Rhetoric and Words Characterizing Chicago Neighborhoods Dehumanize the South Side

David Wilson | Flickr

Before moving to Chicago and attending Loyola, I knew very little about the city, but I had heard of the infamous South Side. TV shows like Shameless — a show based around a dysfunctional South Side family — painted a strong picture of racial and economic division between neighborhoods in Chicago.

Rarely does a day pass when you don’t hear about the horror stories of the South Side on local news of gang violence ending teens’ lives and shootings shattering families.

When I finally arrived at Loyola, I noticed the rhetoric among students was similar to what I’d heard from TV and news.

Condemning comments were spread about The University of Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology, claiming their placement “on the South Side” was a reason some students never considered applying there.

Other prejudicial remarks referring to Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods showed the prevailing disdain and harmful characterization of the South Side might have come as a product of media descriptions, but it now prevails everywhere.

I’m no stranger to this harmful characterization. I grew up just outside of West Philadelphia, an area often labeled as violent and dangerous. The high school I attended was a large, racially diverse public school right outside the city, it too was categorized as unsafe and adversely stereotyped.

Immediately, I could recognize the similarities in the rhetoric used to describe the South Side and the way my hometown was described by the surrounding neighborhoods.

While our area had some violent streaks, it was nothing like our local news and neighboring boroughs had made it out to be; I’m thankful to have acquired my education from there. Yet, the rhetoric perpetrated by the media pushed families to move away from our township, further classifying it as an unsafe place.

Ghetto, unsafe learning environment, worthless and dangerous are some examples of phrases used to describe the township.

Crumbling, poor, dangerous, and violent are some of the phrases used to describe the South Side.

I’ve seen firsthand how these negative words create fear and misplace blame. Pertaining to Chicago, this kind of negative stereotyping only increases a divide within the city, the divide often classified by race due to the North Side being predominantly white and the South Side predominantly black.

When an entire area heavily comprised of black people is stereotyped as violent and dangerous, the description can be expanded and used to stereotype the entire race as criminal.

While crime occurs on Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods more frequently than the rest of the city, every area does deal with crime.

Just a few months ago, two murders by the same killer took place in our own Rogers Park, and the area has a known history of gang related crime. And armed robberies are no stranger to the DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

These are both North Side neighborhoods, yet they aren’t stereotyped as dangerous and problematic.

The fact of the matter is, the South Side is a real place— with real families and people living their lives — same as everywhere else in the city. It’s not one general area to be labeled; it’s full of different neighborhoods varying in economic status and safety.

Groups like the Mothers Against Senseless Killing are working in South Side neighborhoods to decrease violence. Though their fight against brutality is focused on Chicago, their message transcends the borders of neighborhoods. In their own words, “Everybody is starting to realize that gun violence is not just a South Side problem, it’s an America problem”.

Changing the words and rhetoric used to discuss the South Side would allow Chicago to retreat from a path of prejudice and instead move further down one of understanding.

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