Traffic Jam

I didn’t get a chance to watch the news or check the Journal Sentinel online much during the start of the weekend. My dad and I spent most of Friday and Saturday working on fixing the exhaust on my truck and the sewer drainage problem we were having with our house. The house is about 115 years old and we have lived in it for the last 14 years. Our neighborhood is almost entirely African American just like many of the neighborhoods on the north side of Milwaukee. The lack of diversity is startling. It has always seemed strange how everyone else looks the same. We stand out because of the color of our skin. 

Our neighborhood is poor. About half of the houses on the block should probably be bulldozed, much less have families living inside of them. Trash is everywhere. Cheap contractors use our alley as a dump to save an hour by not driving to the actual dump. It was cleaned up about a month ago and immediately it filled back up with mattresses and tv’s and shingles and whatever else people were too lazy to dispose of the correct way. The houses and yards that are well kept and look “nice” stand out. When someone’s property looks good, it is noticeable. Our neighborhood is predominantly poor and predominantly black. 

About half way through the day on Friday, we needed to run out to the store and grab a couple of things for the truck project. Coming back from Menards on Miller Parkway heading east on 94, we turned the corner in the Marquette Interchange to start heading north when traffic came to an abrupt stop. About 5 minutes earlier we saw a couple of Sherif squads fly past us on the highway. That usually means there’s an accident up ahead. As we approached the standstill, I made a quick decision to get off the highway and head north on the side streets. My house is only 3 miles from where we got off, and getting off there put us basically on the same street we live on. After moving north past downtown the side streets parallel the highway and you can see what is going on there. There is no sign of an accident. 

The intersection of North Avenue and 7th St. is a little over a mile from my house. I know this because I run past that intersection almost every day. There was something different about the intersection on Friday afternoon. There were white people there. White people will be there sometimes in their cars, but I have never in 14 years seen 4 or 5 white people walking in a group at that intersection or anywhere in my own neighborhood. I mean maybe I have seen a couple of white people in a group at the community garden, but that’s about it. 

When I saw four white women walk to their car just south of the Wendy’s I leaned over to my dad and said there must be a protest or something. You would never see white people here. Then I saw another group of white people walking west on North Ave and said, yeah look another group of white people, I bet they were on the highway protesting. 

I am really tempted to make some snarky comment about how no white people care about the Aftrican American community until it’s trendy to go out and protest and walk on the highway. But that wouldn’t be fair. I can’t deny though that in all of the years of living here, almost never have I seen ten or even five white people near that corner. 

The murder of George Floyd is a race issue. On the surface it is simple. Police should stop killing black people. It would be great if it were that easy and maybe it is. But there is much more to it than that. In Milwaukee, the most segregated city in American, white people do not go to the black neighborhoods. I don’t know if the converse of that is true because I don’t live in a white neighborhood. If I see a white person near my house, I immediately notice them. If I see a white person that isn’t poor, they stand out even more. They stand out, because I almost never see them. 

When something happens like George Floyd’s murder, it doesn’t surprise me. My family and I have a front row seat to how the community in mass chooses to separate themselves based on the color of their skin.

Abuse of power that ends in someone’s life being taken from them is the single event that encompasses all of our smaller actions of separation.

When we separate ourselves we consciously or subconsciously devalue an area and the people that live in that area. The devaluation of human life is part of what leads to abuse of power. It is easy to abuse power when the subject of your abuse is seen as less important than yourself. It would be easier to take someone’s life when you value their life significantly less than your own. 

That is what we do when we separate ourselves based on race. It creates an us verses them mentality. My group against yours. My group is better than yours and that way of thinking manifests itself in extremes, like what happened up in Minneapolis and what happens too often around the country. 

There is no easy solution. We can’t all just pack up and move to random parts of the city and fix how we all have segregated ourselves. Starting the conversation around the narrative that is being told by us separating ourselves based on race would be a good start. Here is what I see:

If you are black you live in one part of town, if you are hispanic you live in another part of town and if you are white you get to live in the parts of town that you choose to. If you are poor and black, you get to live in places that white people never choose to go to. 

Until this is embraced and work is done to reorient our ways of thinking and living, extreme manifestations of racism are going to continue to occur.