Coming from the intersection of the American north and the American south is an experience that I can best explain as one full of denial. The border, seemingly paralleled the border that I would cross every day between Kentucky and Ohio on the way to work. It was a kind of fogged lens that the residents of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area readily wore, the one that kept their privilege and comfortability safe. As culture sinks further and further into the muck of red, clay-ridden dirt that one sees driving the highway through dynamite-carved ravines, it is replaced with white comforts, such as Panera Bread locations and glossy, new cupcake shops. The gentrification of the downtown strip, and the suburban sprawl of the surrounding towns is closing the community in, and is finally facing consequences of ignoring long-standing racial and economic consequences of avoiding the issues that most progressive states have at least tried to solve. The middle class is dying, Heroin is a new epidemic, and racial tension, as demonstrated with the controversy surrounding the fatal shooting of a black man by a University of Cincinnati police officer, is boiling.
The Ohio River, made famous with the help of folklore of fugitive slaves crossing it to freedom, is a landmark, as the city that Mark Twain described as the place that he wanted to be in when the world ended, because it was always “ten years behind”. Its failing economy lends itself to its swing state politics and conservative social standing. This is similar to the rise of racial tension in Cincinnati during the Civil Rights movement. As stated by scholar Herbert Shapiro, “The movement itself had many violent outbursts after issues of “touched off by police harassment symbolized the escalation of racial confrontation”, in reference to the reaction to issues such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
Now, it is interesting to compare that reaction to the killing of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati in July 2015. Ohio’s Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters noted his killing, which was done by a white University of Cincinnati police officer named Raymond Tensing, as a “murder” that was “completely unnecessary”. Though this resulted in the charge of a full life sentence against the officer, it still sparked the emergence of the Black Lives Matter protesting in the area, because obvious racial tension still exists in the area. As the movement grows, and has since had the ability to shut down a notable highway area in the city, the issue of intersectionality comes into play. Why has racial tension changed? Why are we back in the 60’s? These events are consequences of a divided political sphere.
Additionally, the feminist politics of the area are also deficient. As Kentucky elected their first tea party governor, Matt Bevin, they said goodbye to the few protections women had of their rights in the state. The last Planned Parenthood is said to be shutting down any day, and as legal rights of women that are guaranteed by the Constitution are not being given to those who deserve them, the obvious denial of those who live in the area, is sweeping the state. Because of the lack of ability to obtain their legal rights, women can not expect to make legal strides in the form of political power or even proper representation. This is why the area is so unique in its conservative fight against the well-being of most of its residents. The confusion between a northern progressiveness, and a southern conservatism meant that for I, because of my Kentucky health insurance, could not go to the Ohioan Planned Parenthood that was less than five miles away from my home, but that, since Kentucky was closing the doors of most all of its Planned Parenthood services, I would have to travel over 100 miles to get somewhere that would provide a legal abortion. The inability of women to obtain safe, legal abortions at practices in the country does nothing but continue the racially and economically declining area, as those who can not pay for an abortion must then remain involved with a pregnancy and then take on the responsibility of a child, let alone suffer the consequences of living in a society that declares their inability to access their Constitutional rights as acceptable. Those on top have almost complete control of those on bottom, even by law.
Of course, questions of what to do to try to mend these increasing divides are rarely answered. However, some recent developments in the city of Cincinnati itself may appear as a fix to those who do not understand the issue of intersectionality completely. The recently built streetcar downtown may mask itself as community growth, however, its route is one of the most gentrified streets in the area. The glossy new playgrounds and sleek concrete in Washington Park might seem like a blossoming block, promising new life in the skeletons of industry that make up the haphazard skyline. But these developments act as a device in the further divisions of class and race that perpetuate the circumstances that keep the city from actual progression.
Gentrification, as defined by the Encyclopedia of Urban America, “refers to the process that occurs when a professional and managerial population moves into a neighborhood, frequently run-down, that has primarily been inhabited by people of a lower socioeconomic class”. Though this process is usually advertised to the community as beneficial because of the hope for economic success of the area, it displaces the historical populations of the areas it spreads to. This process is not specific to Cincinnati, and many scholars such as University of Massachusetts’ Dr. Andrew Leong explain that as gentrification shrinks Chinatowns and “focus[es] on corporate welfare” (Leong, 1). In the article “Gentrification in Over-the-Rine: Revitalization efforts intensify class divide downtown”, authors Kinsley Slife and Annie Dennis collect sources that detail the city-specific spread of gentrification;
“The New York Times termed the OTR gentrification an “urban renaissance.” The Cincinnati Enquirer said OTR is now “home to a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.” In a News Record story, one gentrification proponent said OTR was previously “abandoned, vacant, crime-ridden.”
However, once they interviewed longtime resident Dr. Alice Skitrz, author of “Econocide: Elimination of the Urban Poor”, she added that this facade of progression was not correct, and that “…the reality was far different: Public decisions were turned over to private corporations while hundreds of hard-working people were evicted from their homes.” (2)
This is an active example of rich Cincinnati ignoring poor Cincinnati. Like the growing racial tensions in poorer communities to the thwarting of women’s rights, extra costs and extra effort to tie a failing metropolitan area together are being ignored in order to try to catch up with other gentrified, developed cities across the country. This is where Cincinnati fails, it does not account for the foundational work necessary to build a community correctly. Building new parks next to one of the most dangerous blocks in the country is skipping a few steps. It is irresponsible, and ignorant. New condominium complexes line the river less than half a mile from a parking lot that saw a 500% rise in heroin-related arrests in 2012 (Jessica Noll, “Addicted in Northern Kentucky”). Cincinnati cannot displace the residents that can not buy into its rapidly expanding private economy without facing the consequences. And it is facing those consequences.
Moving toward efforts of actually building an inclusive rather than exclusive community is what is going to fix the problems of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. Being ten years behind is what Cincinnati is known for, for many reasons. Being a dangerous, divided city is not going to help the area progress, it will only push it further behind. In an area that depends on such a metropolitan hub for cultural, political, and economic trends that flow through its surrounding cities and states, it is necessary to consider intersectionality while Cincinnati develops. This starts with providing health care access, education access, and economic access to all people in the city, regardless of skin color or gender. Constant emphasis on creating a more equal experience of being a Cincinnatian will give residents a reason to be prideful of their entire city, instead of only feeling safe in a few designated neighborhoods. Maybe one day I will not be so embarrassed to call it home.