“A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.”
The above is an excerpt from the book How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. His book is the second book on race relations I have been working through in the last two weeks. Up until then, I would be more inclined to avoid books on the topic. At times, it seemed as futile as living here can be. I’d wonder if anything was ever going to change and why should I bother reading any of this when none of it seemed culturally relevant. How quickly things change. Small pockets of people I know would care from time to time. Maybe someone would have read the book Evicted or something by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but there was never enough steam within my social circles or my perception of social circles en mass to motivate me enough to read them. I might start one but quickly lose interest. I mean, it’s hard to get ramped up to read Evicted when I am literally struggling with whether or not I should evict one of our tenants. I might be more inclined to read a book on how to actually evict someone because I know much less about the process than I do about working with and having empathy for a tenant.
In my limited sphere of influence there has been a perceptible shift in the excitement and motivation for reading something like How To Be An Antiracist. I appreciate anything that helps Meg and I think critically about our life choices and, even more so, appreciate someone else helping to give words to our experiences. I think both her and I find it difficult to call attention to a racist policy, because we are way more focused on collective individual actions rather than policies that are created by a few people. For me, it seems like a blatantly or even subtly obvious racist policy should be exposed easily enough and that work can be left to someone else.
Here is an example. I’m not all that interested in protesting or participating in the common council meeting of a nearby suburb that is attempting to block the development of an apartment complex within the the boarders of its town. Accessibility to this particular town is limited to only those with the means to purchase property. The result of this policy has produced a chasm of disparity in the racial make-up of the town. The town is populated by mostly white home owners and the addition of rental units disrupts the policy (unwritten rule regarding perpetuation of the status quo). The disruption encourages the potential for greater integration and when the apartment complex fails to get support with the city’s common council, this could easily be viewed as more of a racist decision than not.
I guess our line of thinking is more so why would anyone want to live there if it is full of the type of people that think nothing of making a racist policy decision. We are much more inclined to think the normalization of us (white people) separating ourselves based on our wealth when generationally we have used our positions of power to increase the divide between our (white people) average financial capacity to the average financial capacity of a Black individual. In other words, we used our whiteness generationally to get more money more easily than non-whites. So, if we separate ourselves based on wealth using an unwritten policy, it is at least plausible that the policy is racist. The unwritten policy I am referring to is many times classified as the American Dream. It is the idea that at some point in a man or woman’s life they marry and settle down in a comfortable suburb somewhere away from the “dangers” and “ugliness” of the city. At least in Milwaukee, the dangers and ugliness people are avoiding tend to be areas where poor minorities live. While there is no written policy that this is what you do when you are in your late 20’s or early 30’s, I know very few people that do not adhere to the policy. That is kind of the plan or procedure for anyone that was on a track similar to the one Meg and I were on. College – Marriage – House in the Suburbs – Kids – Repeat.
The only problem with the plan is that it alienates or segregates people based on wealth, which, around here, means that it also separates us racially. In 2006 when we were trying to figure out where to buy a house, I Googled poorest zip code in Milwaukee. 53206 came up at the top of the list. 14 years later, it is still at the top of the list. I wonder how many people it would take in order to disrupt that? I wonder how many families would be needed to forego the generally accepted plan in order to move 53206 farther down the list. The sad thing is it probably isn’t that many.
***I’m trying to figure out where to go next with this post. I’m thinking it might be a good book chapter, but I’m not sure. This has nothing to do with this post, but I want to remind myself if and when I pick it back up and add more that I had three separate conversations about race relations (I’m still not sure that is how I should say that) today. In fact, almost my entire day was spent talking about or working with a group trying to process through racial reconciliation in my small part of the world. It matters to me that I get to 1000 words written a day so here are you 7 words to describe how I feel today: