Are Cincinnati’s race problems overblown? It all depends on who you ask.
I recently hosted a team of about 20 high school students from Spartanburg, SC, who were here to help me canvass the city, take surveys, and get a better grasp on the spiritual climate in Cincinnati. I made the surveys and specifically asked questions regarding race.
When asked to describe Cincinnati in one word, one lady named Mrs. Owens responded “racist.” She also said racism is the greatest problem facing the community. Margaret is African American and she said the racial problems in this city are 98 out of 100. Another African American man said 89 out of 100.
When white folks were asked the same question, they were clearly more optimistic. Bethany said racial tension is 20 out of 100, Carol gave it a 25, Matthew a 60, and so on.
I have asked that question also to many of the local people that I have met here, and the white folks all tend to think that the problem is “overblown” and the so-called riots were a “joke.” Media hype and sensationalism, they say.
Regarding the riots, Kweisi Mfume said that the riots were caused by, “more than anything else, 20 to 25 years of neglect, of frustration, of profiling, of a second-class feeling in Cincinnati. White citizens and black citizens for all that time have been pleading for somebody to take a look at what was going on there, to respond. That didn’t happen. … All of this just bubbled over, but not because of this one incident, because of a number of incidents like this over the years.”
The answer to the perception disparity can possibly be attributed to a collective refusal to acknowledge the problem. Sylvester Monroe says that we have a “growing national proclivity for avoiding even the discussion of race. But by shunning racial issues and ignoring history — including fairly recent history — we make America’s most intractable problem that much more difficult to solve.”
Here’s the landscape: most people avoid discussions of race. It belongs in the junk drawer of untouchables such as politics and religion; the feelings are just too raw. Christians have outsourced any racial ministry or even discussion to liberals who deny the Bible and see racial equality in the same light as gay rights.
Here’s the bottom line: white people don’t have to feel intimidated in a room full of other whites. White people don’t feel targeted by the police. White people live in the majority culture and issues of race can be sandwiched in between discussions of our favorite films and whether or not NAFTA is a good idea.
For black folks, it is a daily part of their lives. There is no escaping the fact that they live in as minorities in a culture where they tangibly experience racial hostilities.
So let’s cut the crap. White people can say racial issues are overblown because we have the luxury of ignoring it. African Americans live it everyday, and the ones I’ve met in Cincinnati universally agree that there’s a major problem.
Do we not have a responsibility as Christians to address this?