The prompt – There’s a phrase often used describing us as living in “two Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh has multiple legacies, from being named ‘Most Livable’ to the recent report from the Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission describing the magnitude of racial inequality in our city. How do you relate to this dual nature of Pittsburgh?
There are multiple ways to understand this term – as a literal distinction between white Pittsburgh and Black Pittsburgh, that is the almost totally different realities Black residents experience in this most livable of cities than do those of us who are white. There’s also the general sense that all marginalized groups, including white queer folx and disabled persons, inhabit a City that by experience seems like a flip side or alternate universe.
As a white queer disabled cisgender woman, I walk through multiple realities in Pittsburgh. As a blogger and social worker, I have been introduced to perspectives in our region that I might otherwise remain oblivious to because I didn’t know to look. Browse some of my other blog content on this topic if you like.
I understand the allure of Pittsburgh being a ‘Most Livable’ city, but the truth is that clinging to this version of reality is at its heart a denial of the realities of racial injustice in our region and to some extend, the socioeconomic injustices as well. But I believe the primary distinction is racial justice and Pittsburgh’s failure to acknowledge and wrestle with this legacy is one of the reasons we have this two Pittsburgh’s reality.
As a white cisgender woman, I don’t claim to be an expert because at any point in time, I can lean into my privilege and navigate most institutions and systems with minimal fuss. From traffic stops to affordable housing to healthcare and beyond, my interactions in this City are buffered by my whiteness. That’s been true my entire life, but I wasn’t conscious of it until I began educating myself about anti-Blackness, racial injustice, and my own Pittsburgh story.
It doesn’t mean my life in Pittsburgh hasn’t been hard or difficult, it means I haven’t had to navigate those difficulties because of my racial identity.
I relate to this dual nature by simply reminding people, relentlessly, that it exists and is the ‘reality.’ You can spend your entire life ignoring this reality and focusing only on your experience of Pittsburgh, if you are white. That doesn’t mean your experiences are all positive, but they can happen in a vacuum or at least we can understand them in vacuum.
People who live in White Pittsburgh most of their time say things like “I’m not a racist, but …” or “I don’t see color …” or “I chose to focus on the good/positive …” with almost complete lack of self-awareness about how they create that option for themselves. Your approach to Pittsburgh as an individual doesn’t create a reality, but it does create a narrative and the more people who buy into the idea that we are some liberal bastion of justice and equality, the more power that narrative has to edge out the other perspectives.
Let’s go with a sportsball analogy. If you are a Steelers fan who can and will talk openly about the very real problems with professional sports culture as part of your fandom, you are someone who is able to live within the dual nature of the two Pittsburghs. If you are a Steelers fan who does not want to think about the criminal behavior, the racism underlying the treatment of Colin Kaepernick, the abuse of the bodies and health of the players for the sake of profit, the way we look away from the harmful behaviors, the cultural appropriation, the Whiteness of the profiteers, etc – if you just don’t want to talk about these parts of NFL fandom, you are unlikely to acknowledge or wrestle with the dual nature.
But keep in mind, more and more people experience this two Pittsburgh’s framework. We see it playing out in the Parks Referendum on the ballot this Tuesday and in the dialogue around our President. You may choose to ignore it, but that opting-out decision is going to collapse on itself at some point.
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