Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Sep 20, 2010

Whites Live in Housing Projects Too

Mortar Theatre's Under America is a play about a white reporter who gets permission from the Chicago Housing Authority to live at Cabrini Green Housing Project so she can study the residents there.  She befriends one black family in particular and the play explores the differences between her white middle-class family and the poor black family at the project.  The attempt to bring the issue of public housing to a theatre audience in itself deserves applause, but theatre reviews have been mixed.

In his review of the play, Timothy McGuire of Chicago Critic laments the lack of focus and the stereotypical characters.  He states, "The first act is a group of slow character building scenes with common clich├ęs about the inequities between races and classes in Chicago...The two families represent the extremes of society.  The white family living in the North Shore is so out of touch, you would think that they have never conversed with a black man or woman, which makes for some funny lines, but not a sense of reality."

As a former public housing resident who is white, the idea behind this play made me feel conflicted.  While I appreciate that a play set in a housing project is a novel and courageous undertaking, I am also a little frustrated.  Once again, poor whites are being made invisible, as if they don't exist.  In films about urban poverty, whites are always depicted as middle-class do-gooders who "save" black people and become enlightened while doing so.  There seems to be a recurring theme among script writers that we can only learn about poverty from blacks.  Of course, the media mirrors real life in that whites are perceived as being financially comfortable, if not wealthy.  This lack of experience with poverty causes them to be "clueless" in the movies.  In reality, most whites are indeed clueless when it comes to black issues.
Why doesn't the media, just once, flip the script?  Is it so inconceivable to write a play about a black reporter from a middle-class background who visits a white family in the projects to research them?  That scenario alone would do more to open minds than any amount of well-intentioned preaching.  Still, playwright Jacob Juntunen's Under America deserves credit.

Megan Cottrell of the Roscoe View Journal noted, "I’ve learned that no one much cares to hear about public housing, except to talk about how terrible they think it is. Whether audiences will come remains to be seen. But those who do will get an education, both in public policy and in the sometimes insurmountable race and class barriers that still plague our nation, whether or not we see them."

1 comment:

  1. I too,Being white (I prefer calling myself what I am,Half Italian,Part German etc) lived in a Housing project & even when I didn't, most of my growing years I lived below the so-called poverty line. Maybe is can be said a lot of Whites are clueless about Blacks but It can also be said alot of Blacks are clueless about Whites,Especially Poor ones. While the oppression is different,it's still oppression. I used to wonder ,Where were all these advantages I was supposed to have had? As a young boy, I watched the 'Mod Squad' and noticed the Black(Linc) was poor and the White(Pete) was from the 'Priviledged Background'. It offended me then & it does now. The 'Message Shows' of the '70's were extremely guilty of this,some of which had White Writers,So it's not always a 'Black-White thing'.


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