Most Kansas Citians are uninformed on the area’s segregated past, Nathaniel Bozarth said.
“To be quite honest, I’m convinced that this ignorance is by design,” said Bozarth, a Kansas City ethnographer and host of the Wide Ruled podcast. “White America does not want to deal with the sins of our fathers and our own sins with regards to racism. We want it to be a bad dream and to just go away.”
Responding to that ignorance helped drive Bozarth and Christopher Cook on a storytelling mission to creatively document historical racial divisions in the Kansas City metro that were shaped in large part by real estate development.
Commissioned by the Johnson County Library for its Race Project KC initiative, the duo tapped Bozarth’s experience working with audio tour technology for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to create an immersive experience to educate people as they drive through the metro. The audio tour — dubbed Dividing Lines — is a 90-minute story set along 24 miles in Johnson County and Kansas City, Missouri.
During the tour, Bozarth interviews students and various city figures who add historical context to what listeners see along the drive. The interviews and story combine to create what Bozarth hopes is a moving experience that opens the listener up to the foundational issues of racial division in Kansas City, he said.
The tour can be visceral, shocking and heart-wrenching, Bozarth added.
“I hope that listeners will be deeply affected by Dividing Lines on both an emotional and cognitive level,” he said. “I hope that listeners go away with a deeper understanding of what it means for a problem to be systemic or structural as we call it in anthropology. Racism, as it is lived out today, is as much tactical — a white person calling a black person the n-word or telling a Latinx person to go home — as it is built into our spaces. I want people to really marinate in that uncomfortable thought.
“And I hope that it will cause them to think about their own actions and how they participate and perpetuate inequitable systems. Eliminating racism isn’t about finding the bad guy out there — it’s about finding the bad guy in here, in me,” Bozarth said.
To take the free tour, download the VoiceMap app on your mobile device and then search in the app to find and download Dividing Lines. Once you’ve downloaded it, use the app to navigate to the tour’s starting point — Shawnee Mission East High School — and hit start.
Listeners start in Prairie Village, winding their way northeast through Mission Hills and the Plaza before heading north on Highway 71 and into eastern Kansas City, downtown, 18th and Vine and concluding near Hyde Park.
Bozarth and Cook have crafted many video and audio stories, but with Dividing Lines, there were added challenges with content and production, Bozarth said
“The process was highly emotional for both reasons of the heart-crushing content and the deep passion to get it right,” he said. “Christopher Cook, owner of Brainroot Light and Sound and also a producer on Dividing Lines, and I had as much creative tension on this project as any of our projects. He and I both firmly believe, however, that our creative tension and the resolutions that follow are what makes our end product sing.”
To learn more about the tour or to download it, click here.