Dan Haley Has Questions. I've Got Answers. The End of Oak Park Exceptionalism

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By John Hubbuch

Dan Haley's thoughtful column in the current issue of the paper (OP's experiment, 40 years later) poses three questions about the future of diversity in the Village in the context of data that is trickling out from the 2010 census. The earliest data evidences a very stable population. The overall percentage of both black and white people has slightly diminished while the percentage of Hispanic and Asian has slightly increased. No big surprises.

Dan's first question is "Through concerted, diligent means can we bring many more of our black students to a higher and sustained level of success?" The short answer is No. Any such success will not be transformative, but rather incremental at best. For twenty-five years educators and School Board members as smart and dedicated as the current educators and Boards have addressed the issue with limited success. There is no good reason to expect any significant change in the future. In fact, the problem could grow worse if financial support for schools diminishes.

Dan's second question is "Can efforts at genuine sharing of power expand and improve?" Dan is troubled that all of the candidates for Village Board are white. Again the answer is No. Almost every Board in the Village-- public or private, profit or non-profit -- has an under represented minority participation. I seriously doubt that this will change absent extraordinary recruitment efforts. And let's be honest: most people, black or white, don't care whether the Village Board has blacks on it so long as the snow gets removed.

Dan's last question focuses on social integration, and whether we can make progress in building friendships across racial lines. My answer is--I hope so. Maybe the lines that divide us will blur, and we'll become less and less aware of a person's race. I'm not sure that there is anything the community can do. Each of us chooses who are friends will be.

I'm wondering if a kind of Oak Park exceptionalism has perhaps run its course. Forty years is a long time. The stories of the 1960's desegregation and the inspired re-invention of the Village by a group of good and smart men and women have become a kind of folklore that along with Hemmingway and Wright form a mythology that is becoming less relevant and important as our blocks grow younger each year. Memories fade. Maybe we are now just a suburb that votes Democratic with lots of old homes, great restaurants and good public transportation. Maybe our current problems of gaps in black student achievement, lack of diversity on Village elected bodies and a disappointing lack of social integration are no different from those that many places in America confront. Maybe we're just not that special.

Maybe that's a good thing.

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john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 21st, 2011 6:41 PM

In the ten years I have lived in OP, I have seen enormous change; the village is younger, there are more children, we now have more creative restaurants and entertainment. What has not changed is the political ways of OP. We have been governed by the same group of people for fifty years and it has changed little over time. We still have a village of political connections and secret discussions. Oxygen is more plentiful now, but smoke filled politicking rooms still exist and still run the show.

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