Sunday, February 28, 2010

Race Is Still Our Great Failure

Marquette University faculty member Martin Scanlan has written a solid essay on school segregation in Milwaukee, and the Journal Sentinel wisely put it above the fold in Sunday's Crossroads. I recommend it highly.

Racial inequities continue to hold Milwaukee back - - a reality that is long-standing and oft-noted - - with experts including the Brookings Institution's John Austin, author of seminal work "The Vital Center," noting that the Milwaukee area and other Great Lakes urbanized areas are deeply segregated, and thus economically self-destructive. (Read his 2007 Milwaukee speech).

Here's the relevant section:

"We’re the most segregated cities in the country. We have the biggest splits -- we have the most segregated big cities in the country in our region in terms of black/white segregation -- in our region. So, it’s us, it’s Milwaukee, it’s Detroit. This hurts us economically in several ways. It hurts our reputation, certainly, and I can speak from our experience in Michigan. The Detroit area -- attractive? Split by race? You know, I’m not going there. Think of the lost human capital and potential that you have, when so many are trapped in concentrated poverty-- Milwaukee’s actually in the top 10% of the nation in terms of the largest number of African Americans living in concentrated poverty. They’re folks who aren’t connected to the economy, who aren’t contributing -- that’s an economic drain. It’s a reputational drain; it’s an economic drain; it’s a huge problem. And it’s our problem in the region."

More evidence?

The virtually all-white nature of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that I wrote about in 2002 is only marginally better today - - and SEWRPC's heavily-white committee memberships and staffing, along with planning and spending tipped disproportionately towards white suburbia and beyond, is now the subject of two civil rights complaints filed with federal agencies by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

And a separate complaint along similar lines was filed over widening I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois border.

It's demoralizing that our region is such a racial backwater, and that public officials, incapable of doing the right thing, have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era with litigation, or by determined citizen demands.

SEWRPC created a social justice task force, at the behest of federal overseers and local activists, but fought its members over adding socio-economic considerations to a regional water supply study already underway for five years.

That add-on analysis, underway right now, needed more struggle to get started.

Underscoring the truth of the headline the Crossroads staff put on Scanlan's article:

"Decades later, still separate and unequal"


Anonymous said...

Yea, I agree, Milwaukee's race problem is its biggest chain around its neck. Today I attended an all white roundtable on sustainability. They talked about geothermal systems but not about the hypersegregation in Milwaukee and the fact that life here is so unsustainable for so many.

Scott Noble said...

Well written blog on race issues in Milwaukee.

What about the rest of Wisconsin?

Are we ever going to look at how WI cities can emerge completely from the "sundown" past and open their doors to diversity?