Urban Racism

How racism can go overlooked in liberal, urban communities

Image by Mira Bohannan Kumar

Image by Mira Bohannan Kumar

Ellis Chen, Reporter

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With the election of Steve King and apparent indifference to his history of making racist and xenophobic comments, there has been a lot of discussion of racism in rural, primarily white areas. These concerns are not unfounded. Historically, rural areas – particularly in the South – have had large amounts of racism, through things like Jim Crow laws. While racism in these areas is important and should not be ignored, we must be careful to not let it gloss over issues in our own community.

Urban areas are often more racially diverse than most rural areas, and Johnson County in particular has different demographics from other counties. However, it’s important to not let a focus on poor behavior of others prevent us from recognizing issues in our own community. When we externalize racism from our communities, we think less of it. Racism becomes a thing that couldn’t happen here, because racism is a thing that happens in rural Iowa or southern states. A similar situation is with the South-North dichotomy. Although there is an idea of Northern pride for being part of the Union and fighting against the slavery-supporting confederacy, the North also had racist policies such as redlining as Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the South.

When one frames racism as a binary between being part of a liberal college town in America and being in a rural county, it shifts the focus of attention away from issues within that liberal community. Racist language is still used in “liberal” towns. Implicit bias has also had an impact, even if explicit and open racism is frowned upon. Disproportionate school discipline and suspensions within the Iowa City Community School District also came to attention, with black students making up around 60% of suspensions despite making up a much lower percent of the population, which many attribute to implicit bias.  Many schools have a lack of teachers of color, despite large numbers of students of color.

Some might argue that rural areas are, in fact, more discriminatory. While this might be true, it doesn’t change the fact that when we pridefully talk about of being in an area against racism, it ends up removing the ability to criticize very poor local behavior. Yes, you can condemn racism in rural areas, but you should be sure to not frame it in a binaristic way that happens to absolve people in urban areas of their responsibility.

To be clear, this does not excuse racism and other forms of discrimination in rural parts of the United States, and I don’t wish to erase the action towards progress that has been taken by my peers and others. Racism is inherently evil, and the idea that people should be excused of discrimination for being “ignorant” is patronizing and ignores the agency that individuals possess to control their behavior. It’s also neither fair nor accurate to label everybody in rural communities as racist. Rather, I think that it’s important that we don’t overlook and excuse racism within our own community, and acknowledge racism wherever it exists, instead of just focusing on certain areas of the country.