February 4, 2014 by Kyle
A tale of two cities. I found myself momentarily perplexed after reading two separate articles about the same city. Omaha, NE was featured in an International Business Times online newspaper as, “…The Most Dangerous Place in America To Be Black“. Wow! The article proved fascinating as author, Palash Gnosh provided this statement, “the city with the highest incidence of black murder victims might raise some eyebrows: the seemingly peaceful, farming state of Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha, a city of 420,000, located along the banks of the Missouri River.” Previously Gnosh made the obligatory references to Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and Oakland as hot spots for violence within depressed communities. Of course we are talking about scale here as Omaha is a city of roughly 420,000 individuals and the violence has been concentrated in the poor black communities in the north and northeastern parts of the city. Black kids and adults are dying on the streets of Omaha. In a state of 1.9 million it has a population of 88,000 African Americans but it seems that being black and Nebraskan is a risky endeavor. Interesting that north Omaha is the birth place of Malcolm Little who later became known as Malcolm X. The rest of the article is a meat and potatoes account of black despair and could be said of most big cities where violence and poverty is ignored or simply side stepped as development continues to bring into the fold the kind of residents that city administrators want.
Strangely, as I was thinking about this article my wife brought to my attention another article about Omaha, Nebraska. The following article written by David Cross of Movoto. The article is entitled, “The 10 Best Cities to Raise a Family in America“. This was going to be interesting. So this outfit surveyed 5o cities and these cities were scored according to certain criteria like; cost of living, public school rank, park space, home ownership, crimes per capita, unemployment and commute time. These seven criteria were scored and a ranking was established giving Omaha, Nebraska the top spot. Sounds like a great city. I guess my concern with this kind of contradictory articles is that it side steps a certain demographic in order to provide this very attractive ranking. I know there is an explanation–I’m sure there is one. I wonder are the individuals located in north and northeastern Omaha considered to be true Omahan? Were they considered but simply understood to be on the other side of the red line and therefore the other folk? I sometimes get irritated when some folk refers to certain neighborhoods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Bad neighborhoods are almost exclusively black and good neighborhoods are generally white. Those neighborhoods in the mid range are the hardworking ‘ethnic’ communities.
Some people are trying to get out of Omaha and some people are trying to get into Omaha. There are the ‘haves’ and there are the ‘have nots’ and the reasons for these contrasting realities is varied. I don’t know the history of Omaha but it seems that this city resembles other cities in North America. These cities tell a story about race, class, privilege and the despair of the socially non-privileged. Gnosh references blogger Adam Fletcher who provides sobering statistics related to Omaha and its African American community. He gives the following:
Omaha ranks eighth in the nation for black unemployment. Omaha ranks first among U.S. cities for the total number of African Americans who qualify as low-income. One out of three of African American families in Omaha live in poverty. Six out of 10 black children in Omaha live in poverty. More than one-third (35 percent) of black students in Omaha do not graduate from high school.
Communities like north Omaha will not disappear and articles like this one will continue to pop up ever so often. These stories seem to capture the attention of some for a little while but the reality is that cities like Omaha will still be separated by the privileged and under served. It may seem like a hopeless endeavor but I personally have hope that these places can be changed because of my faith in the transformational power of Jesus Christ. These places are not changed as a result of researching how to insulate ourselves from these ‘other’ people. Christ lived with the poor and wealthy and actually had harder things to say to those who had privilege and was noticeably more compassionate towards those who were the underclass and underrepresented. It is important to remember that there are human beings dying on the streets of mid western and east coast cities. The problem with Omaha is that both articles are true. We simply need to determine whose reality are we talking about. Omaha, Nebraska like most American cities has a questionable racial past and this may be a factor to explain why there is such a dichotomy. While writing I had to pause and pray for the people of Omaha. These are real people who dream, love and have aspirations for their children and the generations to follow.