I’ve lived in Evanston for more than 30 years, and when I arrived in Evanston from Iowa, I found the lake, the tree-lined streets, the university and the diverse populations of Evanston impressive and appealing. But looks are deceiving. Seeing people of various cultures and colors is not the same as treating those people fairly and equitably.
A young African American woman recently spoke to me about her experiences in Evanston, which included the following: white people not sitting next to her on public transportation; not being waited on in a timely way; being followed around in stores as though she might steal something; being labeled as an “exception” to her race because she spoke “good English.” Her experiences were too familiar. I, an African American in Evanston, have experienced them all.
A white friend and I went to the desk of an Evanston medical facility to check in. I was the patient. The receptionist spoke to my friend, not me. Even when my friend clarified that I was the patient, the receptionist continued to speak to my friend as though I was some child incapable of speaking for myself. I had to interject, “Excuse me, but I’m the patient and I can discuss why I’m here.” The receptionist hesitated and then spoke to me in a brusque manner.
Years ago, when black people on the West Side of Evanston complained about the beginning of gang activity in their neighborhood, their complaints were ignored. Was that a commentary on second-class citizenship? There’s no denying gang activity in Evanston now.
When doing the same work as a white temp at a not-for-profit in Evanston, I was not invited to a thank-you-for-all-your-work luncheon, but the white temp was. There was no acceptable excuse for excluding me.
While working for other companies in Evanston, I witnessed blatant discrimination against blacks, Latinos, women and older workers. These practices continue in spite of complaints and lawsuits.
Residents who complained about noise from a white-owned business were told that the noise was not in violation of any Evanston ordinance, but the City of Evanston incorporated measures to “mitigate” noise when granting a permit for a Latino owned business to open in the same area.
When reading about the City of Evanston’s denial of a zoning change in a factory zone for a Jewish school, I had vague memories of some resistance to a Hillel House in Evanston years ago. My memory fails me.
In the May 9 edition of the RoundTable, two articles caught my attention: “In Closed Sessions, City Discussed 57-Room ‘Boutique’ Hotel at Clarke Mansion” and “City Prematurely Destroys Tapes of Closed Sessions on Clarke Mansion.” The second article made me recall the actions of Rose Mary Woods, secretary to President Richard Nixon, who said she “accidentally” erased 18½ minutes of White House tapes.
I don’t hate Evanston, but simply seeing Evanston as a congenial community near the lake is not the way I and many others see it. Beneath Evanston’s congenial facade is an unpleasant side. Everyone needs to admit that it exists and address it.