Thursday, July 12, 2007

Race and Regionalism, Inertia and Opportunity

Again, southeastern Wisconsin is roiled by race.

While riveted by individual events, let's not lose sight of the bigger picture.

First, some of the events:

The beating of Frank Jude Jr., a bi-racial man, by current and former white Milwaukee cops, has moved to trial in Federal court.

Separately, Ald. Michael McGee, an African-American, has been charged with state and federal offenses, and sits jailed since Memorial Day with bail restrictions his supporters say are racist.

(Looked at objectively, if that is possible given the way race distorts so many things, the no-bail restrictions seem prudent, given the allegations against McGee of violent plotting and intimidation that extend beyond bad-enough financial extortion.

On the other hand, the people who are charged with the actual beating of Frank Jude Jr. were allowed bail.)

Nonetheless, juries will determine if McGee, and those charged with beating Jude and violating his civil rights, and those of a second victim, are innocent or guilty.

McGee led protests against the officers who evaded convictions on earlier state charges, in part through now-admitted perjured testimony.

Though the trials of McGee and the cops are unfolding in different courtrooms, the connections between them - - he led street protests in favor of justice for Jude - - are, if nothing else, deeply ironic.

Then there is the recent Supreme Court case restricting the use of race as a factor in school assignments, jeopardizing the Milwaukee school desegregation program, known as Chapter 220.

Assembly Republicans, eager to stir the racial pot to appease the base in heavily-white and segregated suburbs (more about that in a minute), immediately proposed a budget cutting Chapter 220 funding, confusing governing with pandering.

Some leadership.

And there was the revelation through Open Records by transportation activist Gretchen Schuldt that, when faced with criticism of its minority hiring record, the regional planning commission created a $50,000, no-bid planning contract for a Milwaukee central city neighborhood - - in part to appease some of its minority critics.

More pandering; less leadership.

And the bigger picture?

Race is a stultifying blockade to economic progress for the region - - a fact emphasized by the Brookings Institution, a prestigious Washington, DC think tank.

The institution is trying to focus attention on the opportunities awaiting a more vibrant - - and equitable - - Great Lakes region, and has released The Vital Center, a blockbuster report on the issue.

The Vital Center argues that with a new attitude, and innovative solutions, the Great Lakes region, including Wisconsin, is poised to prosper, and to lead on a global scale.

But one of several things holding back the region, say the report's authors, is racial segregation.

The Great Lakes city-suburbs' residential segregation ranking follows.

Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI
Detroit, MI
Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria, OH
St. Louis, MO-IL
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY
Chicago, IL
Indianapolis, IN
Rochester, NY
Pittsburgh, PA
Columbus, OH
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI

(Note: The report says that residential segregation is measured across five dimensions: evenness, exposure, concentration, centralization, and clustering. The Census Bureau uses non-Hispanic whites as the reference group, and metropolitan areas as reasonable approximations of housing markets. There are 43 large metropolitan areas.

Source: John Iceland, Daniel H. Weinberg, and Erika Steinmetz, U.S. Census Bureau, Series CENSR-3, Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2002.)

And though this is merely the latest in a string of analyses that reached similar conclusions - - including some earlier Brookings date I included in a Journal Sentinel op-ed about Milwaukee's suburban segregation - - let's end with two questions:

Wouldn't you think that our regional planning commission, even if it is ensconced in Pewaukee, deep in the heart of virtually all-white Western Waukesha County, could address the racial realities of our surroundings with more intention than a $50,000 palliative (which, by the way, was awarded ultimately to two white consultants)?

And more to the point: shouldn't the planning commission have long ago faced the segregation issue head-on, fearlessly, by issuing a recommended housing plan for the region - - a plan it has not updated since 1975?

The commission says it doesn't have the money for such a study, but given its many subsequent studies on a variety of basic issues, that excuse is just that: an excuse, and given the findings of Brookings and other authorities, an embarrassment.


Anonymous said...

How do you plan to integrate those who self-segregate? And why are you/we possibly more concerned with black segregation than hispanic self-segregation?

Milwaukee's segregation is overwhelmingly based on choices for self-segregation. Even in the past, when redlining and other practices from the HUD on down aimed to segregate Jews, Italians, Blacks, etc., the vast majority of minority groups *want* to self-segregate, to feel like a majority and to truly generate economic, political, and cultural control over their own neighborhoods, which they see as such. "Ours."

As this self-segregation results in sufficient success--political and economic enfranchisement--it also entails and enables further interaction with and mutual acceptance of other groups, primarily the liberal WASP mainstream which has always been the dominant urban bloc. We see this happening in hispanic neighborhoods but very little in black neighborhoods. New and upcoming MLK area developments are the only real hope of change in this situation, but here notably the whole Bronzeville concept is largely governmentally engineered and turns on the basis of racial preference to put black businesses and homeowners in place in an area where whites people are not and will not be accepted in many cases. (Attitudes vary widely around MLK. When a white guy shows up in a "black" establishment, some places are overtly welcoming, others sullen, some close to hostile.)

