What is it like to be a white woman in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland?

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This series started in response a simple question by Angie Schmitt, editor of RustWire. The evening I met her and said I lived in Hough, she asked, “What is that like?”

“A lot of things,” I responded.

Ground breaking, right? Even though I’ve been asked that question many times before, I never developed a pithy, insightful response. And Angie’s question was different. Most of the time, people tell me by their face and tone of voice exactly what they think it’s like. And I know I won’t dispel an entire life of prejudice with one casual conversation.

But Angie was genuinely, openly curious. And she has a blog (read the original post here). So I took some time to write out my response, for Angie and her readers. Thanks, Angie, for giving me the space to develop my own long form response at my own slow pace.

What do YOU think it’s like?

Here’s an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at a typical week for me (in 2012) as a white woman living in Hough, a 97% African-American neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio:

  • Check email and Facebook every day.  It’s way better than TV.
  • Push my kids on the swings in our backyard.
  • Feed our six chickens.
  • Teach the neighborhood kids that eggs come from chickens.
  • Do the laundry and then fall asleep and forget about it in the dryer and my husband has to fold the clothes so our sons have pants to wear.
  • Convince a screaming three year old that it’s not a big deal his socks have bumps; he still needs to put on his shoes so he can go to pre-school.
  • Go grocery shopping at Aldi because we ran out of milk and bananas.
  • Curse the banks for the abandoned house next door.

By the way, I do this all while being one of few white families in the African-American Hough neighborhood.  The one that went up in flames in 1966 during the Hough riots because some idiot white restaurant owner put “No water for N*&&#%s” in the window and the National Guard had to come in?  Yeah, that one.

How did I get here?

My husband and I met in part because we both independently decided we liked the neighborhood. Many years ago, when I was at Oberlin College, I had friends who drove up to the Afro-centric Catholic Church called St Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima. I was living in the Afrikan Heritage House, and also converting to Catholicism at the same time. I had no idea I would live in Cleveland after graduation, but after getting a job here and visiting other churches, I decided to become a member. Fatima was welcoming, spiritually invigorating, and challenged me to live Gospel values. It felt like home to me.

My now-husband worked in a lab at the Cleveland Clinic and wanted to walk to work. Neither of us let race or abandoned houses distract us from the great things this location has to offer. We had friends, church, and work all in the neighborhood, so when we got married, we decided to live here.

We fixed up a foreclosed house (in 2006, before the recession) and now live there with our two boys, six chickens, and an attack cat.

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I wish more people did the same. The neighborhood offers so much!

Think you can handle the neighborhood?  I’ll be doing a series of posts about living in Hough: a short history, why Hough is like a small town, things black people say, things white people say, and defending a stigmatized neighborhood.

Photo Credits:

Renovated house, late evening sun by flickr user cafemamahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/cafemama/1399548174/

A machine-fun team from Landsturm Infanterie Batallion ‘Gotha’ (XI 24) by flickr user drakegoodmanhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodman/4424397894/

Hot Tub by flickr user rvoodoohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/rvoodoo/198739282
Bleacher crowd, League Park by Louis Van Oeyen, on Cleveland Memory Projecthttp://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/press&CISOPTR=370&CISOBOX=1&REC=10

Freedom Riders on bus, unknown, from Mississippi Department of Archuves and History http://mdah.state.ms.us/freedom/index.php


3 thoughts on “What is it like to be a white woman in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland?

  1. Really enjoyed this. I am white and have often lived in black neighborhoods in Richmond, VA. Other white people thought I was crazy. My wife followed my instinct on it for a while, but demanded we leave the city once she became uncomfortable with the schools we were zoned for. It was a tough stretch for our relationship and eventually we did move. And it broke my heart a little bit.

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