Accidental Critic: The South Side


Natalie Moore covers the South Side of Chicago as a reporter for Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ-FM. It’s a very personal calling, as she grew up in the heart of the South Side herself. In her thought-provoking book The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, Moore brings both her reporting skills and personal history to bear. 

I would almost call this a natural history of segregation in Chicago, though of course that term can’t really apply. Segregation is hardly a living organism. But the people affected by it are, and perhaps that’s why the book had that feel for me. Also, Moore sprinkles her own experience generously throughout the book, offering a hook that illustrates the real-life effects of the city’s segregation. “I am a child of Chatham,” she declares in the opening. “I grew up in black segregated Chicago.” Her own history and experience with the city, from child to adult, is never far away, and it adds a special richness.

This is no dry summation of historical patterns and policies. It’s a well-considered and documented investigation that also tells a very human story. It’s as much a book about being black as it is a book about segregation.

Exhibit A, from the chapter “Sweet Home Chicago”:

“Having a police story is almost like a rite of passage for black people.”

The South Side is far from a compilation of anecdotes, though. It’s got plenty of data, historical research, and first-person interviews with researchers who have made the subjects it explores their life’s work.

Moore delves vigorously and deftly into the history and effects of segregation in Chicago, and leaves her reader with much to consider. Her subjects range from housing policy to gun violence to fast food and farmers’ markets. This would be a great book to read with a book group, offering many paths for discussion. It’s not on my book club’s reading list—yet. But I know I would enjoy the discussion if it were.

The South Side, Macmillan Publishers

Q&A interview with Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore presentation and conversation at the Chicago Humanities Festival

 

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.