Race and Violence

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A response to one of the final questions in a history class I took over the summer term.

Race remains a major point of conflict in Cincinnati. While blacks make up just less than half of Cincinnati’s population (no race constitutes an outright majority), there are clear racial imbalances in education, employment, criminal justice and housing. The last major outburst in response to the inadequacies were the 2001 riots following the killing of 19 year old Timothy Thomas by a city police officer after a traffic stop (and the mishandling of the situation by the mayor, city council, and police department).

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Many Little Kenyon-Barrs

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This is part of a new series exploring the question: “How Does Gentrification Work?”

Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s (CMHA) 2014 annual plan calls for the demolition of 1455 units of public housing across Hamilton county. This would disperse the population, probably in excess of 5000 people, throughout the county. CMHA controlled properties stand at 99% occupancy, and the federal funds identified to build new housing are already disbursed, so the residents will likely be given Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers and be pushed back into the private housing market. The extent of the plan is striking, with large developments like Stanley Rowe and Winton Terrace set to be vacated and razed along with nearly the entire neighborhood of Millvale, each project accounting for 200 to 500 units of the total amount. There are two primary questions to be explored: Why is the housing being demolished? And where does this fit in with the pattern of displacement at the city-wide level?

To understand housing policy in Cincinnati, one must first understand the city’s geography. Like any modern city in the United States, Cincinnati is heavily segregated. Though neighborhoods like Avondale and Over-the-Rhine (OTR) serve as the de-facto centers of the black population, the city has no main dividing line between black and white halves–in a city that loves to talk about imagined differences between the East and West Side, no given cardinal direction can be identified as the black-side of town. Cincinnati’s black population, about 45% of the total, lives in several pockets strewn throughout the city. Many neighborhoods are upwards of 90% black–Avondale, Bond Hill, Madisonville, Millvale, Villages at Roll Hill (Fay Apartments), The West End and Winton Hills and others. These neighborhood are also among the most impoverished. City wide blacks face very high rates of poverty–46% of blacks compared with 22% of whites are in poverty. Additionally, blacks face high levels of police discrimination and an unfathomable unemployment rate, relying on public services to a much larger degree than their white counterparts. Of the roughly 13,000 families on the waiting list for CMHA assistance, either for vouchers or for public housing, about 12,000 are black.

With its stark delineation of black and white neighborhoods, Cincinnati ranks as one of the top segregated cities in the country. The disparities in the racial makeup of neighborhoods and the way that poverty follows racial segregation, call into question whether residents who would be dispersed under the regime of de-concentration of poverty would be welcome in new communities.

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Racism At UC

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Last week, Ron Jackson resigned as Dean of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences at UC. His retirement comes after a period of transition for the college, which was also facing a budgetary crisis. Over the course of the last year, several faculty members resigned over apparent mismanagement at the school. But there’s more to this issue than simple budgetary measures.

Weeks ago, a cartoon was circulated among the faculty and staff of the depicting the dean and a high ranking faculty member as the king and queen of the college. We will not republish the cartoon here, but savvy readers should have no trouble finding it. This cartoon has turned into a new story, with public statements from the President of UC and the dean of McMicken, and has been reported on by every major media outlet in Cincinnati.

I should say before moving forward that I am an employee at UC and have publicly criticized what I believe to be racist policy in the past. Prior to this incident, I have spoken to close personal friends in the college about the status of the now year-old tensions at McMicken.

The talk of the internet, from reddit, to comments on local news networks is that it is not racist. But these comments only show the tone-deaf nature of citizens in our neoliberal society when it comes to racism. One frame in particular outs the comic’s anonymous illustrator as the racist that they are. It depicts the high ranking faculty member as the queen of the college saying that they will “fire anyone that does not look like US.” This cuts to the heart of the matter. While faculty members of color are being hired and promoted, the perception is that non-black faculty are left without a place in the college.

This perception is itself a manifestation of the racist claim of “reverse-racism,” neoliberalism’s go-to red-herring. It also tells us something about the illustrator: they are likely a white-person who feels wronged by any suggestion of racial equality (hint: Cincinnati (and the world) has a long way to go yet), because, for them, it means losing their place as the dominant ethnicity, a dynamic that the academy is not immune to (indeed, it has helped perpetuate it). Such feelings have no place in higher education, where critical thinking should be fostered, not shades of fascist demagoguery.

So when students in UC’s United Black Student Association (UBSA) staged a protest demanding UC address perceived issues with race, few of us were surprised. Whether it be the lack of a black representation in Faculty or student numbers, or the failure of the university to adequately serve the needs of black students, leading to high drop out rates, there is a sense that black students and the black population at large are being left behind in whatever direction our city is headed. And it’s not just at UC, our black communities are subject to increased policing. Gentrification is squeezing out residents of OTR and other poor neighborhoods. Where I live in Northside, my neighborhood newsletter warns of “young adults loitering”–it seems that whenever a group of black teens walk up the street somebody gets scared and posts on our local NextDoor social network warning others to lock the doors.

Many continue to pass the events of the last week off as black students and staff making something out of nothing. But even if that were the case, the students are barely being given the time of day to speak their minds. Maybe it’s time for us white people to listen for once.

How is a political cartoon racist? Let me count the ways.

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A quick note.

In the past week, a cartoon was circulated among the faculty and staff of the University of Cincinnati’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences depicting the dean and a high ranking faculty member as the king and queen of the college. I won’t link to the cartoon here, but savvy readers should have no trouble finding it. This cartoon has turned into a new story, with public statements from the President of UC and the dean of McMicken, and has been reported on by every major media outlet in Cincinnati.

I should say beforehand that I am an employee at UC and have publicly criticized what I believe to be racist policy in the past. Prior to this incident, I have spoken to close personal friends in the college about the status of the now year-old tensions at McMicken.

The talk of the internet, from reddit, to comments on local news networks is that it is not racist. But these comments only show the tone-deaf nature of citizens in our neoliberal society when it comes to racism. One frame in particular outs the comic’s anonymous illustrator as the racist that they are. It depicts the high ranking faculty member as the queen of the college saying that they will “fire anyone that does not look like US.” This cuts to the heart of the matter. While faculty members of color are being hired and promoted, the perception is that non-black faculty are left without a place in the college. This perception is itself a manifestation of the racist claim of “reverse-racism,” neoliberalism’s go-to red-herring. It also tells us something about the illustrator: they are likely a white-person who feels wronged by any suggestion of racial equality (hint: Cincinnati (and the world) has a long way to go yet), because, for them, it means losing their place as the dominant ethnicity, a dynamic that the academy is not immune to (indeed, it has helped perpetuate it). Such feelings have no place in higher education, where critical thinking should be fostered, not shades of fascist demagoguery.

The university should not only call this sketch out for what it is, it should find and fire the faculty member that drew the racist sketch (precisely because they are racist) and implement aggressive programs to educate staff and student on racism and social justice.

I don’t have much faith that the neoliberal academy can implement such policies, but I have hope that one day it will be able to.