Omaha: The Intense Power of Whiteness

by Patrick D. Jones
special to The Dreher Report

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 3.51.09 PMHere is the intense power of whiteness in Omaha:

Omaha Magazine is our city’s version of that glossy local magazine every city has. The kind you find in every downtown hotel room, or on coffee tables and in waiting rooms of the high-minded and affluent community members. A lot of cool people who consider themselves liberal, or progressive-minded, work on Omaha Magazine.

Each year, Omaha Magazine puts out “The Faces of Omaha,” a slick 92-page special edition to “introduce the ‘faces’ of local industry leaders and experts”–you know, much anticipated boosterism for a certain sort of folks.

These professionalized promotional profiles in the city magazine are promised to “span across the community.” The editors emphasize that “Omaha Faces” is an “exclusive” list that “highlights Omaha’s legitimate business leaders,” who, in their opinion, after “considerable time cultivating the list,” are “truly the ‘face of their field.” They conclude, “These are the faces of people who have made Omaha the thriving metropolis that it is today.”

They call it “native advertising,” a “unique form of sponsored content produced by editorial staff in conjunction with advertisers.” So, this is all about promotion and dollars.

So, here is the thing:

In the 2020 issue, over the ninety-two pages of this purportedly prestigious promotional magazine, selected “after careful consideration” by advertisers and the editorial staff, of the roughly 400 people photographed and published in the issue, only about 32 appear to be people of color and the vast majority of those are tucked away in group shots, rather than stand-alone feature portraits. (Take a look at the issue for yourself in the attached link) Last year, if I am remembering correctly, there was a kerfuffle because no people of color were featured. Somebody can check me on that detail.

Quite literally, this magazine is demonstrating that the “face of Omaha,” in their view, is white people. The magazine is, in fact, a documentation of a portion of the white power structure in Omaha and the ways people of color are essentially and systematically invisible and marginalized in all kinds of ways in our city.

It is really pretty amazing to behold, even if at the same time boringly typical. Yet, in the context of what is currently going on in America, the white glare somehow seems even more jarring. As I flipped through, it was almost as if it was a satirical magazine.

Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 8.50.18 PM

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 3.51.09 PMPatrick D. Jones is Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He researches, writes and teaches about the civil rights and Black Power era, America in the 1960s, race relations, urban inequality, social movements, electoral politics, and post-WWII popular culture. He is particularly interested in how meaningful and lasting social change takes place at the intersections of formal politics, grassroots activism and cultural production.

Harvard University published his award-winning book, The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee, in 2009. He is currently working on an article about folk singer and civil rights activist, Guy Carawan, as well as a new monograph that explores the contested meanings of Black Power in Cleveland, Ohio.

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