Life in the anomaly lane


I was born and raised in Chicago, just like my parents and their parents, and I don’t mean Naperville or Schaumburg, I mean the South Side. It wasn’t the South Side you imagine, “Chiraq” does not exist, there aren’t explosives going off on Cottage Grove [Avenue]. My childhood was mostly peaceful, I got into a few fights but nothing crazy. My parents worked hard to make sure I and my sister could see more than just the bad parts of the city.

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Children walk through Harold Washington Park on Father’s Day. Every Father’s Day, my dad plans a BBQ and invites the entire family, and every year, the police show up. The event is never anything wild or in violation of the law, it’s always a family friendly environment. The BBQ is usually just the family cooking, playing spades or piggy, and listening to music. The officer in this image is telling the driver of the vehicle they have to move their car. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

A car rusts in a backyard over run with weeds. I was on the Eastside of Chicago and I found this abandoned car in an alley. The house in the center is abandoned, however the two on the left and right are not. Abandoned homes and lots are all over the city, often housing the homeless, or being used as a refuge for illicit activity. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

London Suber smokes a Black and Mild at Calumet Beach in Chicago. We were at the park for a friend’s baby shower, decided to walk the beach and take a break from the festivities. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

A bat leans on a tree in Harold Washington Park in Chicago on Father’s Day. Every year my dad plans a Father’s Day BBQ, and the family plays piggy this is the bat and ball we used. Piggy is a 16-inch softball game, whoever catches the ball within a certain number of bounces is the next batter. My family plays piggy at every BBQ. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

Iowa senior Fifi Hassan poses for a portrait outside Art Building West at the University of Iowa. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

Students walk on T. Anne Cleary walkway in between classes at the University of Iowa. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

A confederate flag waves in the wind in Chicago. My parents moved to the Mt. Greenwood Park neighborhood in 2016, and this was one of the houses on the block. Seeing the confederate flag is not unheard of in Chicago. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

The 63rd street bus stops on the corner of 63rd and South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. I was with my dad heading to pick my grand- mother up from her apartment, she resides in the West Woodlawn neighborhood. Usually when we visit my grandmother there are squad cars on every corner, my parents don’t like for me to visit my grandmother by myself. The strong police presence is in response to community efforts to reduce crime in the area. The green line is the train route running overhead, it runs east to Cottage Grove Avenue. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

Aiyana, 3 (2 when I took the photo), my cousin Jeremy’s daughter, plays at the yearly Father’s Day BBQ. Jeremy is 20 years old and just completed basic training for the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. While Jeremy is stationed at Fort Bliss in New Mexico, his parents help with Aiyana. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

My younger sister Taylor walks down the red carpet at her prom send-off. This image is double exposed over a landscape from Iowa. Prom in Chicago is usually accompanied by a send-off party where you invite family in friends to see you before prom. It’s celebrated as a rite of passage, marking the child’s transition into adulthood, and family and friends usually give money. In this photo you can see my great aunt Maxine in the blue dress, my dad in the “Taylor’s Prom 16” shirt, and my grandmother sitting behind Taylor. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

Jordan Newman (woman in the dress) steps with her father at her graduation party. Stepping is a popular dance originating in Chicago.  Jordan had a party to celebrate her graduation from undergrad and to see family and friends before she returned to Hampton to pursue her graduate degree. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

My mom sleeps on my dad’s lap in their home. My dad doesn’t like when I take his photo and frequently hides from the camera. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

A woman poses in the doorway of her home before getting in the shower. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

My cousin Phillip’s mother, “Ma,” sits on her porch in North Englewood. Phillip is the man in the forefront of the image. Ma lives in a neighborhood referred to as “Moe Town,” named after — local gang the Black P. Stones. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

A man walks past the site where the Cabrini-Green Homes stood until they were demolished in 2011. The Cabrini-Green Homes were comprised of the Frances Cabrini row-houses and the William Green Homes. Cabrini was a public housing project managed by the Chicago Housing Authority and housed roughly 15,000 people. Cabrini was plagued by crime, gang violence, and neglect. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

My dad sleeps in his bed after a long night at work. He started working a second job in 2016, right before my sister graduated high school. One Sunday morning, he came home from work and my mom was doing laundry, so she had removed the sheets from the bed. He was so tired that he just wrapped himself in a blanket and went to sleep. My dad has a master’s degree and is a general ledger accountant for a chemical plant. He also works security at night. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

This is Margaret Hie Ding Lin Park which is across the street from the District 1 police station on 18th and State. Lin was one of Chicago’s first Chinese physicians, she was active in the Chinatown area. The park was renamed in 2004 apart of an initiative to recognize the contributions of women in Chicago. (Photo by Josh Housing for The Daily Iowan)

Growing up, we never lived in the really nice neighborhoods, but we were never in the hood, either. That, coupled with attending predominantly white schools, I often found myself feeling like a pariah. Around my white friends, I was too black, and around my black friends, I was too white. Their comments were never outwardly racist, never anything that was outwardly offensive.

Our Midwestern sensibilities made them nuanced or subtle. I was the kid who “speaks so well” or “talks too white.” I never really examined what those references meant as a child; back then, I still sought approval from those types of people. I conformed to the environment I was in to avoid having to confront expectations of what people thought I should be. This feeling of being an outsider never went away; at every stage of my life, I was always just too “something.” Up until I was 12 years old, I attended all-white schools. But in seventh grade, I transferred to a predominantly black school thinking that would allow me into a space where I was no longer an outsider. In retrospect, that thinking was incredibly naïve.

That feeling of isolation never went away and still lingers now as I finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa. As I got older, I learned this feeling of being on the outside and looking in has nothing to do with my own day-to-day actions and behavior but was rather a reflection of what others expected of me. In high school, it was weird that I played soccer and was good at math and watched anime. In college, it’s weird that I’m not on an athletic scholarship or that I’m not like Urkel or that I’m not like Chief Keef.

As I matured, I learned that I will never be happy while seeking the approval of others. I gained an understanding that no matter what people think I should be, I can only be who I am. This realization allowed me to unpack all the backhanded compliments I grew up hearing. People were never really impressed with my vernacular when they told me “you speak so well,” but rather impressed that this black kid from the inner city had basic communication skills.

There was one instance that has always stuck with me as I reflected on my interactions with people who expected me to be anything other than who I am. My family took a weekend trip to Wisconsin Dells for my sister’s birthday, and at some point during the weekend, I held the door for a woman who was walking behind us. Nothing spectacular — I just held the door because she was right behind me, and I was simply being polite. She was in awe that I was so well-mannered, and when I spoke, she couldn’t believe how eloquent I was. She just had to speak to my parents and inform them what a wonderful young man I was.

Experiences such as these were groundbreaking revelations for me, because up until that point, I thought these people were genuinely impressed with my work ethic and good behavior. In reality, I was never even in the same race as my peers, and these people probably didn’t even hear what I was saying. I felt robbed, I was no longer an individual, and my achievements were no longer my own. I was simply an anomaly.

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