There was a long time where I skirted around the questions where do you live. Because of this, I can kind of tell now when someone is going to bring it up. We will be chatting about some restaurant or a place on the east side that we both go to and the person I am talking with will get a curious look in their eye and ask where we live, expecting that we live in some trendy up and coming area like Bayview or the 3rd Ward. Even less hip areas like Riverwest, Shorewood, or Glendale seem plausible.
Most of the time I lie and say we live just north of downtown, which is essentially true, but isn’t. I have also used the line just west of Riverwest, which, again, is technically also true. It is easy for me to think that I am doing the person I am talking to a favor because if I were honest with them it would create the desire in them to ask followup questions, questions I wouldn’t really have answers to.
I can’t remember a time where I effectively communicated our exact geographical location while also communicating why we live there and how our lives are affected by the decision to do so. It is really normal for a couple to get married, live in an apartment somewhere on the east side and then buy a house in Wauwatosa before having kids. I have never questioned a decision like that. It is normal to want to want a quiet, safe neighborhood that is close to the highway and still not that far from downtown.
The place you decide to live says a lot about you. You are choosing to invest in somewhere. The phrase putting down roots implies that you are becoming one with the home and neighborhood in which you live. You don’t trash your neighborhood; you advocate for it. It becomes a part of you and you a part of it. Where you live subconsciously communicates your values. If you value solitude and space then you live somewhere that caters to those desires. If you want to feel rich, then you move to a place where other people who want to feel the same way live. When you are picking out a new house or apartment you want to be able to see yourself living there.
I oscillate between loving where we live and desperately wanting to move. This happens a lot more now that we are older and have enough money to easily live somewhere or anywhere else. From one vantage point, we own four houses and from the other, we live in the ghetto. In one light we are making a difference by actively choosing to be a part of desegregating Milwaukee and in another we are subjecting ourselves to aggravation we could buy our way out of.
Part of my struggle with being asked where we live is I am not always sure how I feel about it. Do I brag about it? Should I be ashamed of it? Is it noble or noteworthy, or is it a waste of time. Is it something to be proud of or is it something to avoid talking about. I don’t know if I have told enough people or have been able to explain why well enough to make a decision on how I feel. In some ways I feel like we have opted out of the American dream and in some ways maybe we are living a different, better version of the house in the suburbs with the white picket fence and the dog playing in the yard.
There was a time in my life where I assumed we stayed because of complacency. It was just easier to not move. All of our stuff was already here and it was a lot of work to bring it here the first time. Then we renovated a majority of the house and built a garage and probably over spent for the area so I assumed we stayed because we wanted to get our money’s worth out the renovations. That time has now passed and my wife and I are confronted with the decision again to stay or go.
This time is different though. We could easily rent our house and with the monthly income from the three other rentals comfortably afford a mortgage payment anywhere else. It would be a fairly quick and simple transaction. In six months our experiences here could be a part of the past, forgotten. This time is different though. We have seen enough in 13 years to know that segregation is a man made problem. It is tens of millions of tiny, daily decisions by the collective population of the Milwaukee area to disclude a subset of people because they are poor or look different. Segregation is a man made problem and requires a man mad solution. The solution is to start shifting the tens of millions of tiny decisions from disclusion to inclusion. Segregation is either no ones problems or everyones problem. I believe it is the latter not the former. For too long it has been the problem of only a few – the victims, the have nots, the ones that are different. This time the reason to not move isn’t that we are making a difference in the neighborhood, it’s that we have an opportunity to make a difference in the thoughts and actions of everyone that doesn’t live here.