Are We All Racist?

It was a short book, just 200 pages of essays, followed by about 25 pages of notes, yet our Book Club members found much to discover about themselves from Eula Biss’ 2009 prize-winning “Notes from No Man’s Land.”

The 13 essays that make up this highly readable book concerned race and a young woman’s quest to learn about herself.  As we discussed the book in three two-hour sessions, most of us were convinced that we learned about ourselves in the process.

One of the participants, a retired teacher, called it a “book of discovery,” and claimed it triggered a chain of new insights.  The others, too, said the book raised other realizations about their own perceptions and understandings about others whose life experiences differed from their own.

Reacting to the author’s own quest for discovery as she found herself as a young white women living in three locations (New York City, San Diego and Chicago’s Rogers Park area) where she was a racial minority, the participants all recognized their own needs to understand others.  Several of the participants noted that the Book Club lacked any presence of a non-white person; it was true, yet there was a view that should not stop us from being frank and honest about our own perceptions.


None of us could be described as racist; yet, the book prompted all of us to acknowledge that some of our own perceptions likely were racist.

Consider the question about how you would feel about finding yourself walking down a street and coming upon a group of young, scruffy looking African-American men.  Would you be scared?  Several of us agreed we would be; as long as fear is rational, we agreed, it makes sense to protect ourselves.  Too often, however, we felt fear is based on irrational or myths.

Fear is all-consuming, conditioning much of human behavior, with most of us agreeing with the author’s observation that the things that most Americans fear are things that are least likely to do harm.  Thus, as one person pointed out, the repeated news reports of shootings in a few neighborhoods of Milwaukee have prompted many in nearby communities to refuse to travel into the city’s safer areas such as the city’s thriving theater area downtown.

It was the author’s quest to discover herself was found in her own failure to fully identify herself to the reader.  We puzzled over the fact that while the essays all reflected her personal quest for discovery she told us little about her personal life, other than it was apparent that she had a husband and was a university professor.  No details were provided; yet, the absence of such biographical data seemed immaterial.  Her own ethnicity was kept somewhat of a mystery, prompting some of us to believe she may have been multiracial (her photo didn’t seem to belie that belief); yet upon further reading, we soon learned she was Caucasian with obvious mixed nationalities, though she only mentioned that her maternal grandparents were Polish.  Several in her extended family, however, were African-American, a factor that often caused her to feel guilty about her own “whiteness.”

Her feelings of such guilt prompted the Book Club participants to wonder whether we whites should have to apologize – or offer reparations – to the African-American community for the sins and failures of our forebears, for the slavery that brought these citizens from Africa and for keeping them subjugated to servitude and for then pushing them into the horrors of Jim Crow and the KKK?


There were no definitive answers offered; some said that sincere expressions of apology might be helpful while others wondered whether something more concrete, such as reparations, might be needed.  No, the consensus seemed to be, apologies weren’t needed, but that deeds that addressed the problems of continuing racism were necessary.

That led the retired school teachers to ask: “What next?  What can I do?  How can I be sure that I am making decisions and acting in ways that ensure I am part of the solution?”   It was a good question and we struggled in the few minutes left in our discussion to fully answer it.

For one, we agreed that further book clubs and discussions must do a better job in having true diversity; all of the participants were Causasian.

Interest was shown in the sponsoring group (the Southeast Wisconsin Intergenerational-Interracial Community Connection, or SEWIICC) and its progress in seeking to build greater dialogue on racism in the community that involved an intergenerational approach.  Possibly the group could hold more discussions on the topic was one suggestion.

Time ran out on us.  There’s much more to say and let’s hope we can keep the conversation going.  That’s the goal of SEWIICC, which by the way is expected to announce soon a name change that it is to be hoped will be less of a mouthful.

In spite of what seem to be constantly discouraging trends in our community on race, there’s always hope.  We all agreed on that, as long as there is continuing dialogue.  Ken Germanson, July 25, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee and Racism

It’s an unexpected joy to learn that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “likes” Wisconsin.  At least, he says he does, based on the comedic – some would say embarrassingly corny – commercial promoting tourism in the state.  If you haven’t seen it, Kareem re-enacts the part he played in the hilariously funny movie, “Airplane,” as the plane flies over prominent vacation spots in the state.

Back when he was drafted to play for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, he showed little affection for the city or the state and couldn’t wait until he flee to the LA Lakers, as he did in 1975.  In spite of the role he played – along with a marvelous supporting cast including Oscar Robertson, Jon McGlocklin and Bobby Dandridge – in bringing the Bucks their only NBA championship in 1971, he failed to win the hearts of Milwaukee fans the way Oscar (the “Big O”) did. 

