Confronting race in Cleveland’s progressive enclaves

Living in a diverse, progressive community doesn’t make its residents immune to close-minded thinking. The tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., are a major wake-up call to those of us who believe we’re completely accepting of others but don’t understand how our actions (or lack thereof) contribute to this violence.

When my family was looking for a place to live in Northeast Ohio last year, a key priority was finding a good public school that also had students from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. This is becoming more and more difficult to find with recent reports showing school segregation has significantly increased since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

During our initial visit to the Cleveland area, multiple locals suggested school districts that are “the good ones.” With further research, I discovered these “good” districts are also in towns that are heavily homogenous. Digging deeper, we found a public school system that, according to Ohio state rankings, isn’t at the top, but from another perspective is doing well teaching students how to interact with our neighbors in Ohio and around the globe.

We’re a white, well-educated middle class family with built-in privilege on many levels. My husband and I both grew up in working-class small towns with little diversity. While we’ve become more socially aware through education and travel, I know we will always have more to learn about the intricacies of race relations and our own biases.

To be clear, I don’t think everyone in an almost all-white town is a bad person – I’m the result of a similar locale. But I’ve learned it’s important to be completely honest about your place in this world. While our local school district is around 50 percent people of color, our street is not. I was so focused on the school system, I didn’t think about the neighborhood makeup when we found a house.

I discovered our neighborhood’s elementary school buses in children from other parts of the city, which gives it more diversity. I don’t have enough experience with this topic to know the good and the bad of such a system, but it’s of course not perfect. There are other neighborhoods in our city with a much better mix of backgrounds, but that’s not where we are planted. I even had one person say we live on the “good side of the tracks.” I prodded him for his meaning behind this statement, which led to a muddled answer.

While it has clear flaws, one of my favorite parts of the city is its public library and nearby playground. I’ve never experienced a library with so many great programs for all ages and backgrounds. It’s also a place where youth can hang out after school, and they are mostly students of color. On a local Facebook group, I was struck by how many parents said they wouldn’t take their kids to the playground anymore because of the “rowdy” teens. From my experience going to that playground on a regular basis during the afterschool hours, I’ve never felt their actions would cause me to stop going. I can’t speak for these commenters, but it does make me wonder how much of their thinking is because they’re teens and how much of it is because they’re a group of black youth.

While others in the social media group questioned those who won’t go to the playground, I didn’t. That wasn’t the right move. It’s crucial for all of us to speak against close-mindedness. Otherwise, we’re silently accepting these actions.

Going forward, I will make a concerted effort to work through nerves and imperfect thoughts so I may speak up for the oppressed and admit when I’m wrong. That’s what led to writing this piece. There also are times when it’s important to step back, listen and let people of color lead the way. Knowing the difference is something I’m learning each day.

Quoting a favorite worship song, as accepting others is faithful and just:

 

The flowers of the field are crying to be heard

The trees of the forest are singing

And all of the mountains with one voice

Are joining the chorus of this world

And I will not be silent

And I will not be quiet anymore

 

Feature photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

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