This rubbed me the wrong way. The state of Chicago's South Side is not the result of a mere "cycle of poverty": it's an intentional trajectory of poverty set in motion by a business and political culture whose operative ethos was (and, to a lesser degree, remains) rooted in anti-black racism, a trajectory set in motion during the Great Migration—which itself was the result of oppressive, systemic, white supremacism of the worst kind.
While it is the images of white supremacist degradation and terror in the public sphere that live the strongest in public memory and attitudes about America's congenital racism—lynchings, segregated facilities, police brutality and the like—what has arguably had an outsized impact on the living conditions of black people in this country far grander in the scale of its detriment than the psychological, physical, and social wages of such terror is the psychological, physical, and social cost of economic exploitation and housing discrimination.
The full scope of such housing discrimination practices—red lining, block busting, restrictive racial covenants—is beyond the scope of this humble blog post. Suffice to say that this sordid and storied history of systemic, urban housing discrimination is at least as old as the Federal Housing Administration itself, established in 1934. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:
If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination.Housing determines access to transportation, green spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, but it doesn't need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute. Even today most people believe that Chicago is the work of organic sorting, as opposed segregationist social engineering. Housing segregation is the weapon that mortally injures, but does not bruise.
Apartheid policies that intended to segregate and ghettoize have been strikingly effective over the last century. Without denying poor, urban blacks agency over their actions on the one hand, and without gravitating to the acontextual ruminations of Paul Ryan or the concern-trolling histrionics of Bill O'Reilly on the other, we should acknowledge that these grand forces of public policy and the culture of the communities thus targeted have a dialectical impact on one another, resulting in what we see most chillingly exemplified on Chicago's South Side: an economically disadvantaged community cannibalizing its young. As Aaron Huey says in his amazing Ted Talk that documents the history of poverty of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation: "The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say: 'My God, what are these people doing to themselves? They're killing each other. They're killing themselves while we watch them die.'" For a thorough, lengthy, and historically well-informed examination of the issue of housing discrimination (and other forms of institutional racism), one could hardly pick a better place to start than carefully reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's magisterial article for The Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations." A shorter read that can serve as a primer is "How We Built the Ghettos."
Which brings me back to my second concern: the design challenge of constructing a game whose narrative and mechanics honors the history and politics of ghettoization, or any other trans-generational social injustice for that matter. We Are Chicago certainly seems like a good start toward humanizing this marginalized population for a game-playing public that may not otherwise be inclined to reckon with the lives of people ostensibly so different from themselves. But part of me fears that designers and consumers alike are more amenable to the relatively simple and cognitively challenge-free task of sympathy for characters thus humanized as opposed to having their understanding of how large and impersonal structures impacts the intimate social lives of said individuals, and the continued resilience of "elegant racism," perturbed. But how can we design for the latter?