Monday, March 31, 2008

Urban "pioneers" rethought

Utne Reader points to Eula Biss's precise, thoughtful reflections on urban "pioneering" in Chicago's northeasternmost neighborhood, Rogers Park.
The word pioneer betrays a disturbing willingness to repeat the worst mistake of the pioneers of the American West—the mistake of considering an inhabited place uninhabited. To imagine oneself as a pioneer in a place as densely populated as Chicago is either to deny the existence of your neighbors or to cast them as natives who must be displaced. Either way, it is a hostile fantasy.
Her reflections are coupled with reflections on those earlier pioneers, as presented by Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose children's books don't duck away from confronting the rampant racism in her childhood environment.


JB Powers said...

I suppose it matters what your perspective of pioneering is. If you think it is going into a rather dangerous area with a great deal of unknowns, Rogers Park (or Walnut Grove, Minnesota in 1870) certainly have that covered.

If "pioneers" displacing an open air drug market/shooting gallery at the Howard El, or the army of violent homeless people let loose in Rogers Park is a hostile fantasy, just how could one be peaceful?

Either way, Eula might just be imagining much this (or is a vomittable writer). It does not sound likely that Evanston was "officially" segregated in 1958, as it had been a sanctuary city for around 100 years at that time.

The NPR-like story of three folks in a creative writing class/diversity seminar being hounded by Evanston Lifeguards also smells a bit fishy. In living here for 15 years, I have never known the lifeguards in Evanston to lift a finger for much of anyone, let alone provide fodder for the UTNE Reader's bizarre slant.


Paul Botts said...

Now look, if readers start applying critical thinking to the pieces chosen for the Utne Reader their whole business model collapses. The publication makes a lot more sense once you realize that its appeal is faith-based.

Harold said...

For the record, Biss was published in The Believer.

JB, the definition of pioneering as "going into a rather dangerous area with a great deal of unknowns" would also apply to home invasion or burglary. If you narrow your focus enough, you can justify pretty much anything.

JB Powers said...

OK Harold,

After watching Little House for years, I gathered that pioneers such as Charles Ingalls were going about working, raising families, and improving their lot in life through honesty and education (similar to the Urban pioneers in Rogers Park).

I must have missed the episodes where Charles and Mr. Edwards started burglarizing homes-or the episodes in Rogers Park where the UP become the drug-addled freaks terrorizing the neighborhood.


Harold said...

Laura Ingalls Wilder (with extensive help from her daughter) was the author of *books,* JB. In those books she didn't play down the issues you want to paper over, such as the fact that most of the people around in her childhood believed as a matter of course that the only good Indian was a dead one. As she tells it, she had some things to say about that as a child.

JB Powers said...


Not papering over much of anything. My family, and most likely yours as well, came into the Midwest as pioneers, and brought a mule train full of complexity with their relationship to the incumbents living in the area.

Eula's slant against new people moving in to Rogers Park is just that, a bias and most likely an ill formed bias in the context of the rest of his article.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, by the way, became known as a Classic (not Leftist) Liberal in her later years.

JB Powers said...

That is Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's daughter, is the noted Libertarian/Liberal.