Since the 50th anniversary of the Hough “Uprising” (that many prefer to call a “riot”) falls on the same day the RNC comes to town, some folks are attempting to ascribe something metaphysical or sinister to what is merely a coincidence. Nonetheless, the media is in a feeding frenzy.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had at least four or five media types — including magazine writers, reporters and documentary filmmakers — tracking me down to get my take on what happened in my community back in 1966. And, in spite of this being my busy season in the vineyard, I try to accommodate fellow journalists.
However, a few have not been thrilled with what I have to say. My message that something good came out of the uprising and that Hough is now a destination community doesn’t fit their preconceived notions. They want more of the burning, looting and turmoil, not rebuilding and re-branding.
If you ever listen to NPR on Sunday morning, as I sometimes do, you might catch one of the stories featuring a white liberal reporter interviewing a black person talking about the plight of their neighborhood, their family or their life. It really doesn’t matter all that much what the subject matter is — it’s always more about how they’re saying it.
Allow me to give you an example of what some white interviewers are dying to hear, preferably from a 80 or 90-year-old verb-busting black woman:
“We’s all comes up to Cleveland back in 19 and 59 cause we’s heards that white peoples up here was treating us colored folks real good, better than they was down in Greenville, Mississippi where we be raised. I gots me a job cleaning whites folks houses out yonders in Shakers Heights, and we’s was scraping by OK … that is untils them damn fool young peoples started all that riotin’ and lootin’ and stuff because theys was too lazy, shiftless and no-count to go out and get themselves some kinds of a job. They be thinkin’ they too good to scrub floors and clean toilets.
“And lordy, when all that shootin’ be commencin’ to start we’s was scared to death! All them bullets whizzin’ by, and you knows them bullets, they ain’t got no eyes on ‘em, they can hit anyone! I just grabs my bible, holds on to it for dear life, and begins to prayin’ real hard! Then them National Guards soldiers comes to rollin’ in with them big ’ol tanks and thems bayonets on they guns. We’s tooks to hiding under the beds we so scared … Big Jimmy, Little Jimmy, Jimmy Junior … I wouldn’t let none of them men folk goes anywhere near a window, let alone go outside. After it was over the little market I goes to didn’t have no food attal. First time in my life I had to cook turnip greens without me some fatback or a ham hock in ’um.”
You see, some so-called journalists think they are doing the black community a favor by highlighting misery. But by only telling one part of the story, they are actually hurting Hough. Some “helicopter” in with the story they want to tell already written in their mind; and if someone gives a different version than what they want and need to hear, they’re dismissive of it, and continue looking until they find the right person for their storyline.
When I attempt to educate filmmakers and journalists from out of town, when I attempt to give them a complete picture of Hough, their eyes sometimes glaze over. They then ask me if I know any little old black women who lived in Hough during the riots. They want to hear about the fear, because fear sells. But selling fear is a sure way to keep a neighborhood like Hough from rebounding, and I think some media people know this.
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Before the housing crash of 2006, banks were willing to finance homes in Hough. But since that downturn, building homes in my community has become virtually impossible. Yet in other parts of the city the new home market has bounced back. Why is that?
In part it’s because bankers use the media-driven perceptions of Hough — of fear — to once again engage in redlining … writing the entire area off as a bad, dangerous investment. Perception becomes reality.
However, now that attention is being focused on the Upper Chester part of Hough, with skilled political leadership, plus fair and balanced reportage, the community I reside in, and so dearly love, could once again start making forward progress.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.