By Mathew K Jallow
The statistics are striking, but far from shocking. For the two decades in which I have observed race relations in Wisconsin, I never ceased to be amazed by the falsity with which the state is perceived as a bastion of liberalism. To many outsiders, Wisconsin may appear progressive; a place where life for America’s black population, is far less constrained by the bigotry which consumes much of America. In reality, Wisconsin is a microcosm of America, and a replica of many southern states where the signs and symbols of Jim Crow are ubiquitous and unremarkable. Like most northern states, racism in Wisconsin is ingrained in the psyche of its dominant white majority, and its practice is insidious and often less obvious. Wisconsin has mastered the art of deceit, with its false projection of an image that pretends to transcend the racial divide. Not unlike many northern states trying to put racism to bed, Wisconsin has a fair amount of racial parity symbolisms, which blind observers to the state’s pernicious racial bigotry. The absence of overt racism does not equate the existence of racial harmony, and denial of the reality of racism in Wisconsin will only obscure the crass bigotry that lurks beneath the mask of deception, which Wisconsin has worn so well. The state’s liberal image is driven primarily by icons, both past and present, whose undeniable liberal reputations unwittingly created Wisconsin’s perception as progressive stronghold. Concealing Wisconsin’s pervasive institutional racism is counterproductive, and rather than hide the problem from public scrutiny, it will, instead, perpetuate apathy and indifference to its existence. And importantly, less, or perhaps never discussed in the perennial conversations on race, is the harm racism causes on the minds of the state’s marginalized black minority. In Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, far too many blacks have resigned themselves to the narrative of their inferiority, and this descent into dysphoria is evident on the mean streets of Milwaukee, where the scars of racial bigotry are visible on the wretched faces of a broken people. But, this is not a blanket condemnation of Wisconsin’s dominant white majority, and certainly not intended to paint all the citizens of the state with the same sickening racist brush, yet, America is a country where the bedrock independence principle of ‘equality for all,” is a meaningless slogan, and black oppression has transitioned from the cotton-fields of the south, to the boardrooms of the north.
The strain of racism in Wisconsin, as in most northern states, has created an awareness of skin-color as a major barrier to justice and opportunities, even as it exposes the reality of white privilege, and the existence of a demoralized black underclass, who by dint of their low social standing, often develop behavior patterns that reinforce the antipathy of the state’s white majority. For Wisconsin’s white majority, consciousness of the existing racial boundaries, and inequality in society, is a way of life they grew up to learn and know; consequently, maintaining the racial divide over decades has become a subconscious force of habit. The sprawling city of Milwaukee, more than any city in America, epitomizes the skin-color divide and residential segregation often discussed cavalierly in Wisconsin, without the expressions of disgust to its existence. Truly, America’s dark past still remains, in a new guise, often subtle, sometimes brutal; but always destructive to the psyche of its black victims. What is absent in Wisconsin, now, is the impunity with which blacks were historically brutalized by a hostile white majority, at a time when black Americans lacked the protection of the law. Frankly, so much of American dark racial past still remain to haunt the black citizens, wreaking havoc on the psyche of its impoverished black population. The Wisconsin justice system, to this day, treats black citizens as less than equal; perhaps, even less than human, which is not unlike using the state’s legal system to perpetuate the unfair racial dehumanization that has kept Jim Crow alive in Wisconsin. Implicit racial bias is a constant feature of Wisconsin life, and an impediment to the dispensation of race neutral justice; justice untainted by racial stereotyping. However, skin-color always emerges as an obstacle to opportunities and the justice system, yet the state authorities, regardless of party affiliation, seemed unconcerned with the unconstitutional racial bend of Wisconsin state courts. The systemic crushing of black lives and dreams, and the characterization of Wisconsin as the worst place for black Americans live, is a self-inflicted racial wound and blotch to the state’s moral character. Data derived from empirical studies and anecdotal evidence, confirm the willful oppression of Wisconsin’s black citizens in a state where blacks have lived with the French and Indians long before the mass European immigration began. Wisconsin’s racist history is undeniable, and the fact that both democratic and republican administrations have equally shown indifference and disinterest to the systemic and institutionalized racism, indicts state’s policies which are heavily skewed against Wisconsin’s black interests.
