I was delighted by the discussion my last blog post- “To All Afraid of the ‘Ghetto’”- sparked both online and on the University of Chicago campus. Many of my classmates approached me about the blog and gave even more personal accounts on comments the pervade our campus from our administration, the University of Chicago Police Department, and an overwhelming amount of students that actively other black neighborhoods and discourage people from entering into these spaces. It was especially fruitful to engage in the often-ignored discussion on violence and crime in predominantly white neighborhoods and sexual assaults that occur frequently at several universities and colleges. Nevertheless, while I did receive much vindication, I also received much flack. A number of individuals (mostly classmates) approached me essentially contending that poor black neighborhoods are innately more dangerous and that majority white neighborhoods-in urban and suburban areas- are inherently safer.
I am troubled by the painful reality that our nation’s (and in particular the media’s) ideas on blackness remain entrenched in unyielding ideology. When I use the word ideology, I mean a particular subset of personally guarded beliefs, whether correct or completely false. There was one individual I spoke with that argued violence was not as much of an issue in other “safe” spaces even after I outlined the clear racist issue of “being afraid of the ‘ghetto’” along with highlighting vindicating statistics. More problematic was his use of shaky anecdotal evidence to support his claims. While these assertions lead me to question the effectiveness of the University of Chicago curriculum, an ideological issue is demonstrated. Similar to political ideology, as it is often seen in deadlock and unproductive Congressional debates, racial ideology is at play here. This means that no matter how extensive the activism, how correct and persuasive the argument or prose, and/or how incorrect the ideological belief, some people will by and large relentlessly and almost illusorily tend to a negative ideological definition as it relates to race. Simply put, some people will just accept and defend the uncomplicated narrative and belief that black people are more violent and thus poor black neighborhoods are exclusively dangerous.
Make no mistake, the purpose of this post is not be overly pessimistic nor to draw attention to the obvious notion that people often disagree. I find it important to highlight the painful reality of ideologically rooted beliefs in order to engage in a much more productive discussion. This contention not only calls into question bias but also underscores the root of racial issues in the larger American polity. Consider the Civil Rights Movement. Though the movement was successful and legal rights were eventually obtained, disenfranchisement still followed because the issue of ideology was not tackled. According to Michelle Alexander, Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University, there is still a system that works to actively disenfranchise black people called the New Jim Crow. Whether it be institutionalized injustices or baseless racial definitions, ideology is very much at play and more attention should be paid to it.
It was the eloquent W.E.B. DuBois that stated, “the problem of the future is charting, by means of intelligent reason, of a path not simply through the resistance of physical force, but through the vaster and far more intricate jungle of ideas.” Regardless of where you lay in the jungle of racial ideology, we as a nation (and especially the media) should actively problematize the one-sided narrative that exclusively associates violence with blackness. More importantly, in doing so, consideration of ideology should be center. Through this solely can a true post-racial polity be reached.