In his book City of Rhetoric, David Fleming in his Ghetto chapter discusses the rhetorical implications of public discourse and the subjugation within the socio economic status of African American communities. Within this chapter, Fleming describes white systematic oppression and how it has infiltrated African American communities and he uses cities such as Chicago to illustrate that point. Fleming explicitly states early in the chapter that “what makes the Chicago ghetto an especially compelling story is its recurrent juxtaposition of oppression with opportunity, confinement with freedom, disaster with hope” (65). He describes several of the setbacks for African Americans such as displacing people into remote neighborhoods such “ghettos”, providing some of the worst support programs, lack of opportunities such as jobs and better education, etc. Ultimately, Fleming argues that the reasons for displacement within the community is due to white systematic oppression and isolation from society, economic, and politics.

Within this chapter, Fleming illustrates his argument for African American displacement and white systematic oppression through examples such as Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. Du Sable was one of the first non-native settlers in Chicago who migrated from Haiti. During this 1790s period, “Chicago in the first quarter of the nineteenth century was home to extraordinary sociocultural diversity; it was a place where free blacks, mulattoes, Native Americans, “half-breeds,” and English and French-speaking whites mingled freely and amicably” (Fleming 67). There was this perpetuated idea that African Americans and other minority groups were seen as equals when Du Sable settled. However, This idea of equality immediately dissolves due to the structural power within 1880s to 1910s. Due to the systematic powers and oppression from Whites/Caucasians, educated African Americans fled to the South to escape the rise of Jim Crow Laws, which marginalized minorities specifically African Americans.

Blacks/African Americans were left and to be secluded within their own community. City of Rhetoric describes the hostility Caucasians/Whites had for African American residents and racist groups tried ensuring their dominance by the continuation of secluding African Americans into communities called “ghettos”.  Fleming states, “Meanwhile, hostility against blacks was increasing. In 1908, the residents of Hyde Park organized an “Improvement Club” to keep blacks confined to certain districts, promote the hiring of white janitors for the neighborhood’s buildings, petition the city for racially separate schools, and blacklist real estate firms that allowed blacks to move into white neighborhoods”(Fleming 69). Due to the enforced isolation within the African American communities, Black residents were at a disadvantage from the rest of society. Blacks had to form their own infrastructures and developments with a lack of support and opportunities.

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Urban Chicago neighborhood

However, during the “Great Migration”, a large number of African American citizens migrated from the South to the North in pursuit of better opportunities. Fleming states, “Whites living nearby began to grow nervous. Before the Great Migration, with no real competition between them for jobs or houses, blacks experienced only sporadic violence from whites in Chicago. During the Great Migration, however, overcrowding in the black belt threatened nearby white neighborhoods, especially those of working-class Irish and Poles to the west and middle-class whites to the south and east. In 1917, alarmed at what they saw as an overflowing black belt, white property owner associations on the South Side began to focus on “protecting” their neighborhoods from “racial succession,” the process whereby a residential area moves from dominance by one race to another. And working-class “athletic clubs,” like those in the Irish neighborhoods west of the black belt, began openly assaulting blacks on the street.” (Fleming 70). Through Fleming’s description, these tactics that were targeted towards members of the African American community strengthened racial divides and tension. Fleming’s portrayal of the hectic events that has happened within the city of Chicago is main example of societal structures affecting African American prosperity. The acts of discrimination and isolation were successful through legality and the distribution of opportunities. These tactics such as isolation from society greatly impacted the African American community from gaining education and job opportunities. Fleming uses past examples to bring to attention not much has changed since “ghettos” still exist and not much has changed to support those residing within these isolated communities.

Works Cited

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. Albany: SUNY Press, 2008.

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