By Joseph Longo
“Hi, nice to meet you. Where are you from?” For many students from the Chicagoland area attending a university away from their greater hometown community the go-to response is “Oh, I’m from Chicago,” regardless if they are referring to the actual city or one of the endless suburbs. A one of many, I notice this suburban lingo daily on campus. But there is a difference. North Lawndale and Naperville are not of the same vein.
A recent The Odyssey article, an online, college-based newspaper, exemplified this issue through a recent listicle of the “25 Signs You’re From Chicago & The Suburbs.” Writer Lauren Rzeszutko mentions dining at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, calling the Willis Tower the “Sears Tower,” and attending the Lollapalooza music festival as all fairly quintessential tasks of the average Chicagoan. Yet buried within the list is number eighteen. “When people ask you if you are from Chicago, you immediately exclaim with glee, ‘hell yes,’ because what better city is there? You may even refer to it as ‘Chiraq,’” Rzeszutko wrote.
The North Shore is not Chiraq. Suburban Chicagoland populations seemingly embrace the term Chiraq when referring to Chicago. Yet this new term describes a lifestyle and environment alien to suburban millennials. The nickname acts as a moniker for the ever-present violence and crime within Chicago, namely the inner-city populations. It does not encompass upscale neighboring towns like Barrington and Lake Forest.
The term, so synonymous with gang violence throughout all major United States cities, led director Spike Lee to title his upcoming film Chi-Raq. In a recent interview with Deadline Hollywood, Lee discussed the importance of highlighting this epidemic. “We started shooting this film this past June 1 and our last day of filming was July 9 so think about that,” Lee said. “During that time of production while we were in Chicago, 331 people got wounded and shot and 65 got murdered.” Conversely, according to City-Data.com, affluent northern suburb Highland Park had zero murders throughout all of 2013. That is quite the stark contrast for a millennial to heavily associate the two distinctly different areas.
This idea is not confined to just Chicago, but rather evidenced throughout all major cities where suburbanites and neighboring communities quickly latch on to the ubiquitous mainstay. Yet by embracing the term without living in the marginalized community, one is negating the poignancy of Chiraq. Highlighting the injustice occurring within marginalized communities, this nickname depicts a very specific community. One heavily dominated by impoverished African-American and other minority residents. According to The Chicago Tribune, 21% of resident of the notoriously crime-ridden Englewood neighborhood are unemployed and 42% live below poverty level. Conversely, the United States Census Bureau reported that Lake County, often ranking as one of the richest counties in the nation, had a 9% poverty rate from 2009-2013. These are not homogenous areas, lifestyles, and--most importantly--people.
Those who truly live in Chiraq—often the marginalized and oppressed—have become outsiders in their own city. Instead suburban elitists appropriate a term of a vast community in which they do not live. They take ownership of a lifestyle and culture foreign to them. So fellow Chicagoland Suburbanites, please do not use and appropriate Chiraq when referring to Chicago, but do become an ally to combat inner-city violence and poverty.