Being raised in Xenia was an exercise in racial schizophrenia. On the one hand black Xenians and white Xenians have, on the surface, always gotten along. Besides a few marches in the 60’s to protest Geyer’s restaurant not serving blacks and a few more inequities–like having to sit a certain place in the theater, Xenia has been a place of calm waters racially.
On the surface that was true. Beneath the surface however, things boiled and roiled and were not smooth. Occasionally something would erupt. In the late 1960’s or late 1970’s Xenia High was hosting a wrestling match with Roth High School, a predominantly black high school from nearby Dayton. Some of the Xenia fans began to call the Roth wrestlers “nigger.” One of the XHS cheerleaders, Judy G., who was one of our first black cheerleaders, was outraged and began to cheer for the Roth players out of anger.
She was disciplined by the school administration and removed from the cheerleading squad. Protests sprang up and she was eventually re-instated. The way the incident was handled was vintage Xenia–pretend this is an isolated incident that could have happened over any issue, clean it up, sweep it under the rug and forget about it.
I had white friends in high school, but our friendship did not generally extend beyond the doors of the school or football field or field house. They did not come to my house and I was not invited to theirs. In justice to them I am not sure I ever invited them to my house either, but then I was always made to feel as if they would not come in any case.
Xenia and Greene County have never dealt effectively with the issue of race–this is nothing unusual in this country, if it is anything it is normal behavior,but Xenia has lots of reasons to be able to do better.
The treatment of the two black universities practically next door, fewer than four miles down the road is a prime example. When CSU was flourishing the businessmen in town were eager to get their trade. Yet, they steadfastly refused to put up signs saying “Welcome Students” in the fall as many college towns and nearby towns do for other schools.
The town does not, has not, and will not support CSU or Wilberforce University athletics, students, activities, programs, arts, or anything else. I once attended a concert by Stevie Wonder at the height of his popularity in Robeson Auditorium on CSU’s campus. It was a free concert, and the auditorium was not half full. Many nationally know African American and white entertainers, politicians, scholars and celebrities have come to CSU and been ignored by nearly all the white people in Xenia.
I once joked to my husband after one of those events, ” If Jesus Christ was appearing at CSU, most of the white folks in Xenia would say, ” I’ll catch him on his way back through town.”
One of the ways you can judge the racial climate in Xenia is the employment habits. Xenia schools have never employed an equitable number of black teachers or administrators. Not that black administrators mean more black teachers. When Aaron P., a black man, was the head of human resources Xenia hired virtually no black teachers, sure they were safe from accusations of racism–even though the HR person is only the rubber stamp and recommendations for hiring are made at the building level.
The city and county likewise do not hire blacks, despite having one of the most highly educated pools of black candidates in the state, especially for the size of the city and county.
Years ago I was asked to be on the city’s Affirmative Action Committee. I reminded them that I lived in Wilberforce, not Xenia, but they said they still wanted me on the committee. But no, they did not really. At our first meeting we were told by city leaders that Xenia was losing federal monies because the city’s staff did not reflect the racial make-up of the area. There was no interest in making the ranks more equitable racially because it was the right thing to do, there was interest in getting the grant and other monies the feds were offering.
What they were attempting to do by asking some of us black folks they had identified as leaders to join this committee was to try to use us as a version of black whisperers. We were to find them some ” qualified” blacks that they could put on the fire department or other agencies that had no black employees. Quick fix, problem solved.
I pointed out to them that in order to solve the problem we had to approach it from a systemic point of view. Why weren’t there any black firemen in Xenia? Were black people genetically averse to red trucks? Were blacks afraid of sliding down poles? Of course, I did not ask them those questions, that was just my evil side. I asked them:
1) What part of the process is failing? a) Are they not applying b) are they not passing the tests required c) are they not being interviewed/selected for interviews d) are they not being hired having passed the test and been interviewed.
They said they did not keep any information about the race of candidates, they did not know if they were not getting applications, did not know if they were not being interviewed, or not passing the tests or just not being hired. They plead the fact that they could not require supervisors to hire minorities because of civil service rules. I asked them if fire chiefs and police chiefs and other administrators were not people who served at the pleasure of the city or county. They said yes, that was true. So I asked them why they did not make the successful recruitment of minorities part of the job evaluation for those folks? We never had another meeting. At least I was never invited to another one.
One of the problems with Xenia is that we all want to hire people we relate to, or know or who have some connection with us. Unfortunately, historically Xenia has been such a separated town socially that even though we attended school together white society and black society are still very much separate entities. That means when a job comes available and the person responsible for recruiting thinks of someone they believe would fit the position they are unlikely to know a black person to recommend.
Of course, the town should not rely on that, but hey, it has worked for certain segments of the population since 1803 when the city was founded. Check the names of business owners from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s and even up to the present in some cases and check who works for the county and city. You will find a lot of names in common.
Is Xenia any more racist than the rest of the country? Absolutely not. In some cases it is better, or tries to be. When it comes to truly wanting equity and inclusion, however, there is much more talk than action and the behavior of the decision makers in most positions of power is not congruent with people who truly believe in equality.
Nor are the black folks in Xenia, myself included when I lived there or nearby, totally innocent. I am not sure if we were just given enough respect and opportunity to keep us docile or what but I think the following quote describes X-town to a tee.
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” – Fredrick Douglass
Some folks who have been reading this blog will find this one hard to deal with. I will go back to what I was told by one of my idols, the great Dr. John Hope Franklin, who I had to honor of meeting shortly after I moved to North Carolina. “Cookie, if you are talking about race and nobody is uncomfortable, you are doing it wrong.”
The sad part is that most people in Xenia ( and everywhere truth be told) are good people. They are simply unwilling to examine their own biases and refuse to accept the fact that racism and injustice and a few cases of true malice exist in their sphere, even when they are confronted with evidence.
Perhaps someday that will change, there is always hope.