This interview is part of the Project LRN: Evanston Interviews series, which will be featured in the new book Say It Forward compiled and edited by Voice of Witness. It was recorded July 17, 2014, and is presented here in full.
Jayme Gaultier is a world traveler, vegetarian foodie, art and music connoisseur, aspiring writer, social justice advocate, and mother of two beautiful humans.
She currently works as the Program Manager at Hackstudio in Evanston, which has programs for both adults and children focused on helping individuals explore their passions and realize their dreams.
Listen now or read an edited interview excerpt, below:
TRANSCRIPT EXCERPT (EDITED):
Jayme Gaultier: Safety is a really interesting concept for me, because I think there’s a lot of people, particularly people of color who don’t have the luxury of feeling safe. Just the way that our society has been structured, it often paints people of color as the people to be feared, when in reality they have the most to fear because of the laws and legislation that really targets them. So as a white woman, you know, I don’t really feel afraid of much. I feel like there are neighborhoods that I can go into as a white woman and might be looked at funny, like, “What is she doing here?”—but not unsafe. I don’t feel like I’m ever personally at risk. And so I think that that’s a very different experience, depending on your race.
Interviewer: You had mentioned people of color have much more reason to feel unsafe. Are there things that you’ve either experienced or been aware of, in terms of other residents that you know have felt unsafe here?
JG: I have an 8-year-old black son, and he notices just as much as I do, and I sort of point it out, too, that when we see cops pulling people over, they’re often black. Or when we see a group of black young men standing on a corner at a park, the cops are fairly quick to intervene; whereas I don’t think that would be the case with white boys or girls. And so that’s been something that we’ve talked a lot about in our family: how to keep my kids – I have twins – safe, and the things that they will need to do to make sure that they’re okay. And how the expectations for black kids in America are going to be very different than the expectations for white kids in America. And so, you know, things like, when they go to a store, they need to keep their hands visible, and where their friends might be able to run across people’s front lawns, my kids can’t do that.
And just sort of without burdening them with that, you know, there’s so much you can’t do, but teaching them how to keep themselves safe. And it really sucks because, in essence, I’m telling my children that it’s their obligation to make sure that nobody feels threatened by them. And that’s a huge burden to put on anybody. To be responsible for someone else’s perception of you is something that no person should have to contend with, and yet every day, we see cases of how a black young man was perceived as dangerous and therefore lost his life or you know, all these horrible things happen.
Int: I would think, as a parent, there’d be a difficult balance between sharing information so that they’re well-informed and ready, but also not necessarily wanting to color their perception or predict their experience.
JG: Or terrify them. You know? I mean, it’s a challenge for sure. I tend to err on the side of too much preparation, just because, you know, it only takes one bad experience. I also know them very well, and I know what they’re capable of handling, and so I think that that makes it a little bit easier, to sort of know how to guide those kinds of conversations. And if my kids were different people, and if, you know, they were more sensitive to stuff like that it might take a different shape, but I still think it’s pretty important for them to know not only what to do to keep themselves safe, but the history. I think history is incredibly important.
And so we’ve done a lot in terms of teaching them the history of the United States, and black people in the United States, and what they’ve had to face. And we focus a lot on the positive stories of empowerment and resilience and strength, because I think that that’s a really critical piece. And then we talk a lot about white people who have been allies and who have helped and who have stood up for what is right in the face of what might be popular.
Int: I feel like every ward has a very different personality, and it’s perceived very differently throughout Evanston… so it’s always interesting to me how the city reacts to particular neighborhoods. So within your ward, what would you say are some of the greatest challenges that you face, or difficulties that you face as a neighborhood?
JG: I think that the 8th Ward gets sometimes a pretty negative reputation, and part of that is proximity to Chicago. And there has been recently an uptick in gang activity and shooting, which is obviously concerning… but it hasn’t impacted my sense of safety. I think that the 8th Ward has a lot of really great things to offer, and I think, you know… our neighborhood is a great neighborhood. We chose it specifically, and we wouldn’t stay there if we didn’t love it. But I think that again, it’s the problem of perception.
And it is a very racially, and even to some extent socioeconomically, mixed area. And so I’ve seen some interesting dynamics between Jamaican, and Haitian, and then Latino families in our neighborhood. And then there’s been—in the past several years since we’ve moved in—a growing number of white families that have moved in. It’s always been pretty diverse.
So I think that the perception is the biggest challenge that we face. We just had the Brummel Park Food Truck Fest and the Starlight Concert Series, which is nice because everybody comes out for that, and those sort of community gatherings are a really nice way to sort of see your neighbors that you might not see as often. And community-building things like that are nice.