Wisconsin’s record on race has been the focus of several more recent studies, all of which roundly criticized the state’s nauseating disregard for the welfare its black citizens. Michael M O’Hear, Marquette University Law School, studied a Milwaukee County data, and uncovered the chilling truth about black warehousing in Wisconsin’s gulag prison system. The O’hear’s study found that half of all black men between the ages of 30-40, have been or are currently housed in a state correctional institution. This distressing trend in black marginalization in Wisconsin extends beyond poverty and infant mortality, to high school dropouts and mass incarceration. The Associate Director of COWS, a University of Madison action think-tank, Laura Dresser, characterized black unemployment in Wisconsin as “crisis.” The Associate Director made this powerful statement, arguing that Wisconsin has the unfortunate distinction of generating some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. And Cap Times, Mike Ivey, branded the depressing and entrenched racial disparities in the state more glumly; stating that “for African-American children seeking a better future, no state looks worse than Wisconsin.” Wisconsin has another unenviable distinction as dead last in the nation for black children’s welfare. John Schmid, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in his research, found that 19.9%, or 1 in 5 working-age black men in the city of Milwaukee, was unemployment, but some argue that the number of black unemployment is much higher, if blacks who gave up looking for jobs were factored into the study. One of John Schmid’s sobering findings show that black joblessness in the state is nearly three times higher than Nevada’s highest white unemployment. Additional research findings put in proper perspective how racial disparities have created a yawning gap in education between black and white students. According to Kenya Downs findings, black fourth-grade reading comprehension scores in Wisconsin is an embarrassment, and with nearly 80% of black children living in poverty. her research finding further emphasized that inadequate education will set black students up for failure. And equally alarming, in the Milwaukee 53206 Zip code, 62% of all black men would spend some time in a correctional facility by the time they reach 34 years age. This revolting epidemic of black incarceration in Wisconsin is alarming, and typify a form of ethnic cleansing through deprivation of Wisconsin’s black citizens.
The blistering criticisms condemning Wisconsin’s mortifying race relations, the worst in the nation, is by every study, a sobering reminder of how deep the state has descended into the dark depths of racial intolerance. The state’s dominant white majority is pursuing the same policies that drove their ancestors away from the reprehensible feudal slavery of the 19 century Europe. And Wisconsin justice system, rather than transition into rehabilitation, and away from mass black incarceration, like many other states in the nation, has, instead, doubled down and invested more in public and private incarceration over the last twenty years. Yet, notwithstanding, the terrible black experiences in the state, Wisconsin also has a rather impressive liberal record; like the election of President Obama; twice. This undeniable liberal bend makes it hard to reconcile the paradox of electing a black man president with the continuing relegating of its black citizens to a state of mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass abject poverty. But, this paradox is not unique to the Wisconsin; it is an American thing. The ignorance of the state’s white majority of the history of their ancestor’s abject poverty, oppression and servitude in Europe, is bewildering; particularly in light of the painful history of segregation that black Wisconsinites are still suffering under the tyranny of its white majority. The cruel treatment of black citizens, and denial of opportunities to some of Wisconsin’s pioneer inhabitants, the blacks; put Wisconsin at the epicenter of the mindless racial bigotry across America. The, 1776, American Declaration of Independence, which succinctly states that “all men are created equal” has no ring of truth to it; just as the “land of opportunity” is an empty slogan for so many blacks. The harrowing black experience in the state, and around the US, completely contradicts America’s pride as “the land of the free,” to the chagrin of black Wisconsinites My own Wisconsin experience, after moving here from gateway New York, is not atypical; spurred by a CNN cable news story that ranked Wisconsin as the best place to live in America at the end of the 1990s. And not unlike the experiences of so many indigenous black citizens, in Milwaukee and beyond, still unable to find meaningful employment, Wisconsin has become my worst nightmare too.
Additional reading: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/05/african_immigrants_highly_educated_and_underemployed_in_america.html