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French tell it right about Chicago

Updated: December 26, 2013 6:17AM

Chicago is Carl Sandburg’s city of big shoulders. Those shoulders are rolling, and rolling high, over last week’s news about France’s big snub.

I was ready to join the fray. How dare the French dis us! Let ’em eat quiche!

The Washington Post reported that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is advising travelers to stay away from massive swaths of the Windy City. “Avoid the West Side and the south of the city after 59th Street,” read the warning on the government website. The ministry declared dozens of Chicago neighborhoods no-go zones.

The revelation provoked a backlash, roiling the big city on the lake from Howard Street to the Port of Chicago. Internet chat boards carried the blowback. HuffPost Chicago retorted with a photo gallery of tourist spots located in the forbidden territory. A newspaper cartoonist depicted France as haughty pink poodle, snob-nose high in the air.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some choice words, (though he managed to avoid his favorite phrase, which starts with an “F.” And I don’t mean “French.”)

“Don’t get me started on what I think of the French . . . I don’t think that would be good,” the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Emanuel as saying at a press briefing.

He ticked off cultural and historical sights and spots, like Garfield and Pullman Parks, and the soon-to-be-revamped 95th Street Red Line station (huh?). If you listen to the French, you will be “missing out on what makes Chicago so unique, which is our neighborhoods and our communities and the people [who] live in ’em,” he said.

At first, I was steamed. The French advisory is sending a thinly veiled, racist message: Stay away from those crime-ridden African-American neighborhoods.

There is much good to see in black Chicago. But I have to admit, the French are no fools. This year, Chicago has seen much violence, and most of it plagues the South and West sides of Chicago. Black neighborhoods.

Thirteen people, including a 3-year-old boy, were shot in Cornell Square Park, and that’s north of 59th Street. Shooting, gang-banging and murders have long dominated national and international headlines about our city.

The French aren’t alone. Black folks who live in Pill Hill, Beverly and the south suburbs avoid the Englewoods, Roselands and Lawndales. Many of the suburbanites who trek daily to the Loop to work won’t set foot south of Roosevelt Road.

We have these conversations all the time. We just don’t usually see them, graphically delineated, on a foreign website.

That may not jibe with the mayor’s all-out pitch to make Chicago a premier international destination. No wonder he was griping about an L station, and grasping at straws like the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s a historic spot and botanical treasure, but a lot of folks, black and white, aren’t going to the West Side to get there.

Let’s put aside the pride and face the facts: We live in a big, diverse city and moreover, in a nation that is gun-hungry and addicted to violence.

Don’t blame the French. Until we get the senseless violence under control, use some common sense. Be careful out there.


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