By Lloyd Graff.
The wine shop that sold $40 bottles of French Sauvignons shut down in the elegant red brick storefront in downtown Flossmoor, Illinois, an upscale suburb south of Chicago. The new tenant moved in soon after they closed.
Yesterday’s Gentlemen Barbershoppe & Spa–a Black men’s barbershop, with a shoe shiner.
Across the street is Cutters, a barbershop owned by a woman that caters to White men. I’ve gone to Cutters for many years. When I saw that a new shop had opened across the street I immediately checked it out. All Black clientele, all Black staff.
America 2013, in Flossmoor, Illinois, an integrated community of 16,000 folks, maybe a little more White than Black, but about as close to half and half as you are going to find in America today. But the two barbershops face off 80 feet apart, as different as black and white–or so it appears.
I’ve been a student of race relations in America. I grew up on the South side of Chicago when Black was Black and White was White, and God forbid they should mix. But we did mix. My public grade school, Parkside, had virtually all Irish ladies for teachers. Maloney, McInerney, Chapman, Fealey, are names I remember. Forty eight kids in a class, seated arbitrarily by rows in a rough form of class ranking. White kids on one side of the room, Black kids on the other side. Mottled integration in the middle two rows.
Oh, the good ole days.
After 8th grade graduation, the group split up. Black kids went to Hyde Park High school, with a virtually all Black population. White kids moved or went to Catholic schools in the area. The Jewish kids whose parents could afford it and wanted to stay in the area went to the University of Chicago Lab School where I attended. It’s the school President Obama’s girls went to and Rahm Emanuel’s (Mayor of Chicago) kids now attend. Arne Duncan, Obama’s Education Secretary, also was a Labbie.
We had about 20 Black kids at Lab in our class of 110 students, unusual back in 1960.
The world has changed.
My wife, Risa, is from Charlotte, North Carolina, which was on the cutting edge of racial conflict in schools in the mid 1960s.
When we had children we had a decision to make about where we would live and ultimately send the kids to school. We chose the South Suburbs of Chicago, knowing that it was one of the few places in Chicagoland where Blacks and Whites actually connected on a regular basis.
Then we helped start a private Jewish day school of 20 students where our children learned only amongst their own. America–do your own thing if you think you can.
The Jewish School folded after eight years of unending struggle to survive, and our children then attended the public high school that was becoming more Black each year.
We chose to stay in the South Suburbs, while almost all of our White neighbors moved to whiter neighborhoods. It’s America. You can live where you’re comfortable. We still live in the same house we bought in 1979.
My sons took Black girls to the Senior Prom. My wife’s educational therapy practice is becoming populated with Black students. Blacks and White socialize at our local Starbucks.
But my psyche is still imprinted by color sensitivity. Every Black face is noted – BLACK. RACE is RACE, is RACE. I have made a conscious choice to live an integrated life in America. Well, at least a little bit mixed.
When I saw the new Black barbershop in the old wine shop almost directly across the street from MY White barbershop, I had to check it out – from the outside. I saw all Black patrons that day, but on Facebook they have a photo of a white customer. Maybe America really is changing? Have I?
Question: Is it possible to be colorblind?
Lloyd Graff is Owner and Chief Space Filler at Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert & Co.