Unless the Review pointed out the change, I doubt most of us would have even noticed that, according to the 2020 Census, whites in Forest Park are no longer in the majority.
“That’s interesting,” is the only comment I’ve heard regarding the evolution.
Nine days after Martin Luther King Day, I’d like to hold up the absence of fuss in our community over this demographic change. It should be noted in the narrative we tell ourselves and others as a way of defining who we are.
Some context: Fifty years ago the consensus seemed to be that neighborhoods had “tipping points.” For example, lots of data seemed to point to the fact that when a white neighborhood reached a certain percentage of Black residents — say 5, 10 or 15 percent — the white residents would leave in a mass exodus.
But that didn’t happen in Forest Park. There was no white flight. Maybe a “white leak” but no white flight.
According to the census, in 1980 the white residents in Forest Park comprised 95.5% of the population and Blacks only 4.5%. In 2000 the racial makeup was 56.4% white, 31.8% Black, and 9.9% Hispanic. And in 2020 the numbers were 49.6% white, 30.9% Black and 11.3% Hispanic. During the last two decades the racial demographics have remained amazingly stable.
Maybe there is racial harmony in Forest Park, partly because we don’t focus on it. We don’t obsess about it. We don’t view everything that happens in town through the lens of racism.
Dr. King dreamed of a day when people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
In Forest Park race matters, but so does character. There is a cultural expectation in this town that elected and appointed officials will not use their position to enrich themselves. If they do, we say, “Throw the bums out, even if they’re of the same race as I am.” In Forest Park race matters, but so does education. Years ago, a school board member who is Black said to me, “I don’t look for friends who are the same race I am, but for people who are educated.” What she meant, I think, is that she was attracted to people who were critical thinkers and did not accept everything they read on Facebook as being the gospel truth. Here’s this community’s demographic breakdown in that regard:
- Less than 9th Grade 2.01%
- 9th through 12th Grade 2.51%
- High School Graduate 16.94%
- Some College 19.67%
- Associates Degree 8.65%
- Bachelor’s Degree 27.89%
- Graduate Degree 22.33%
In Forest Park, race matters but so does “caste,” or the absence of it. I confess that I have trouble understanding the concept, but nevertheless I have a feeling that it gets at something important. Hang in there with me as I try to explain.
Isabel Wilkerson published Caste, the Origins of Our Discontents in 2020 in which she defines “caste” as a kind of hierarchy that explains reality better than “race” does.
A passage on page 274 clarified a bit what she meant by caste: “I could see that upper-caste people took positions of authority, were forthright, at ease with being in charge, correcting and talking over the lower-caste people.”
There was “an expectation that an upper-caste person must assert superiority of knowledge and intellect in all things, having been socialized to be first and to be central, a pressure to be right and the need to remind the lower-caste person, subtly or not, of their historic, cultural, spatial, and familial inferiority.”
OK. After that long explanation, my point is that in this village, even though half of us have college or graduate degrees, there is a certain unpretentious, blue-collar sensibility that informs how we treat each other.
I have a doctor of ministry degree, for example, but no one ever addresses me as Doctor Holmes and most don’t even use the title Reverend. I’m Tom. My neighbors judge what I say and write not by my place in the hierarchy but whether or not it rings true.
I don’t know anyone who voted for Rory because he’s Black or did not vote for him because he is. And if he messes up as mayor, we’ll “throw the bum out.”
When it comes to our understanding of the uptick in crime in town, for example, race matters but so do a lot of factors.
I looked up some statistics on violent crime in the U.S. in 2013 and found that 53% of the victims were white and 43% were Black. When white people were the victims, 83% of the time the offender was white, and when the victims were Black, 90% of the time the offender was also Black.
Here are some statistics regarding people shot to death by the police according to race
Statistics produced by the 2010 Census revealed that of the 46.2 million people in the U.S. who are living in poverty, 69% are white, a stat that includes Hispanics who identify racially as white.
I’ve been told that people with one eye have trouble perceiving depth.
That’s the trouble with ideologies. They tend to narrow our view of reality and oversimplify complexity.
David Brooks recently put it another way. “Political polarization is better characterized as a changing and dynamic system, with far too many factors interacting in unpredictable ways for us to measure, control, and understand each one of them separately.”
Most Forest Parkers I know believe that race matters. And so do a whole lot of other factors.
Maybe that’s why many of us didn’t even notice that the racial balance here had tipped a bit, and those who did notice didn’t make a fuss.