I’m not going to lie. I won’t pretend that I’m not a white woman from an upper-middle-class family from a relatively affluent suburb of Chicago, that the word “sketchy” has never come out of my mouth relating to majority black or Hispanic neighborhoods, that I was never told to avoid “certain areas” of the city. I’m just going to say that it hasn’t happened in a good long while, because I grew the fuck up and both got educated and educated myself about race and economics, gentrification, white flight, gerrymandering, the consequences of privatization, municipal budget allocation, and on, and on, and on.
Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, creators of the super-racist app SketchFactor and grown-ass adults who should know better, didn’t get the memo. The app combines user-contributed reports and “publicly available data” to rate the relative “sketchiness” of different parts of your town. In effect, of course, this will be used to single out neighborhoods because of the way that they look, regardless of your actual chances of being victimized or how nice the neighborhood might be if you bothered to do more than pass through while trying to avoid traffic on the expressway.
Thankfully, “sketchy” is in the eye of the beholder, and since the app is open to everyone, we can use it to redefine “sketchy” as racist, sexist, and transphobic. There are already people who are trolling the app, but here are some suggestions for places to make genuine reports of prejudice, oppression, and harassment:
- Wrigleyville in Chicago: The bro-iest part of town by a long shot, full of aggressive, inebriated white guys who take it upon themselves to grope and harass women of any age, March through September especially, but really year-round.
- Really the entire North Side of Chicago, now that I’m thinking about it: Because gentrification priced a diverse population out of Wicker Park and has been creeping into Logan Square for a decade, you can’t walk around Lincoln Square without getting harassed, and Lincoln Park is 85.1 percent white compared to 45 percent citywide.
- Hinsdale, IL: Where I worked, once upon a time, and saw and heard my black and Asian coworkers being patronized by very, very rich, entitled white people.
- Northwest Portland around 21st and Glisan: From a friend: “It’s the bro drinking hotspot.” Beware of transmisogyny.
- Downtown Brooklyn: From another friend: “Near Fulton Street and the courthouses — guys in suits with briefcases have said the nastiest stuff to me.”
- Apparently large swaths of the Bay Area: From a badass trans-friendly body-positive feminist: “I try not to leave the house ever.” And from another friend: “All of San Francisco? Black communities have been systematically pushed out of the city. They’re even getting pushed out of Oakland. There are barely any black people to be racist toward. And, I mean, if you look at the bro culture in tech, plus the demographic breakdown of the biggest tech companies, you can expect institutional sexism and racism in all of Silicon Valley.”
- In Philadelphia: “Any construction site in South Philadelphia.” Seriously? It’s like some people try to live up to tropes.
The problem I had gathering these suggestions was this: I don’t lack for black, Hispanic, Asian, or Middle Eastern contacts in my social networks. Many of the writers and street artists I’m acquainted with, in particular, are extremely outspoken about institutional racism. Not very many suggestions were offered as to places where you can expect to experience racism. I had a head-smacking “DUH” moment: Of course. They expect to experience racism basically everywhere. As a white person who doesn’t have to think about it, I obviously don’t consider that reality enough, regardless of my sort of rational awareness of political forms of racism. To me, that seems like a much, much bigger problem than whether or not white people are made to feel comfortable no matter where we go.