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Living while black in Oak Park

Opinion: Columns

May 14th, 2019 4:09 PM

By ShaRhonda Knott Dawson

One View

Racism in America and Oak Park is nothing new. But calling out racism of white liberals is new. Most white conservatives own and are unapologetic about their racism. I believe that to stop racism we have to do two things: 

1) clearly define racism and 

2) clearly name when someone or something is racist. Here is a form of racism that happens often in Oak Park, called, #LivingWhileBlack (LWB).

#LWB describes when black folks are harassed, antagonized, and terrorized by white people for ... well ... just living their lives.

This is the #LWB pattern: 

1) White woman sees person of color (POC), usually a black person, doing something that is none of their business, but it makes them "nervous." 

2) The white woman then self-appoints as an "authority" and begins to "police" the POC. 

3) POC ignore the white women because they are just "living their life" 

4) When POC fail "to obey the orders of the white woman," the police are called.

White women are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of #LWB racism, and are given cute nicknames like "BBQ Becky" or "Permit Patti." But let's be clear, there is nothing cute about their actions. Calling the police on POC for just living their lives is a form of racism. Further, when the police enter the situation, for POC, there are potentially dangerous consequences, regardless of "why" the police were called.

During a community conversation about this topic, I was introduced to Ms. C and her story of #LWB in Oak Park. Ms. C. is a 25-year black resident of Oak Park. She is a homeowner, whose children attended Oak Park schools from K-12, and she is also the owner of two beautiful Pomeranian dogs.

Ms. C has a racist neighbor, I named Pomeranian Peggie (PP). PP has been stalking and sending threatening letters to Ms. C, and to Oak Park authorities about Ms. C. According to PP, Ms. C's "crime" is "failing to take care of her dogs." You might think I'm jumping to play the "race card." Maybe PP had valid questions about Ms. C's dogs? We can all agree valid questions would be: Are the dogs starving? Are the dogs being trained to fight? Are the dogs being tortured?

Get ready to be shocked at the "caucasity" of the questions of PP, who threatened to call the authorities on Ms. C because "she did not look happy enough when she was in the backyard with the dogs." Yup. This is not a joke. I read the letter.

Here is the story in Ms. C's words, "My neighbor sent me a note that said I did not look happy when I was in the backyard with my dogs. Can you imagine? She is so convinced that she should supervise how I care for my dogs in the privacy of my own home and just how happy I should look in my backyard! She also sent me an article on how to crate-train my Pomeranian. She said I need let them (my dogs) sleep in my bedroom in the crate versus in another room."

When I first heard this story, I laughed. It's ridiculous! However, after speaking with Ms. C, I was not laughing; I was pissed. Ms. C is terrified to live in her own home! She has been documenting "proof that she is a good dog owner" for the authorities. Threatening to call the police on POC for living their life is racist. POC are not required to make white people feel comfortable. Especially in their homes, which they own, with their own dogs.

I'll end with Ms. C's own words, "I would say to white Oak Parkers, please don't talk to me, pretending to be friendly. Please don't try and make small talk with me, when you are really just being nosy about how I live my life. I don't want to chat with you. Please get yourself together and learn to mind your own business. Stop trying to police me and other black people in Oak Park. I have the right to peace and relaxation in my own home."

ShaRhonda Knott Dawson is a west suburban resident who is involved in multiple service organizations and projects in, and around, Oak Park. Her writing can be found on her blog, sharhondatribune.com.