As a big fan in those days, a co-worker and myself shared two season tickets in the cheap seats at the Milwaukee Arena.  The seats, by the way, offered a better view of the game than any but the most expensive seats in the Bradley Center.  I know I marveled at this towering player’s sky hook and his ability to block shots.  He was a joy to watch; never was such a tall man so graceful.

Nonetheless, many fans were disappointed in how Kareem (then known as Lew Alcindor) rejected Milwaukee, its lack of sophistication and culture when he asked to be traded to either Los Angeles or New York.  Though he didn’t state it directly, it could be inferred that the racism of our city bothered him.  Even then – when the minority population was a fraction of what it is today – Milwaukee had the reputation of being the most segregated city in the U. S.

Despite his snub of our city, I liked Kareem for his intelligence and honesty.  Like his play on the court, he never held it back, and he didn’t in a recent comment in Time Magazine when the Don Sterling’s racist quote caused Sterling to be dropped as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In true Kareem fashion, he minced no words in saying that just because the nation elected an African-American president Americans are still far from wiping out the stain of our historic racism.  The Don Sterling remark was an example and a symbol of how racism still haunts Americans, even when they don’t realize it.

For instance, Kareem reads off the words we often hear from whites that “I don’t care if you’re white, black, yellow or purple.”  Then he writes: “You might be a racist if you’ve used that phrase.”

He continues: “Maybe the worst racism of all is denying that racism exists, because that keeps us from repairing the damage.” 

The Milwaukee of forty years ago when Kareem left the Bucks for the Lakers is now a much different place.  Then, it was an acknowledged “white” community with relatively few minorities.  Today, it is a majority minority city; yet, I doubt that if Kareem returned to spend more than a few hours in the community he’d find anything more to be please him.  While African-Americans, Hispanics and the growing numbers of Asian and Middle Eastern persons filter into many neighborhoods of the city, including a few of the suburbs, African-American and Hispanic ghettos are as concentrated and desperate as ever.  Our public school system is less than 20 per cent white.  Wisconsin continues to incarcerate black males to an extent that no other state does.  And our minority poverty rate is among the worst as well.

Meanwhile, the current reactionary state government in Madison has turned a blind eye to assisting in developing a climate in which all citizens may thrive.  Are the politicians making those terrible decisions all racist?  They would tell you that they “don’t see color;” yet, their very blindness to the issues in our minority community betrays their racism even when they don’t realize it.

The solution, Kareem tells us, should come from each of us.  Each and every time we see an example of racist behavior, we should say so.  He writes:  “That’s why the best way to combat racism . . . is to seek it out every minute of every day and expose every instance we find. And not just racism, but also sexism, homophobia and every other kind of injustice that lessens the principles of inclusion that define this country.”

During his five years playing for the Bucks, Kareem hurried back to either his New York roots or to LA as often as he could.  Now, in his recent tourism advertisement, he seems to show a certain fondness for the state.  Do you think he would find Milwaukee any less racist today as it was during his playing days here?   Ken Germanson, June 21,  2014

(NOTE:  If you feel you have an answer to the closing question, why not answer it with a comment below.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A lesson from Zimmerman acquittal

There’s one lesson to draw out of the George Zimmerman acquittal in Florida:  If anyone believes as Chief Justice John Roberts does that the nation’s attitudes toward race have changed for the better they’re “whistling Dixie.”  (Translation: According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “whistling Dixie is “(to engage) in unrealistically rosy fantasizing.”)

Though race never got into the record in the Sanford FL courtroom testimony, there is no question that Zimmerman’s perception of Trayvon Martin as a potential criminal was based on the color of his skin.  Why else would he have stalked the young man who was innocently walking the streets on the way to watch the NBA All-Star game at a relative’s home?

Perhaps the prosecution said it best in its summary:  If the situation had been reversed and a white youth had been walking (as Martin was) and an African-American had been following along and had fatally shot the white youth there’d be no hesitation but to arrest and convict him.  In this case, if you’ll recall, it took six weeks for the State to arrest and charge Zimmerman, and that only occurred after widespread publicity on the case.

It’s impossible, at this stage, to know what occurred in the jury’s deliberations.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to blame the jurors on this decision.  From all reports, it seemed they did a conscientious job in deliberating.  Also, it must be remembered their decision was based on the narrow situation as it was presented in the courtroom and, to be frank, it would appear that the defense was able to show that “reasonable doubt” existed as to whether Zimmerman was justified in firing his gun.

