Canter’s closure and the question of race

To the Editor:

Canter Middle School, formerly housed at 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., has closed, and Ald. Will Burns (4th) is leading the drive to install Kenwood Academy’s Academic Center in its stead. This move replaces an open enrollment junior high school with a selective enrollment junior high school. At his community meeting on Monday, June 16, Burns suggested that moving the Academic Center is a more sustainable solution for the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood. He suspects that the community supports the selective enrollment Academic Center in a way that the community did not ever support Canter Middle School.

The Alderman is not wrong. Factions of the Hyde Park community do support the selective enrollment Academic Center over Canter Middle School’s open enrollment model; however, the Hyde Park/Kenwood community is composed of multiple factions and no single faction’s aims can be correctly identified as the aims of “the community.” It does a disservice to the community’s Black residents to ignore the racialized divide driving the popularity of Kenwood Academy’s Academic Center. The rhetorical appeal of the Academic Center to a non-negligible number of white Hyde Park residents stems from the fact that these parents do not want to send their 7th and 8th grade students to an open enrollment, predominantly Black school. These Hyde Park residents will only send their children to predominately Black schools if the Black students are handpicked. This preference for installing an Academic Center as opposed to an open enrollment junior high school has everything to with anti-Black racism.

The presence of anti-Black racism among white Hyde Park residents should not surprise anyone. The markedly un-Chicago semblance of racial integration in our neighborhood erupts from a shotgun marriage between, on one hand, the University of Chicago’s policing and housing efforts to make non-Black faculty and staff feel comfortable, and on the other, greater Chicago’s attempts to herd Black residents into the South Side of the city. These two antagonistic factions account for much of the demographics of the Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park and Woodlawn communities. Historically, anti-Black racism in our neighborhood is most clearly expressed in the university clinging to the racial covenants restricting Blacks from owning, renting or leasing land in Hyde Park, and while these covenants were legally overturned in 1948, the aim of these covenants – that is, to make white university affiliates feel comfortable in the neighborhood – still remains intact in the relation between the University of Chicago and Antheus Capital. One only needs to investigate the manner in which Burns, the University of Chicago and Antheus pick and choose which schools and businesses survive and thrive in the neighborhood to see how the political and economic comfort of whites turns into anti-Black racism. The switch from Canter Middle School, an open enrollment school, to the Academic Center, a selective enrollment school, is yet another case of the comfort of white residents depending on degrading Black economic, political and social life. The move surrenders the development of too many of our neighborhood’s Black children to the faction of white Hyde Park residents who will only send their kids to a neighborhood school if the school jettisons a percentage of their low-scoring Black students. Unfortunately, our political rhetoric has normalized this Faustian bargain, as opposed to calling it what it is: capitulating to anti-Black racism.

The switch from an open enrollment middle school to a selective enrollment middle school will disproportionately select out Black Hyde Park/Kenwood residents, since a multifaceted legacy of anti-Black racism tends to depress grades, test scores and other traditional signs of academic success.

There was another way. Burns could have stood up against anti-Black racism in his ward by calling on white parents to name and address their ingrained anti-Black racism and send their children to their neighborhood schools. These open enrollment schools, if you can find the will to get over the blackness of their students, are wonderful.

Instead of political leadership, Burns gave himself to the market model of politicking and acceded to anti-Black racism in order to keep neighborhood white parents from moving to Beverly or sending their kids to Whitney Young.

The closing of Canter Middle School is a shame, but this shame is not directly the fault of Burns; the alderman’s greatest crime is capitulating to the comforts of the anti-Black racists who live in his ward.

Irami Osei-Frimpong