privilege, and those who are in positions of privilege have not been reaching back.
Enter the Chicago Cubs and their fans.
Let me start this part of the conversation by making it clear that I reaaaaally don’t care about baseball at all. I think that it is the most boring major professional sport on earth. In fact, the shame that I have in America is less rooted in our foreign policy or our lack of never having had a female president (yet) and more rooted in the fact that baseball, of all sports, is our “national pastime” when there are so many other cool sports like football (soccer) or jai-alai. With that being said…
Chicago has always been said to be one of the most segregated cities in America. Chicago’s rank on most segregated lists varies depending on where you look and the methodology used, but it is always in the top 10 (Drumpf keeps stating that it is THE most segregated city, and the report that many currently turn to say that that is not true as of right now; however, the visual still tells a sad, sad story). The borders to be crossed in Chicago are blatantly and explicitly geographic. This is reflected in all types of demographics, but particularly in race and class. The Northside is predominantly white, upper-middle class, and white collar. The Southside being predominantly black and Latino, middle to lower class, and blue collar.
There are consistent and constant efforts to distinguish the Northside and the Southside of Chicago from both parties. I, myself, am a Southsider (though, I must be honest and say that I grew up in a neighborhood that was predominantly white and upper-middle class, making it an exception to the rule on the Southside). Going to school up North, I was constantly plagued by the fact that my Northside friends never wanted to come down to the Southside. “There is nothing to do there” or “It’s really dangerous” they would say. That there is nothing to do is not entirely true, but one can look at distinctions between the violence and existence of gangs in the neighborhoods, the availability of restaurants and other amenities, or even attractions that exist in the city to see that there is a clear bias in resources in Chicago towards the Northside (even this Chicago-as-Game-of-Thrones article completely ignores the existence of the Southside ). In media, the Southside of Chicago also has a terrible reputation. Chicago rappers like Kanye and Chance the Rapper talk about the plights of life on the streets. The nickname “Chi-raq” has become popular in recent years and was cemented by the Spike Lee film of the same name. Add that to things such as food deserts, Southside school closures of recent, and housing discrimination of yesteryear; it’s clear to see why the Southside of Chicago is known worldwide as some kind of destitute, barren, violent wasteland. As a result, the rivalry between Northsiders and Southsiders is a real and tangible thing. Anecdotally, I’ve experienced that Northsiders disassociate themselves with the Southside almost as if it was a different city. Growing up, my Southside friends had no interest even in interacting with Northsiders and vice versa. Even now, as an adult, most people from one part of the city stay in that part of the city and rarely travel to the other.
The cusp around which I have seen the Chicago rivalry rear its head most vitrulently has always been baseball (since no one wants to explicitly talk about race or class, smh). Each side has its own team, and each side claims that’s that team as the end-all-be-all. The Cubs are the Northside team. Their stadium, Wrigley Field, is nestled in a neighborhood known as Wrigleyville. The White Sox are the Southside team. Their stadium, U.S. Cellular Field (name soon to be changed to something unspeakable) is located in Bridgeport. Sources contend that for the most part the teams’ fans follow the same demographic breakdown as their geographic affiliations. As a result, this rivalry, which actually spans over a century, has become more than league competition. Woe be unto you if you walk into Sox country wearing Cubs gear and vice-verse. Fights literally break out over this
So, it is strange to me that fans are now calling for the city to come together and support the Cubs as they enter the World Series for the first time in 71 years seeking a trophy they have not had since 1908. This fight, to me, is an example of so much more than just sports (and sorry to suck the joy out of something that is supposed to technically be fun). The Cubs abysmal track record for winning this coveted award is a common butt of jokes in comedy and now that the team is closer than they have ever been in my (or many other’s) lifetime, Southsiders are asked to band together with the North. We are being called to come together as a city and “Fly the W.” Again, I am not a baseball fan at all, but I was in high school when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. I remember the vitriol from Northsiders. I don’t remember any camaraderie at all. I do remember walking outside that night on October 26th when the White Sox swept the series. I remember hearing the shouts and the clanging of pots and pans. I remember kids and adults alike running around the streets of Beverly celebrating because the Southside, the little guy, the side without, finally won. We had something (else) that the North didn’t.
So, despite being someone who believes in building bridges, and despite being someone who tries not to let “fatigue” get to me, I am going to go on record to say that I am, in this purported instance of bridge-building, tired. I am taking an ideological stance. I, as a Southsider, will not reach a little bit further to bridge gaps with the North simply because we are being asked to do so. I think the burden is on them. Again, the little guy, the marginalized Southsiders are being asked to work a little bit harder to bring our city together and I don’t think that is fair. After years of degradation and even recent erasure (ESPN literally failed to note the White Sox had won the World Series in 2005), I will not be supporting the Cubs*. I will cherish in my Southside roots. On this, the day of the 11 year anniversary of our World Series victory (http://abc7chicago.com/sports/on-this-day-in-history-chicago-white-sox-won-1st-world-series-in-88-years/1573868/), I will relish what we have and they don’t. Here’s to hoping that a loss will finally force the North to value the other side of their city a little bit more.