Perhaps the six women were not openly racist, but it is also a fact that they were products of their Southern communities in which racist attitudes continue to persist.  Whether consciously or not, it’s reasonable to believe their thinking may not have been colored by their personal backgrounds.

The whole atmosphere on this case was poisoned by the overriding fact of racism, proving that

Chief Justice Roberts was dead wrong when he said the racial situation in this nation had changed.  While he correctly pointed out that “voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased, and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers,” he was wrong to conclude that in the South required no further vigilance on the part of the Federal government.

Yes, Chief Justice: racism continues.

Lest we in the North feel “superior” to our Southern citizens, we must realize that racism still exists here, and the situation may be growing worse.  Wisconsin, for instance, has 12.8% of its black men of working age in prison, the highest of any state in the union.  The state with the next highest percentage of its black male population in jail is Oklahoma at 9.7% while the national average is 6.7%.

It appears the Wisconsin criminal justice system is not as colorblind as we might like to believe.

The struggle to end racism in this Nation – North and South – must continue.  Ken Germanson, July 14, 2013.

Posted in Racism, Trayvon Martin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Corrections, Zimmerman Acquittal | Tagged | 1 Comment

Diversity training: A boondoggle? Or still relevant?

Once this nation elected an African-American man as President, there seemed to be a consensus that we had beaten down racism.

The reality is, however, that not much has changed; virtually every relevant statistic that reflects on the quality of life tells us that people of color still suffer from perceptions that bring about greater than ever incarcerations, arrests, job selection and educational rewards. 

More importantly, the minds of far too many of us, including some of us who think of ourselves in being racially blind, subconsciously take our perceptions of “those people” into account when making decisions. This carries on into our actions on the job, too!

An apprentice electrician friend who works on crews throughout Upper Midwestern states told me recently that racist jokes and terminology (Yes, even the n-word!) continues in full bloom.  The crude conversations of these blue collar workers may not be duplicated in more gentile workplaces or in ‘good society,” but rest assured those lingering racist perceptions persist.

That’s what made a recent column by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker not only totally uncalled for, but totally wrong.  Parker, whose recent snarky rant was distributed through the Washington Post to hundreds of newspapers, claimed that diversity training was nothing more the “political correctness” gone mad.  She bemoaned the fact that one such training traced some of this nation’s more sordid historical acts (such as the territorial takeover of much of the Southwest from Mexico, our occasional atrocities in wartime and the racist actions of many of our governmental agencies).

To be fair to Parker, she admitted her own column might be “snarky” and a bit over-the-top.  It’s not her smarminess that we quarrel about; it’s that she’s wrong about history.

The whole point of “diversity training” is to get each of us to look outside of our own experiences, to look beyond the myths of our up-bringing.  As kids in school, we were taught about the greatness of our nation (and it is indeed a great nation).  Yet, like all human institution our nation was not with warts, and it is important that we understand that.  Is the United States the only “great nation” in the world?

Also, whether children grow up in an all-white suburban community or an all-black or Hispanic inner city neighborhood, they all face the same narrow experiences in life.  Thus “diversity training,” if it is done well, helps to open up minds to view others.

Parker’s column picked on a particular training by one private contractor and thus fell into the trap set by all who like to critique certain activities: they love over-the-top anecdotes to prove their point.  Her column, too, is also a sign of what has become its own right-wing cottage industry in criticizing diversity training for being a liberal boondoggle and the cause of many ills, such as the breakdown of American cultural life.


How she could leap to such conclusions is a mystery.  The fact is that the citizens of our great nation still need “diversity training” and other strategies so that we can make reasonable, sensible and appropriate decisions on the many problems facing our nation and the world.  Ken Germanson, March 10, 2013.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Election campaign reflects growing racism in U.S.

Four years have passed since the historic election of an African-American President. Many thought that election in 2008 showed that the United States was on a path to becoming a post-racist society. Did that happen?

No, and the racism may have gotten worse based on the rhetoric of the 2012 Presidential election campaign, and the voting patterns that portend to emerge in the election. In the final days of the election, the consensus of the polls showed that nine out of ten African-American citizens were supporting President Obama while six to seven out of ten white Americans were supporting Mitt Romney, the Republican.

There was no question about the constituencies of the two candidates as you looked at the television coverage of the audiences. You’d be hard-pressed to find a black face in a Romney crowd, though his campaign did do a slight bit better with Hispanics. In Obama campaign appearances, the diversity was obvious.

