Interview: Iowa City Book Festival author Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. on “Race, Place and the Press”

A Transplanted Chicago
Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. will read from and discuss his new book A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press as part of the Iowa City Book Festival.

Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. will read from his recently published book A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press in Iowa City at Java House as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. Gutsche received his Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Iowa and is now an assistant journalism professor at Florida International University in Miami. He recently took time to answer some questions for Little Village over email.

Since moving away, how well have you been able to keep up with Iowa City’s demographic and neighborhood changes? What do you hope to see or learn when you visit?

I follow as much of Iowa City’s news as possible. I still have family and friends in Iowa City and talk with them every day. When someone spends that much time making a part of the community their own, it’s hard to let that go. I still care deeply about what goes on in Iowa City and I am still deeply concerned about dominant rhetoric related to the role of policing, diversity and the representation of racial and ethnic minorities in press and public discourse in the city. I’m excited to see the city that’s currently my second home, and I can’t wait to hear about the next steps in moving us all forward in how we talk about change.

Remembering back, anonymous comments on the Iowa City Press Citizen website played their own hate-filled role in some of the news stories. How do you think adapting “real name” policies and tying comments to an individual’s Facebook profile affect the discourse? How might that discourse in turn influence future news coverage?

Commenting has become a “known problem” in recent years to the degree that news outlets have lashed out against hate speech by requiring names (seemingly even possible fake ones) and removing unpopular speech. These are changes that are occurring across the industry, and, I think, for the same reasons — to protect the brands. There’s a reason Facebook only allows someone to “like” something, unless they load a widget that would allow them to vote otherwise: we don’t want to have a brand that encourages “negativity” in terms of “dislikes.”

The only positive thing about allowing such hatred on news sites is to remind us that it exists. How does this influence the future of news coverage on these issues? I’m not sure it will have a large, direct influence — the press rarely like to cover “negative news” that in any way undermines “positive” feelings of community identities and values, even if those dominant values and identities, in and of themselves, are harmful.

What other migration stories and journalistic frames have you been keeping tabs on? What other cities absorb migration out of Chicago or other urban centers and face similar issues?

There are projects occurring in other parts of the Midwest dealing with all forms of diaspora. In Madison, for instance, take a look at this project: Race to Equity, which deals, among other things, with issues of geographic movement and segregation. Iowa City is not alone in its challenges and it should also not be alone in critical assessments of its failures (intentional and otherwise) to create and maintain difference.

You use the term “white supremacy” in your book, a phrase that can stop a lot of people in their tracks. What do you gain and what do you lose by using such a heavy phrase?

I agree that the term may be a turn-off for some. Yet, I think it is important to broaden our understandings of how dominant articulations of race operate as a force and process of oppression and subjugation that is based upon even the most covert forms of whiteness. In other words, whiteness is a thing and people need to know about it.

Interestingly, white people understand their whiteness through the relative power we have in everyday life — particularly in the terms that most of the days race isn’t talked about. That white folk get to exist within and without racial markers of their own represents a supreme ideology that allows us to identify others’ marks and markers and to use those items to make normal white ideas. I don’t know how to respond to the second question. I see whiteness and white supremacy as a reality and as a norm, so to me it’s not a heavy term.

How has the research for this book informed what you’re doing now? What’s next on the research front?

The stories I’ve heard and that I’ve try to retell through the book pushes me in the classrooms where I teach, the community engagement I try to construct in Miami, and the research I continue to do. People can track the other papers I’ve done to see connections in the work I do about race, place, and the press (particularly at the local level) on my website, The stories and the method of mental mapping that appear in this book continue to haunt my mind and fuel my interest in unpacking issues of race as covered by the press in other places across the country.

As academic print-runs go, your book may be harder to find over time. For those in your audience who are Iowa City residents passionate about making progress on some of these issues, what can you suggest they do to preserve this history and the ideas for future discussion and citizen action?

This is a great question. Just to be clear, the book is also available on the Kindle, but your point is well-made. My hope is that the next time — and there will be a next time — overt prejudice occurs in Iowa City at a massive level as it has in the shaping of the “Southeast Side,” that someone somewhere will be able to turn back to when we failed to challenge the language and approaches of public officials, the press and average citizens, and show us the error of our ways with perspectives that can undermine that day’s oppression.

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