Covering Racism with "Iowa Niceness"
By Zoe Trager
Midwesterners are obsessed with being nice. Growing up in Iowa, our trademark was being “Iowa Nice,” an idea that we are just so friendly, it was a core component of our state. Even other states frequently tout themselves as friendly and welcoming, little rural towns open to visitors where you can feel like you’ve lived there your whole life.
But this idea of “Iowa Nice” means Midwesterners routinely ignore the blatant racism that goes on in their community.
I went to a small Catholic school with almost no POC students and no POC teachers or administration. Our administration would parade our token black people in ads for the school, then turn around and tell one of the few black girls that having box braids was against the dress code.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska, a fairly large city minutes from where I grew up. My teachers would share this fact with us during civil rights units, failing to mention that his family was forced to flee from Omaha after being threatened by the KKK.
The Iowa City Police force, of the city where I currently attend school, arrests black citizens 5 times more than non-black residents according to an analysis done by USAToday.
Even recently, James Scurlock was killed in Omaha by a known white supremicist, who is not being charged by the city as he claimed self defense.
Midwesterners want to hide behind an idea that their community is too nice to harbor police brutality and racism. In reality, microaggressions and backhanded compliments hide behind their sweet facades.
Acting like racism isn’t a “thing” in your area is one of the most harmful beliefs you can hold. Instead of working to change the system, you view racist acts as outliers and let the system continue, sweeping the racist acts under the rug. We see this time and time again when people say, “Not all cops,” refusing to acknowledge that someone can benefit off a corrupt system or be a bad cop while still being a good person in their daily life.
Many people who consider themselves nice still commit numerous microaggressions on a daily basis. When called out for it, they try to cover it up by saying that they didn’t know, and other people point to their nice actions as an excuse for them, as if someone who donates money to homeless people or picks up trash couldn’t possibly be racist.
Talking about racism and microaggressions in your community isn’t “mean” or “bad” and it doesn’t make you any less nice. If you want to pride yourself on your community being welcoming and kind, you must open yourself up to criticism so that your community is seen as friendly to everyone.
Stop acting like racism isn’t a part of life anymore. In Iowa, it is simply not true. The median income for African American families in Iowa is less than half of other Iowan families. African Americans make up a quarter of the prison population in Iowa.
Just because you don’t say the n word or openly discriminate or you have a black friend, does not mean you aren’t racist. You still profit off a system that takes advantage of minorities. You don’t do anything to change it. Stop hiding behind an idea of “Iowa Nice” and realize that there are those around you who, if you were truly nice, you would support with your actions.
Photo Credit to Tony Webster