Sadly, the Romney campaign, which could have helped to bridge what some feel to be a growing racial gap in the nation, seemed to stir up the racism theme. An example of this were the words of Jason Thompson, son of Wisconsin Senate Candidate Tommy Thompson at a Republican fundraiser, who said that the 2012 election was an opportunity “to send President Obama back to Chicago — or Kenya.” In the audience was Reince Priebus, GOP national chairman, but no apology came from that remark until it was reported in the media. (At least during the 2008 campaign, the Republican candidate, John McCain, rebuked a questioner over calling Barack Obama an “Arab.”)

The Thompson incident and eight others like it were summarized in an AlterNet report  by Alex Kane on Oct. 16.

Since that report there were several other incidents that tarnish the Romney campaign, including the Campaign National Co-Chair John Sununu’s statement characterizing Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama as based solely upon “having someone of your own race” as President.

The candidate himself was guilty of putting wood on the fire of racism with his reference (kidding though it was) to the birther movement’s outlandish claim that the President’s birth certificate was phony and that he might have been born in Kenya. Romney told a Detroit audience that he was born in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and there was no doubt about that as there was about the President’s birth. Again this absurd question about the President’s birth certificate continues with a reported four out of ten Republican’s believing it.

It’s impossible to claim that Mitt Romney or his key supporters are racist in their personal views. No one knows, of course, but it is fair to speculate that the Romney political strategy was to stir the racist pot to assure that they could siphon off some votes from white working class Americans. The strategy of building fear into the minds of white Americans stemmed from the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 and was stirred up even more so under Ronald Reagan’s demonizing of a non-existing “welfare queen” in Chicago. It’s worked, perhaps helping to explain why a majority of white Americans have deserted Democrats and the African-American President in particular.

Many voters, of course, sincerely prefer Mitt Romney for other relevant reasons and that is their right as U.S. Citizens.

To provide added evidence, a recent Associated Press survey shows an increase in the percentage of Americans who have “negative” attitudes toward African-Americans from 49% to 56%.

Thus, it appears this election season may have helped to renew racist tendencies many thought might be waning after the election of President Barack Obama four years ago. It proves again the racism is alive and well and that all right-minded Americans have their work cut out for them in helping to create a healthy post-racial society. Ken Germanson, Nov. 4, 2012

Posted in Elections, Obama, Racism, Romney | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Grieving son’s call for understanding

Less than 18 hours after his father was slain in the Sikh Temple tragedy of Aug. 5, Amardeep Kaleka offered an insightful understanding about America in an interview on NBC’s “Today Show.”

While Kaleka said people shouldn’t confuse Sikhs with Muslims, he added that said he didn’t want to be that simplistic because “it’s culturally insensitive.”

“We, as Americans, are a melting pot of so many cultures,” he said. “We have to understand each other’s cultures, whether they be Italian, Polish, German, or they be Far East Chinese or Bangladeshi. We have to understand the nuances because we live together. We rub elbows right next to each other.”

Simply said, but so welcome from a grieving son.  We should all learn from Kaleka’s example.  — Ken Germanson

 (Photo above:  Amardeep Kaleka prays after learning of father’s death.  Credit: Mike De Sisti from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Posted in Milwaukee, Racial harmony, Racism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Probing the real reason Kohls nixed downtown site

(The views expressed below are those of the writer and his alone.)

The decision of Kohls Department Stores to reject a downtown Milwaukee location for their new corporate headquarters can be read in many ways.

Some say it would be more costly to build a multi-storied structure with parking in the empty Park East Corridor as opposed to finding a more acreage in a location nearer to the company’s current Menomonee Falls offices.  Others say employees – many of whom now live in the northwest suburbs and exurbs – would find the commute difficult.

All of which may be true, and I have no way of probing the corporate mind of Kohls, which is now owned by a foreign company that has no particular allegiance to Milwaukee or Wisconsin.  Indeed, it’s sometimes feared they someday might flee to the fashion streets of New York City, where Kohls already has an office.  So maybe we should be happy the company is at least in Wisconsin, even if it’s not in our state’s largest city.

I have a lurking suspicion that something else may be behind the decision . . . and that’s image.  As I’ve heard so often from those who live and work outside of the city, they’re downright scared to enter the city limits, for fear of being mugged, raped and robbed.   Also, they find so many different people in the city; in fact in walking down Wisconsin Ave., particularly west of the river, they see few persons like themselves.  (Translation: They see too few white people among the African-Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Hmong, etc.)

Let’s not blame these suburbanites for their fear!  They hear of a steady stream of crime stories in the news, often reinforcing their view of the Central Cities from the crime shows flooding our TV channels.

