We recently spent our first couple of nights away from home since last summer. We usually try and sneak a weekend away or go on spring break, but that didn’t happen this year. That means basically every night in the last 9 months we went to sleep in the inner city of Milwaukee. A lot of times I feel like we are living in two worlds. We have a front row seat to injustice being played out but we didn’t grow up with that experience and because we didn’t grow up with it, it is easy to forget about. If we are camping somewhere beautiful, I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about systemic racism and structures that perpetuate segregation. I don’t give much thought to the poor or needy. I don’t have to actively use my empathy muscle to keep myself from judging someone. Those thoughts just kind of go away. I am really only concerned with myself and making sure me and my family has a good time.
I know there is nothing wrong with that, but I do think it’s odd. I remember listening to a podcast about racial reconciliation on a recent day away and had to remind myself that I do in fact live in the inner city. I mean I get that it’s good to get away and there is a ton a value in resting and recharging, but I don’t think that’s the point. Any time something seems odd or weird, to me it is a sign that there is something there. Something to look into a little more. It’s easy for me to forget about my poor, black neighbors because on many levels it has been a sacrifice living there. There are too many poor people in too small of a space and many of them are meeting their needs in ways that are obtrusive to the rest of us. That is hard. It’s especially hard when you commit to growing in empathy so you can empower people to move in the direction of fulfilling their potential as human beings.
I feel like we are living in two worlds because most of the time we experience the gravity of racial inequity without trying very hard and we leave for a trip and without trying very hard forget all about it. I think maybe the takeaway for me is if it is easy for me to not think about the poor when I’m not around them, wouldn’t the same be true for anyone else. Meg and I are spending a decent chunk of time figuring out what exactly we want to “do” with our experiences. This realization that it is so easy for me to forget about what it’s like to live in the inner city, makes me wonder what we can offer to someone with little to no experience living there. I know that if I didn’t have the specific life experiences, many of which have been in 53206, I would have much lower empathy and perspective for my neighbors and I would be a much lousier person. I wonder how many other people like me there are out there. I wonder how many people don’t think about the poor, because it’s easy to forget about them when you aren’t around them. I wonder what would happen if we all were “forced” to spend time in my neighborhood. I wonder how long it would take for people with resources to want to share those resources with my neighbors. I wonder how long it would take for my neighborhood to go from being poor and black to racially and socioeconomically diverse.
My optimism that any real change can take place fluctuates. In particular, I lose optimistic steam when I leave for a few days and forget about where I left from. If it is so easy for me not to care after being gone for a few days, how much easier is it for someone to not care who has never been or actively avoids a neighborhood like mine.