There’s been some exciting buzz in the city of Madison lately on the topic of race. Since a local pastor, Alex Gee, wrote an excellent and honest newspaper article about being an angry black man (in the very best possible sense) he’s been bombarded with requests for more writing and television interviews and such.
I’m glad people are noticing. I’ve lived in Madison off and on over the past fourteen years, and I know how easy it is for racism to linger in silence.
But the stats are mind blowing. We can’t ignore this:
- Three-quarters of the county’s African-American children live in poverty , compared to 5 percent of white children.Blacks are 5.5 times more likely than whites to be unemployed in Dane County.
- African-American children are 15 times more likely than their white counterparts to land in foster care.
- Wisconsin has the nation’s worst rate of incarceration of young African-American males on a per capita basis, and Dane County is much worse than the state average.
- Wisconsin has by some measures the widest academic achievement gap between African-American and white students in the country, and Dane County is worse than the state average.
If you can stomach it, there’s a lot more in this Racial Equity Report.
I’m posting this now in part because MLK day is this Monday and that might catch the attention of a few more readers. But these things are not going to get better just because we’re all taking a day off work on a Monday or nodding our heads along with an article by a nice black pastor.
This stuff is getting worse, not better. There are some pockets of courage and determination making big local impacts, like Madison Area Urban Ministry, and the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development at Alex Gee’s church, and Richard Davis’ Institute for the Healing of Racism.
But let me be honest. When I start talking about this stuff, I feel a little like people are wondering, “Why do you care? You’re not black.”
Alex writes: “My experience is that many white Madisonians have an inordinate fear of being seen as racist. That fear is so paralyzing that it impedes honest dialogue about discrimination, systemic racism and white privilege.”
I admit I get scared that black people will think I’m a silly little white lady do-gooder who doesn’t really have a clue what she’s talking about.
And I get scared that white people will think I must have some guilt complex I need to deal with instead of meddling in other people’s business and trying to fix stuff that we just can’t fix.
I feel like I need to excuse myself by explaining that I have a close relative who’s black, and I’ve spent time in countries where black people are the majority, and therefore racism can matter to me too.
Hey white people, we shouldn’t need that kind of an excuse to make this our issue, too. We’ve all got “close relatives” who are black–they’re our neighbors, our classmates, our kids’ friends, our coworkers. Or more importantly, if they aren’t in any of those categories, we need to ask why not.
I’m not pretending to know what it feels like to be black. But I am insisting that we can make an effort to listen and learn and ask what we can do.
Here’s a couple places we can start:
Or read one of these books: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
or one of these books on racial reconciliation.
Or attend Madison’s White Privilege Conference this spring.
Or investigate something like this happening in your own city.
As I starting clicking on sites to find links for this blog post, I noticed that suddenly all the ads popping upon my computer started to show black people. Huh – It seems the cyberworld has decided I’m black, because I read articles about black people. I hope they’re wrong. I hope there are a whole lot of white people out there who also read articles about black people, and live differently because of it.
And one more thing. Way back in 1922, at a time when race relations were really ugly in the United States, a report was written trying to figure out why riots were breaking out, killing mostly black people in Chicago and elsewhere. Here’s a piece of what they wrote. (I decided to copy it just as I found it reprinted in The Warmth of Other Suns, so please excuse the 1922-appropriate word “Negro.”) This reminder is as important today as it was back then.
It is important for our white citizens always to remember that the Negroes alone of all our immigrants came to American against their will by the special compelling invitation of the whites; that the institution of slavery was introduced, expanded and maintained by the United States by the white people and for their own benefit; and they likewise created the conditions that followed emancipation. Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro’s making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance.
Whether you’re white, black, or anything in between or otherwise, what does being responsible for racism look like for you? Share your ideas here.