Sarah Mayorga-Gallo is a sociologist and assistant professor at UC, where she teaches urban structure and change. Her new book, Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood (University of North Carolina Press) questions our assumptions about diversity and fairness. Mayorga-Gallo’s big crux? Moving beyond discussions of racial acceptance to get to issues that really matter.
Your book looks at a diverse North Carolina neighborhood, and finds that racial groups didn’t really mix, that power was not shared equally. What I argue is that if we’re really interested in racial equality, we need to make sure that our rallying cries for diversity are tied to discussions about power. We really need to tie it to social structure. My hope is that we can move to discussions about equity and power sharing. This could apply to neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine or Northside. It’s the idea of gentrification and authenticity of neighborhoods—who lays claim to the identity of the neighborhood? Who does this neighborhood belong to?
How are you approaching your study of Cincinnati? I’m just starting my Cincinnati neighborhoods study. I’ve chosen a couple of different neighborhoods, and I’m asking some of the same questions I asked in my book—what are the relations between renters and homeowners? These processes are larger social processes that we see across the country. What’s interesting about Cincinnati is how much it is a city of neighborhoods. It’s a different kind of social dynamic, with a lot of natives rather than transplants. There’s a large proportion of renters in Cincinnati [compared to Durham, North Carolina], and that may lead to some interesting results.
When you were a graduate student, you did research on Dave Chappelle. Can you tell me about that? I did my master’s on racial comedy so I was really into Chappelle’s Show and also Mind of Mencia. Chappelle is an excellent cultural critic. And Mencia really isn’t—he reinforced stereotypes. He called himself an equal opportunity offender. But when he offers up a stereotype for blacks and Latinos, they involve criminality. His stereotypes for whites was something like ice skating. Not all stereotypes are created equal.