By NATALIE PORTER
A recent transplant to Ohio, I have lived in Cincinnati for about eight months now. Throughout my 40-plus years, I have lived in a number of states: growing up in rural Delaware and as an adult living in urban areas in Florida, as well as Baltimore, metropolitan D.C., and Richmond, Va.
I also lived in one of the whitest states in the country, Vermont, which was 94.6 percent white in 2015, according to the Census Bureau. But most of my adult life has been in large, urban areas where whites are generally the minority.
While I am white and non-Hispanic, many of my closest friends and former lovers are not. That has exposed me to numerous experiences of racism directed at my partner and myself. 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 the city’s 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 residents that I did not want to find an apartment in certain areas of Cincinnati because “that is the black part of town.” My current landlord (in one of these areas) explained to me while giving me my keys 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 has explained in detail the everyday racism she experiences at the hands of co-workers and supervisors. These are just ordinary instances of life in Cincinnati.
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 U.S. A 2015 analysis indicated that 48.6 percent of Cincinnati metropolitan area residents live in segregated neighborhoods. The poverty rate for white residents was 10.3 percent, compared to 33.5 for black residents. Similarly, the unemployment rate for whites was 6.1 percent compared to 10.2 for blacks.
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 percent higher for blacks than whites in this region.
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, another major contrast with other places where I have lived. 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 were the only group that did not express racist beliefs* A relationship is not the same as causation, 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 the area’s white residents 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 election 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 have 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?
Natalie Porter is a Cincinnati-based correspondent for The Word