For the most part this range of responses and attitudes provides an index of black anxiety and resistance/acceptance of the assimilation process you endorse whereby minorities leave their ghettos (surely you do not support "gentrification" by mixing in non-white homeowners in black neighborhoods?) and substantially become "The Man" themselves. It's happened to every other group--success always means resembling more than anything else at least in ideology and economic behavior, liberal WASPs in the Yankee/northeastern mold that have dominated the US since day 1, despite some resistance for a time from the Southeast.

Since the end of the 1960s the establishment white liberal view ("conservatives" broadly fit into this consensus/establishment as well) is we've really got to integrate/assimilate these urban blacks. Well look at the on-the-ground reality here. All kinds of patronizing, paternalistic, and oppressive cant stems from this notion without notice by those who have the bug. The black community sees it though, and it is a major reason by people like Barack Obama's church and community in IL have taken pains in the past to give great thought and expression to how/if black Americans can be middle-class, go along with the mainstream, without all the cultural and mental colonization implied by integration and assimilation--the majority subsuming the minority.

If you recall, the "colorblind" creed of MLK rapidly turned into the class and color conscious radical nationalisms of the Panthers, NOI, etc. who were and are at best anti-white racists in the same vein as the American Nazis whose founder reached out to them as sharing fundamental goals and values of racial separatism and independent self-determination of unmixed groups.

It is this attitude that still prevails in Milwaukee, and more so that the attitude, it is an EXPERIENCE. A load of people are born and grow up in the ghetto with zero or almost zero contact with the world beyond. Contact, or the idea of it, with the outside becomes a source of anxiety, fear, resentment, and anger. Many just don't care about the outside--they have their own turf, and they really don't mind or have accepted the poverty and crime. Moreover, they lack their own middle and upper classes to knock them out of that mentality with visibly present models of an urban black middle-upper class and leaders predominantly representing that class and its interests rather than pandering to the bottom and catering to the idea that black criminal underclass culture is an acceptable identity and basis for politics.

James Rowen said...

I am sure what you call self-segregation is a real phenonmenon.

Zoning codes that limit and/or exclude home ownership through economics in a region where income closely follows race is using government power to foster segregation.

As does transportation spending that exacerbates residential and employment segregation, too.

The point of the Brookings study, which I encourage you to read, is that segregation hurts everyone economically and stunts the region's promise.

Anonymous said...

what zoning codes are limiting home ownership in Milwaukee?

given inner city crime rates, can you fault suburbanites for being opposed to low cost housing in their midst? would you want it on your block?

Anonymous said...

Try to stick to water issues.

It's true that there are not lots of minority's in Milwaukee suburbs, including my own. However, there are still are minority mom and dads who work hard to buy a home in a better neighborhood. They desire to get out of the sewer pit called Milwaukee.

Since you are very politically correct, when are you going to move your family into central Milwaukee? Try Mike McGee's district.

Anonymous said...

There's a longer history here. Lots of the suburbs were developed with zoning codes that absolutely, explicitly said, you cannot sell this property to anyone but white persons (except servants). The Federal Housing Administration for decades refused to issue mortgages - not only to African-Americans, but also to whites who wanted to live in communities where there were ANY African-Americans (which meant that FHA mortgages could not be used to develop integrated communities), and this was at the precise point when enormous numbers of white working and middle class persons were moving to the suburbs. Meanwhile, African-Americans were pushed into badly designed and often poorly managed public housing. That includes African-American soldiers who had served in World War II - and returned home to segregation.

So, while white persons accumulated wealth based on property ownership - and could keep moving to bigger, wealthier and more isolated suburbs, African-Americans were increasingly marginalized economically - even after legal segregation supposedly ended.

And then we have decades of history - continuing up until the present - of suburbs refusing to accept any affordable housing. Routinely, in racially coded terms.

So let's not pretend race has nothing to do with the way this region looks today. And let's not pretend it isn't still an issue - think about fire chiefs who sic their vicious dogs on African-American fishermen in Waukesha, for example. With that kind of attitude in far too many suburban communities, it's no wonder that some African-Americans also may feel reluctant to live in white communities.

Anonymous said...

hell, white people and other non-blacks feel relunctant to live in the city's black neighborhoods for the same eason--they're not wanted. But I do not see that intensity of feeling in the white areas.

All you;ve cited is decades of history--the past--and the idea that current resistance to "affordable housing"=racism. No, it means "we don;t want poor people."