July 13, 2016
As I have mentioned in previous articles, I am a recent transplant to Ohio. I have lived in Cincinnati for about eight months now. Throughout my 40+ years, I have lived in a number of states in the Eastern U.S. I grew up in rural Delaware and as an adult have lived in urban areas in: Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; metropolitan D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. I have also lived in one of the Whitest states in the country, Vermont, which was 94.6% White in 2015 (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/50). Except for a total of four years spent in Delaware and Vermont after the age of 18, I have lived my adult life in large, urban areas where Whites are generally the minority.
While I am a White, non-Hispanic female, many of my closest friends and former lovers are not. That has exposed me to numerous experiences of racism directed at myself and my partner. Therefore, racism is probably more salient to me than the average White, non-Hispanic woman. In addition, my academic background consists of studying prejudice and in-group favoritism as part of Psychology graduate programs. My background is important to provide context for my reflections on race in Cincinnati. As a newcomer, I have not lived through the years of racism and police brutality that is a part of Cincinnati history. However, I have never lived anywhere where I have experienced such casual and pervasive racism as Cincinnati.
Just in the past several months, I was told by long-time Cincinnati residents that I did not want to find an apartment in certain areas in Cincinnati because “that is the Black part of town.” My current landlord (in the “Black part of town”) explained to me while giving me the keys to my apartment that unfortunately one of the apartments in my building housed a Black male, “but he is a missionary, so it is okay.” A new friend who works at University of Cincinnati, a large urban university, has explained in detail the everyday racism she experiences at the hands of co-workers and supervisors. These three discrete examples are just ordinary instances of life in Cincinnati. These interactions, and others, have left me shocked and dismayed and I have begun to investigate some of the contributing factors.
According to 24/7 Wall Street, the Cincinnati metropolitan area, which includes parts of Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana, is the fifth-most segregated in the United States. Their 2015 analysis indicated that 48.6% of Cincinnati metropolitan area residents live in segregated neighborhoods. The poverty rate for White residents was 10.3% compared to 33.5% for Black residents. Similarly, the unemployment rate for White residents was 6.1% compared to 10.2% for Black residents. While these numbers may not seem so disparate, they indicate that Black residents are more than three times as likely to live in poverty and the unemployment rate is 67% higher for Blacks than Whites in this region. Perhaps part of the level of segregation in the Cincinnati metropolitan area lies in the proximity of Cincinnati to Chicago, which is the most-segregated city in the United States (http://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/08/19/americas-most-segregated-cities/3/). Segregation leads to the conceptualization of others as part of another group, commonly termed the out-group. Past experimental psychological research, including my own, has consistently demonstrated that individuals will discriminate against others who they perceive as out-group members. Therefore, lack of contact due to segregation can be acknowledged as a strong contributor to racist attitudes and behavior.
I have also discovered that Cincinnatians are extremely religious and this is another major contrast with other places where I have lived. Earlier this year, Zimmerman reported that Cincinnati is home to the sixth-largest parochial school system in the U.S. In the last religious census in 2010, there were more than 400,000 reported Catholics in Cincinnati, coupled with more than 300,000 Protestants (http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/citywiseblog/how-catholic-are-we/).
In 2010, social psychologists Deborah Hall, David Matz and Wendy Wood published a meta-analysis of research studies that examined the relationship between religion and racism. A meta-analysis occurs by examining multiple research studies, including research methodology and findings, to determine whether there is clear and consistent support for a particular finding. In this study, Hall, Matz, and Wood examined 55 research studies and found strong and consistent evidence of a positive relationship between expressed religiosity and racism. This means that as level of religiosity increased, so did racism. Interestingly, professed Agnostics was the only group that did not express racist beliefs (https://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/545/docs/Wendy_Wood_Research_Articles/Social_Influence/hall.matz.wood.2010.final_why_dont_we_practice_what_we_preach.pdf). A relationship is not the same as causation, as any research methodologist knows. However, because of ethical obligations of researchers, causal research cannot be conducted on subjects like racism.
Perhaps Cincinnati is making strides in reducing racism compared to the past. However, from my observations, the attitudes expressed by White residents in the Cincinnati area seem to be many years behind those of the United States, in general. Those attitudes will not change significantly without Whites engaging in purposeful interactions with members of other races and without an honest examination of the danger of adherence to certain portions of religious texts that can lead to racism and lack of adherence to other portions of religious texts that clearly express that love for everyone is mandated and that all people are equal.
To be fair, I have made new White, non-Hispanic friends who share my horror of the casual everyday racism experienced in Cincinnati. These experiences provide sharp contrast to multiple interactions with White residents who casually express racism, without self-consciousness or shame, in normal conversation.
This primary season, with a Republican nominee that spouts racism as easily as he breathes, has put the country on edge. The gun violence we have all experienced the past several months has hurt all of us. Mr. Trump’s racist words has emboldened many and contributed to violence at his rallies and elsewhere. This country is poised on the precipice of change. Will we work together, acknowledge the inherent racism that built this country and choose a better path or will we continue in this endless cycle of racism and violence?
It is summer 2016 in Cincinnati and that is the view from here.
Porter, N. (September 2016). A look at racism in a Midwest city. The Gay Word, 25(4), 23. http://thegayword.com/look-racism-midwest-city/