Veiled Racism

“It was legislated white flight… this was actually extremely deliberate.”


Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Storytellers in Veiled Racism are volunteers with Gary’s Miller Spotlight Project, which was the first coordinating organization to host StoryCorps in Indiana.

Transcript for Veiled Racism

One thing that, you know, to be honest kind of pisses me off is when you have people that grew up in Gary, and then they dog Gary, and they move to Munster, or Hobart, or whatever. And you hear all these stories about, “Oh, Gary’s vacant. They got this crime problem and they can’t even pave their streets.” And they don’t recognize it’s because people like them moved out and devastated the tax base. People point fingers and they cast aspersions sort of as a blanket over the city. And a lot of times it’s just veiled racism.

What’s interesting about what you said is understanding the dynamics in ‘the region,’ as they call it, and what Gary’s place is, and all the surrounding communities. So you know that East Chicago is our primarily dominant Hispanic community. And then Gary’s a dominant black community. And everything else around it is all sort of majority-white. There’s a white flight aspect of when Hatcher became mayor in Gary, and all the history of those things, but there’s a law in Indiana that said second class cities had to have a buffer zone. That meant that if you’re a first and second class city, you couldn’t incorporate up to another one.

And a first and second class city means a certain population.

Certain population size. Certain population size. Something that was in a charter for those cities. When Hatcher became mayor of Gary, there’s this movement that, “We have Merrillville here, we want to invest here, but it’s too small.” Like, “We need more land in Merrillville. So let’s incorporate right up to the border of Gary.” Well, that’s illegal. You can’t. They said, “Well, let’s change that law. Let’s get right up to the border of Gary and invest right there.” So that’s why you see this Gary-Merrillville border, and then there’s, like, a shopping plaza that was built in the ‘70s or late ‘60s right there. Because it literally happened. It was legislated white flight: all the houses moved there, everything developed right there. And you sort of think about it from that standpoint—legislative standpoint—understanding laws and those things, it’s like, this was actually extremely deliberate.

In this area, in this region, it means something to be sort of anti-Gary. You may never have to be in Gary, never be from Gary, but there’s a value to that. People actually say, “Oh, well, at least it’s not Gary.” You will meet folks who used to own a gas station, used to own a building, divested from the community, live somewhere else, and somehow is involved as a stakeholder in what’s going on in the city. You ever get the feeling you just want to say, “It’s kind of your fault?”

You know, the worst are those boards of old people—old, white people, almost always—and they cast aspersions, and they come in, and they want to talk to the mayor, and they just make sure, “Well, I know, you know, I know you’re the mayor, but are you really smart?” And, “I know you’re the accountant, but can you really count?” And, “I know you’re the city planner, but you’re young. Can you really do it?” In general, people think of government cynically. And that carries over in Gary to a more personal place than it probably is in other places. And I don’t think you get that third degree in other places, even if they’re not in good shape. But you get it in Gary. And it’s from that same population of people you just described.

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