From my Comment conversation with Milton Friesen and Brian Dijkema at Cardus. This is Part 1 of 2.
“What is interesting about that metaphor is it’s drawn from theatre, and not many people see its depth at first. They think this means Chicago has its fancy parts and its less fancy areas. But in theatre there are people who get attention, who receive acclaim, who seem to be the center of activity, and then there are people who are behind the scenes making sure that all the work happens so that the show can go on. And that’s what we don’t often see.
I think the quote that you read from Francis actually does help us to understand something true about cities, which is that we build them in ways that separate people but that these separations often go unnoticed. Even when we see the separation, we often don’t see the integration of the work that’s going on in the city—that what goes on behind the scenes in the places we don’t see or the places that make us uncomfortable is often essential to the work of the city. It’s often essential even to what’s going on in the elegant façade.
Obviously with Chicago—and this is true with lots of US cities—there is even deeper intentionality to that metaphor in that the people who are behind the scenes in the theatre are wearing black. And I can’t help but think that Abu-Lughod was intentional about that as well: that often it’s minorities in US cities (it’s certainly true in Chicago) that are in this deeply shadowed backstage doing the kind of work necessary for the show to go on, even in the elegant façade, and yet not getting any of the attention, but instead getting neglect, vulnerability, and distress.”
More from the conversation here.