Racism rears its ugly head - again
It seems like almost all of my life I've been hearing about racial relations in Milwaukee. And, I'll grudgingly admit that I might well be hypersensitive to issues of race.
Milwaukee is going to have a great deal of difficulty moving forward until we find a way to talk about race and to admit that there are problems and that we all need to work toward solving those problems.
A big part of that is learning the code that you hear almost every day, a code that is the way people try to hide their prejudice or disquiet with people of another race. The code is used mostly by white people toward blacks and Latinos.
You can find and hear the code anywhere, but there have been two recent examples in stories in OnMilwaukee.com. Both were in talkbacks. I thought about identifying the talkbacker but decided against it. It's not important who they are. What matters is what they said.
The first came after a very descriptive piece about the old Northridge Shopping Center written by our publisher, Andy Tarnoff. It was a great piece that didn't shy away from the checkered history of the mall. It obviously brought back a lot of memories for a lot of people, most of them good memories.
One of the talkbacks, though, was clear code for racial stereotyping and prejudice.
"Unfortunately Northridge closed prior to rules preventing unruly teens from hanging out at the mall all day long and not spending a dime. Interestingly the nearby neighborhood has changed ... Servite Woods (directly south of the mall) is where my grandmother lived during the late-70s/early-80s ... today I wouldn't even walk through that neighborhood during daylight."
That phrase "unruly teens" means black teens. You can argue with me about it, but that's what the guy meant when he said it. And then the comment about Servite Woods, which is where his grandmother lived. It has become a dominant black neighborhood now and when he says "... I wouldn't even walk through that neighborhood during daylight hours."
Forget for a minute that hundreds of people who live there walk around the neighborhood, both during the day and at night. This guy is afraid of black people and he won't even say it out loud.
The second example of code came as a talkback to an outstanding column written by my colleague Doug Russell about the need for a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. He explained in no uncertain terms how important that would be for everyone, including the Bucks.
This was the response of one reader, in part. "There's a large percentage of people who don't like the NBA players. I would love to see Milwaukee lose the Bucks."
That line about people who don't like the NBA players is another piece of the code. This guy thinks the NBA is made up of mainly black players (he's right) and then takes it the racist step of saying that lots of people don't like them. I mean why? What else could he mean, except the fact that these are black athletes so people (white people) don't like them? This guy obviously thinks that's the truth and it's easy to see the shame in that.
These are not the only two people in Milwaukee who have these attitudes. But they are examples of the much bigger problem of our inability to talk about race in honest and frank terms. And until we get past that, we are not going to be able to come close to solving the problems of racial disparities in our city.
Mr. Begel, people like you are the reason that it is impossible for any white person to bring up issues of race in this country, which is sad, because it's an issue that desperately needs to be addressed. I believe that intelligent conversation on the topic of race relations doesn't happen as much as it needs to because any time a white person brings up the subject- or hints at it, in this case- they have to walk on eggshells (much like the person in your example post did) for fear of being called racist. Also, I'd like to make the point that racism in this town is a two way street (many times more blatantly directed at the white community). The first really nice day we see in springtime, go up to that neighborhood around the time school lets out, and see if you don't feel uncomfortable (I've been, and you will).
Sweetbigsister66, as someone who read your long comment... it's racist to take one experience with that white woman & lump all white people in together. Maybe she was racist or not, I don't see how you get to judge me for her actions. You're no better than that woman at the court-house, judge a person & not a people.
Mr. Begel, What I find ironic in your analysis is that perpetuating the unfair stereotypes about the commenters you discuss here will not help break down the racial divide. To claim racism, or some sort of secret code, based on the examples you share is problematic at best. I will never support nor condone the vulgar and explicitly racist comments that don't see the light of day on this site, but to extrapolate racism from the "unruly teens" and "not liking NBA player" comments from people you don't know is prejudiced in and of itself. I personally do not like NBA players either. It stems from the days of Bill Laimbeer, Kevin McHale, Karl Malone, etc. These dirty players ruined pro basketball for me - does that make me racist? No, it doesn't. As an MU alum, I loved Tony Smith, Mark Anglavar et. al. While I understand everyone is entitled to an opinion, I think it is important for those, especially with the size of your audience, to make sure they are not engaging in the same behavior they are trying to criticize.
So, reading these comments it seems that our problem isn't just a geographically segregated city, it's that a decent number of people don't see segregation as a problem. Sure, people can "decide to live wherever they want"; it's a free country. However, do people live in the worst parts of the north side because they "choose" to live there, or is it because they are forced to based on rent/housing cost levels, available public transportation, etc? Furthermore, does having "white parts" and "black parts" of the city result in an us vs. them mentality? Does it put kids raised in lower-income parts at a huge disadvantage due to lack of interaction with people that have "made it"?
You may be right I was ramblingon. I welcome anyone to challenge me. I don't understand why people it shouldn't be one is black or white. We are all human. If you stop and think about what you are going to say there would be no problems about racism. Think about what little Johnny and Becky are doing while you are talking.
Show me the other 36 Talkbacks
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