Let’s move

Let’s move

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Although it told us what most minorities in Madison have been talking about for decades, the damning findings of astounding racial inequities from the Race to Equity report made many of us Madisonians squirm and feel uncomfortable. It caused us to get defensive. The national microscope was on us. People from all over the world were making derogatory comments about our great city – the best city in the United States to live, to work, to bike – calling it “Madison: The most racist city in the U.S.”

Understandably, Madisonians were concerned and they did what Madisonians generally do: They analyzed it, studied it, talked about it. They took a break to go to the Farmers’ Market and then they talked about it some more. And then studied it again. And then re-analyzed it.

Meanwhile, the city continued to become more segregated. Blacks and Latinos are increasingly living in separated areas on the fringes of the city where they are disenfranchised economically, socially, and politically. Affluent white people continue to go to farmers’ markets, Badger games, and Madison festivals with other affluent white people — events that half of the minority population doesn’t know exists and the other half doesn’t feel welcome at. A good portion of Madison’s low-income black and Latino families continue to live in about 20 tiny, crowded residential concentrations scattered within the city and around its perimeter and isolated from the rest of us.

About a month ago, I spent the Fourth of July in my hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Along the beaches of Lake Michigan, there is a huge party where all kinds of families play volleyball and beach games while listening to music. It was interesting to see how incredibly diverse this Sheboygan celebration was for a city its size – only about 49,000 people. There were numerous Hmong families and black families and Latino families celebrating with white folks along the long Lake Michigan shoreline.

The point of this Sheboygan story is twofold. One, the United States is becoming much more diverse. A city that contained less than a handful of minorities as I was growing up as a kid in the ’80s now has some incredible diversity, and it was on display that 4th of July.

The second and more incriminating point is that the tiny, conservative city of Sheboygan significantly eclipses super-liberal Madison in its willingness to intermingle among its races.

You see, I’ve been to a lot of events and festivals in Madison, and there is no arguing that most of our Madison festivals and celebrations are extremely white affairs. Our near east side festivals – the whitest liberal area of a white liberal city – will have a token person of color or two at each event. I know who those handful of people of color are by name because it’s the same people every year. If one of them is not there, I get concerned. The number of tokens has slightly increased since the Race to Equity report, but the numbers are still small. More importantly, you never, ever see any black or brown families at these events, amidst all of the white families.

Likewise, our Madison standards like the Farmers’ Market are embarrassingly white. Our Concerts on the Square are even whiter. There is an undeniable whiteness at all major events in Madison that you just don’t see in other cities – even cities five times smaller like Sheboygan. So, it’s no surprise that a high percentage of talented minorities who come here for college immediately jet after their four years for Chicago or Milwaukee or New York. They don’t feel comfortable here. They don’t feel like they belong here. They don’t see events where there are people that look like them. They feel depressed and alone.

So, the races don’t intermingle here in Madison and that’s what highlights the problem: How are we supposed to really care about each other if we don’t associate with each other and we don’t really know each other at all? Tiny, conservative Sheboygan – whom I’ve heard many white Madison liberals derogatorily refer to as “hickish” and “backwards” — is stronger at embracing diversity. Yet, somehow in Madison, despite overwhelming damning evidence to the contrary, we have the audacity to have a superiority complex on racial issues.

Madison social media is awash with groups and forums and pages of mostly white middle-to-upper class liberals talking extensively about race equity issues. Talking it to death. They are extreme experts in “microagressions,” “cultural appropriation,” and “white privilege.” There are so many white liberal race experts in this town pointing fingers on social media, and yet, strangely, I never saw a single one of them at the hundreds of black and Latino and Hmong events I attended in my decade as Editor-in-Chief of The Madison Times.

In Madison, we’ve studied and analyzed and talked this thing to death. We are booksmart on race. Yes, thank you for linking me to 17 different Huffington Post stories on “Why It’s Not A Good Idea To Touch A Black Person’s Hair.” I appreciate it, but I want more. Much more. It’s long overdue. It’s time to get out of our [white] comfort zones and get a little bit uncomfortable. It’s time to get out from behind our keyboards and get at the real work. It’s time to move.

If we could get one-tenth of the passion, activism, and mass motivation working towards racial disparities that we have in this city every time Gov. Walker does something we don’t like, we would have crushed racial disparities by now. It would be amazing if we could get the same turnout and passion to help save a young and brilliant but troubled, low-income black kid who is falling through the cracks that we get at a Madison neighborhood association meeting when a light goes out on the bike path.

Madisonians do care about the tremendous racial disparities in our city. We are, for the most part, good and caring people. The problem is that we don’t care about these tremendous racial disparities. It’s something that most Madisonians don’t see in their day-to-day lives. It’s not urgent. It’s something going on over there. It’s on the periphery. It’s like a TV commercial that shows starving kids in Ethiopia: “Oh, that’s really sad … Honey, is it Fleetwood Mac night at Concerts on the Square tonight?”

If we could get one-tenth of the passion, activism, and mass motivation working towards racial disparities that we have in this city every time Gov. Walker does something we don’t like, we would have crushed racial disparities by now. It would be amazing if we could get the same turnout and passion to help save a young and brilliant but troubled, low-income black kid who is falling through the cracks that we get at a Madison neighborhood association meeting when a light goes out on the bike path.

But that bike path light you see every day. (And, yes, it’s annoying!) The struggling black or Latino kid that lives in a segregated apartment complex in Darbo or Allied is out of sight. Out of sight, and out of mind. That kid might as well be in Ethiopia.

One of our goals at Madison365 is to close that gap. We are going to bring things right to you and encourage you to reckon with them. Our young, creative, and talented black and Latino writers are dying to tell you these important stories from a grassroots level. In a city of 250,000 that has historically had an astounding dearth of black and Latino journalists, this will be a powerful endeavor.

But beyond these young people of color writing about important issues, people, and events in Madison to keep the community informed, Madison365’s goal is to show you how you, personally, can get involved in a community that is rapidly becoming more and more segregated. How you can intermingle. How you can volunteer. How you can mentor. How you can learn. How you can decrease this trend towards a segregated city that Milwaukee and Chicago and Minneapolis have become before us. How you can move. So that you will really want to care. So you will want to march and to blow Vuvuzelas (“This is what racial disparities look like!”). So you will want to go to door-to-door with passion and to fight for all of Madison.

At some point in time, every major U.S. city has faced the particular demographics challenge that Madison now faces and every time that city tipped in the wrong direction. Every city has failed. Massive segregation, decline in schools, economic downfall … White flight … Insane racial disparities.

There is no doubt in my mind that Madison has the unique resources, unique talent, unique wealth, and unique activism to be that first city that doesn’t tip. That doesn’t fly to the suburbs. That doesn’t ignore. That doesn’t refuse to intermingle. That doesn’t say, “That’s sad. But that’s not my problem.” That engages all of its community and fights for everybody in it.

Madison is under the national microscope in the most negative way right now. How do we respond? Are we going to keep talking and analyzing and studying and posting and re-posting or are we going to move?

Madison365 was born out of a tremendous need at a critical time. It was born out of a disturbing lack of journalists of color in a city of with a quarter-million people. It was born out of dismal racial equity statistics and worsening segregation. It was born out of the need to tell grassroots stories from the perspectives of people of color and to challenge rampant racial and economic inequality, segregation, and a lack of mobility.

We hope that you will support us in this unique endeavor. It is going to take some hard work, but we are going to do this.

Because we’re all in this together.

Let’s move.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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