I have been absent from this project for the past several months because of health issues, workload at my day job with ACDHS and because of the nature of this pandemic.
However, I’d like to continue to use this platform as a way to educate Pittsburghers on lasting economic and racial segregation in our city, the causes and consequences of that segregation and to use this platform as a way to give a voice to residents in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods (as to let residents highlight both the beauty that exists in their communities along with the challenges they face). The hope has always been that this education would spur change that helps those in our most disadvantaged communities.
This project has always been about place, race and poverty and exploring these topics through neighborhood profiles, residential interviews, community walks and data briefs, in addition to my free-lance writing for Public Source. However, for now, I am modifying the direction of this project overall based on recent events. Most notably the string of high-profile killings of Black men in the U.S and the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and/or low-income Americans. These events have exacerbated the existing hardships that our Black neighborhoods already face.
Considering this, for the time being, I will use this platform to conduct the following two projects:
1) I will be visiting each Pittsburgh neighborhood during the summer to take photos, talk to residents (while practicing social distance) and present brief write ups of how people in our neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods themselves, have been impacted by the coronavirus. I want people to see our neighborhoods in the context of this pandemic and better understand the disparate impacts that result from the consequences of COVID-19 because of place and race.
2) I want to be connected with explicitly racist younger people and younger adults. I say younger because research, and personal experience, shows that younger people are more likely to change their beliefs. None of us are going to successful in changing your racist uncle’s mind, but we could be successful at changing the mind of your younger nephew.
Let me explain the context for this second project because it needs explanation:
As a white man I have privileges that non-white males do not have. In this context, I can speak with explicitly racist people (and people with racial biases in general) and I generally do not have to worry about my mental or physical safety. I want to use that privilege to try*and reach younger people and younger adults and show them a different way of thinking.
This is not* me saying that I am THE authority on all things related to education around racism and its roots. This is me saying that I do actively try* to challenge my own biases (because they are still there), have a solid knowledge base of racist policy against Black Americans from the 1930s on and have had some success in getting through to younger white people who have race driven biases (by getting to know them, slowly challenging their biases and holding them accountable through the life of that relationship).
I grew up in a low-income home in a conservative leaning working class white community that had a very specific brand of racism, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to people who challenged these thoughts, cared about me (and so I actually cared about their opinion) and held me accountable. This allowed me to slowly shed the explicit biases I had. I want to try* to do that for other white people with racist tendencies, in addition to non-Black people with racist tendencies.
Criminal justice reform, police reform and police accountability are critical to reducing deep racial disparities in who is stopped by police, arrested by police, brutalized by police, and killed by police. Likewise, while our current national attention is focused on policing in the U.S, we cannot forget our deep racial disparities in health (COVID-19 deaths included), neighborhood conditions, education, employment, social mobility, and housing and the myriad of systemic changes that must occur to confront these disparities.
Systemic changes are necessary. However, systemic changes alone will not undo the individual roots of racism that fuel, support and reinforce systemic racism: the racist beliefs that White people learn and reinforce and the power that White people deploy to make sure they do not ever lose that power. This racism must be confronted on a personal level.
I got into policy research to specifically work on de-segregation policy and on policy related to improving outcomes resulting from race and class (systems and program level changes). More specifically, everything I do for work and The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project has to do with affordable housing policy, neighborhood segregation and urban gun violence. All these things are intrinsically tied to explicit racism against poor Black people and Black people in general. This is the knowledge-base that I plan to work from in my conversations with people with explicit racial biases, in addition to the related conversations/listening sessions I’ve had with the Black community through my research, time as a caseworker and conversations with friends of color. I will also draw from those personal conversations I have with members of the Black community which serve to challenge my own racial biases (however implicit they may be).
While I’m proud of the work I’ve done for the county and for The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project, I keep feeling like that work isn’t enough, especially because it’s slow and also doesn’t directly address the root cause of this problem: the racist beliefs that white children learn and the power that white people deploy to make sure they don’t ever lose that power.
I am on FMLA for the next few months because of an ongoing medical condition and so I have more time than usual. I want to use that time to carry some of the weight that us white people have made all non-white people carry (whether they be Black, Asian, Latino or Native American).
If you hear or see a loved one or person in your life say “but what about Black on Black crime” feel free to connect them to me or me to them.
If you hear or see them say “But way more white people are killed by police” feel free to connect them to me or me to them.
And if you hear or see them say “But they should have done X, Y or Z and they wouldn’t have died” feel free to connect them to me or me to them.
Or send them to me for any other consistently racist behavior (should you feel you are unable to address these biases alone or at all).
I also challenge other white people, and white men in particular, to carry out these same conversations with the people around them who display explicitly racist behavior, should you feel safe in doing so.
Let me carry some of the weight that non-Black people have had to carry as a result of racism. It’s my responsibility to carry that weight as a white man.
I have no idea if anyone will try and connect me with someone (and whether that someone would want to talk) but I must try. I also don’t know if too many people will utilize this and whether I’ll be overwhelmed (that’s a best-case scenario).
Regardless, if someone you know has a racial bias and you feel unable to reach that person for any reason (for reasons of safety, exhaustion or you’ve already tried) then please connect them to me or give them my contact, or feel free to connect me to them. Likewise, if you’d like to utilize my services for speaking engagements about the origins of racial segregation by place, its consequences and its connection to modern day racial disparities please contact me. You can reach me at Pittsburghneighborhoodproject@gmail.com
The organization of this project will likely change over time depending on the demand of my trying* to educate non-Black people on the racism that Black people have so uniquely endured. The content of The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project is well positioned to serve in facilitating these conversations: intentional segregation by race and its consequences are at the core of the hyper racism we see today. I need to do something more to ensure that Black people have the same right to life, opportunity, and happiness that I do. I can start by trying to talk to people with explicit racial biases, as to try* and get them to behave in a way that does not endanger the lives of our Black sisters and brothers.
Importantly, please check back with this blog to read my COVID-19 related posts which will serve to educate Pittsburghers on how their neighbors are dealing with the impact of coronavirus in their own neighborhoods. This will be an ongoing series for the rest of the summer and into the fall.
Thank you all and stay safe.
Black Lives Matter. Let us start acting like it.
*this post has been edited to provide additional details and context for the projects I will be focusing on through this platform.”