The Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest reported this week on new evidence of segregation in Oak Park, Illinois, and its neighbor to the east, the Austin neighborhood of Chicago:
“There are hundreds of different squirrel species worldwide, but basically two, fox (or Sciurus niger) and gray (or Sciurus caroliniensis) squirrels, call the Chicago area home.
The fox squirrel, the largest tree squirrel in the country, is distinguished by its rust-colored belly and its tint that appears tanned orange. The gray squirrel's belly is usually white and it typically sports a large, bushy tail.
‘Austin is almost all fox squirrels, right up to the border in Oak Park, which mostly has gray squirrels,’ [Dan] Protess [, producer of WTTW digital series “Urban Nature,”] noted.
‘Joel [Brown, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Illinois Chicago, who lives in Oak Park,] found that there are correlations between squirrel populations and socioeconomics,’ he said. ‘So in wealthier neighborhoods, there are more likely to be gray squirrels and in more affordable neighborhoods, there are more likely to be fox squirrels.’”
Obviously, this segregation needs to be addressed. Fox squirrels need to be able to live and thrive in Oak Park. As with so many cases of segregation, the lack of affordable housing in Oak Park seems to be one of the problems here. But even beyond that, Oak Park needs to make sure fox squirrels feel welcome in Oak Park. Oak Park needs to reach out to encourage fox squirrels to move to Oak Park. Also, as Oak Park has done in the past, it needs to make sure that, when fox squirrels move to Oak Park, they don’t just stop in east Oak Park, next to Austin. They need to spread evenly throughout the village and become a part of the whole village.
This is not just a matter of the rights of fox squirrels. It is important for the gray squirrels already living in Oak Park, too. The lives of gray squirrels, and the lives of their children, are limited when they just live with other gray squirrels like themselves. They need to broaden their horizons, to reach out and interact with fox squirrels. Integrated neighborhoods, with fox squirrels and gray squirrels living, working and playing together, are better neighborhoods and make for better squirrel communities.
But it is more than just fox squirrels having the right to live in Oak Park. Their children are going to need help, too. The little fox squirrels will need to be tested so we can avoid the kind of “achievement gaps” that too often arise when communities integrate. If there are any such gaps between the educational achievements of gray squirrels and fox squirrels, we need to make sure that appropriate help is provided to the little fox squirrels so they can grow up and reach their full potential, collecting their fair share of the nuts.
It won’t be easy, but if all Oak Parkers work together, as they have in the past, this terrible segregation and its effects can be overcome.
Note: I was thinking of sending a variation of this post to the Wednesday Journal as a letter to the editor. I didn’t because I was afraid that they might print it and people wouldn’t realize it was satire – or, even worse, they might.