At a forum put on by the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission and sponsored by both faculty and student groups in Criminal Justice and Social Work, an African-American community member noted that sometimes racism is spoken about in code.
He said something like (I am recalling with no notes), “they talk about not wanting renters in the neighborhood, and it’s a code.”
I then raised my hand to make another point. We had just seen slides that detailed census data about Cedar Rapids, and according to those statistics, a much higher percentage of White households own property compared with the rate of home ownership among African-Americans. But the number of White households is so much greater overall, that a smaller percentage of those households who rent outnumbers the larger percent of African-American households who rent—in effect, the slides showed that a majority of renters in Cedar Rapids are White.
“We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” the man responded.
That felt weird. I didn’t want to sound like I was rebutting his point—I didn’t think he was wrong. I thought he made a probably valid point and I was pointing out a mathematical reality based on the statistics we had just seen. I bet when some people think “renter” in CR, they do think “those Chicago people,” which is code for recent African-American migration, even if the statistics mean that “renter” is a bigger word than that.
I guess what I was meaning to say is that those who speak of “renter” as code for “Black” aren’t in tune to the realities, either.
But, when the topic is race, I suppose having different experiences and perspectives, and some miss-communication, is part of the overall issue.
And I found the program very interesting. We played a game “roll of the dice,” in which we had cards and rolled dice to determine life factors, such as income, home ownership, relationship with the criminal justice system, school achievement, etc. Each of us was to invent a youth and a biography for that youth based on those rolls.
I named mine “O’Mahoney,” in honor of my recently departed uncle. It turns out, as was revealed at the end of the game, that we each had cards statistically tied to the experiences of different ethnic groups, and my young Mr. O’Mahoney was, in fact, Latino.
Sadly, we didn’t get to do enough with the characters after that game, but the discussion that followed was eye-opening.
Last night’s program was very interesting, and I’m glad I went, even if I did get caught up in the debate that wasn’t a debate.