Fighting Words / A Changing Neighborhood

Notes from the 3/13/19 issue

Fighting Words

Our neighbor to the north, the University of Chicago, has made a racist mess again. Nincompoop (and law professor) Geoffrey Stone had to be convinced that using a racial slur as a routine part of his lecture on the “fighting words” doctrine is a bad idea. (Stone, as it happens, is also the person chiefly responsible for the report the university administration uses as its reasoning to rail against trigger warnings and the like—“freedom of expression” run amok.) Defined as a category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment, and legally recognized by the 1942 Supreme Court case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, “fighting words” are described in part as words that, by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace.

To illustrate the key tenet of the doctrine, for decades Stone would tell his class an anecdote—he claims it’s a true story—in which he asked a Black student his thoughts on the doctrine, to which the student replied that he thought the “fighting words” doctrine was no longer relevant. Stone then asked a white student in an adjacent row, what he thought of the Black student’s argument. The white student answered by saying, “That’s the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard, you stupid [n-word].” Immediately, in his story, the Black student lunged forward in an attempt to choke the white student. When Stone, a white man, told the story, he used the slur in full.

In an op-ed published by the Chicago Maroon, a law student accused Stone of furthering aggressive and racist stereotypes, and of fostering a safe space for racism and a hostile environment for education through the use of the anecdote. The student also called for Stone to apologize and to stop using the slur as part of his pedagogy. Initially Stone “stood his ground” and refused to stop using the slur in classroom, but was later finally convinced to cease, following conversations with Black students who shared how hurtful and unnecessary using the word is to teach the merit of a legal doctrine. The Weekly isn’t sure why Stone, with his law degree and all, couldn’t manage to learn and comprehend this earlier, but okay.

A Changing Neighborhood

A recent Sun-Times article documented a demographic shift in West Englewood: as Black residents leave the neighborhood, part of a broader trend of Black Chicagoans leaving the city, more Latinx people are moving in. Between 2010–2017, Englewood lost 19,000 Black residents, ending at just over 50,000. Meanwhile, Englewood’s Latinx population nearly tripled to 2,700. An interviewed Latinx Englewood newcomer cites cheap property as the primary reason to move to the neighborhood. According to the real estate website Trulia, the median home sale price in Englewood is $35,000, and $43,750 in West Englewood—much lower than in majority-Latinx neighborhoods like Pilsen ($305,000), Gage Park ($154,500), and Back of the Yards ($100,000).

Englewood residents and leaders are worried what the demographic shifts will mean for longtime residents of the neighborhood—like whether they will be pushed out. 15th Ward aldermanic candidate Rafael Yañez (who made it to the runoff against incumbent Raymond Lopez) told the Weekly he sees the coexistence of Black and Latinx people in the ward—the base of which is in Brighton Park and Back of the Yards, but contains a large portion of West Englewood—as an opportunity for cross-racial coalition-building, an attitude that could transfer over to a changing Englewood. But given the long history of white politicians pitting people of color against each other in this city, some, like RAGE’s Asiaha Butler, feel that getting there will be difficult: “Unfortunately we’ve been taught to be divided.”

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