What they don’t know is that much of Milwaukee is a friendly, welcoming place, perfectly safe.  What they don’t know is that these strange-looking citizens can be warm and great neighbors.  What they don’t know is that the ingredients of a vibrant city make for a sweet mix of new experiences and great memories.

Yes, Milwaukee has its problems, with a poverty rate and its consequences such as high infant mortality and boarded up houses and homelessness.  While these issues are largely seen in neighborhoods outside of downtown, they are nonetheless community issues.  We’re sorry to hear that Kohls rejected downtown as their office site – if they ever really seriously considered it – since their inclusion into the urban culture here, not far from the site of Manpower’s headquarters, might have spurred on a whole new growth of new corporate citizens for the city.

We know that a corporation like Kohls would bring great benefits to the community as a whole, and thus regret its decision not to consider the downtown site.

What disturbs us however is the thought that part of the company’s decision might have been based on plain old racism.  If that entered the thinking, even subconsciously, it shows that those of us who believe in the role of SEWIICC have a lot of work left to be done.  Ken Germanson, Feb. 17, 2012.

Posted in Business, Milwaukee, Poverty, Racism | Leave a comment

Lingering racism seen in nasty remarks

Criticizing the President is a great American past-time, and certainly there has been no lack of criticism toward Barack Obama. And, such criticism of a President is proper and within bounds, when it concerns policies. But the personal attacks have been something else, such as the innuendo and rumor thrown at Mr. Obama by the idiotic question of whether he was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii.

Was that not just a sly maneuver to constantly remind voters that he is black – and therefore not one of “us,” meaning a lily white person?

Now, comes Wisconsin’s 9th District Congressman James Sensenbrenner to make fun of the First Lady by saying she has a “big butt” in criticizing her commendable crusade to reduce childhood obesity. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Columnist Eugene Kane called the remark “racist,” noting that he couldn’t recall another First Lady who had ever been similarly attacked by a clearly offensive, nasty remark.  Read column.

Then there’s the story about the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a year ago ruled that there were no racial overtones when a white manager at a Tyson chicken plant in Gadsden AL called the adult black men employed there as “boy.” Now, just before Christmas, the Court has made the unusual move of reversing itself and agreeing that the term “boy” is offensively racist.  See story.

How the learned judges of the 11th Circuit in Atlanta could have dismissed the use of the word “boy” in the South as anything but hurtful to black men in the first place speaks volumes about how far this nation still has to go to understand how racist terms can hurt. How could they not know that the term “boy” connotes inferiority and enslavement itself?

The judges in the 11th Circuit are from the South, and may have grown up using the term “boy” to refer to their black neighbors. That’s still no excuse, especially for supposed educated men wearing dark robes.

Now, Rep. Sensenbrenner is a born and bred northerner, representing folks in the counties bordering Milwaukee County. He made the “big butt” remark in a small group to be sure, but it matters little that he likely would not have said it in front of a microphone. The Congressman has apologized to the First Lady but such apologies are meaningless. The fact that he said indicates what his attitude is.

Sadly, too, Rep. Sensenbrenner’s racism rests in many of us, if we’re honest about it, just as it rested in the souls of the justices of the 11th Circuit.

Some may question whether we’re merely being “politically correct” in looking to avoid the use of hurtful references of a person’s anatomy or the use of terms like “boy.” It’s more than that: it’s a basic attitude that needs to be corrected. And racist attitudes can be just as prevalent in Wisconsin as they can be in Georgia. – Ken Germanson, Dec. 29, 2011

Posted in Generations, Racism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Talk, talk, talk about poverty? Why not some action?

(Review a one-page fact sheet prepared by Martha Barry of YWCA that was presented to the SEWIICC Steering Committee for their discussion on Dec. 5.  Click here to view it.)

It’s no mystery that Milwaukee – the city, that is – is suffering terribly from the ravages of high poverty and lack of jobs.  The city ranks near the worst in both.

All we seem to do about it is talk, talk, talk.  There have been plenty of studies and they basically show the same thing: joblessness among young men of color is at horrendous levels (perhaps as high as 60% in the Central City) while unemployment among white males and females is about 10% or less – still too high.  But you get the picture.

If you’re young and black, and to only a slightly lesser extent young and Hispanic or Asian, you face the double whammy in which your age and race seem to make it more difficult for you.

What are we to do about it besides talk, talk, talk?

The truth is there are no easy solutions – as all politicians like to promise but find impossible to deliver once they’re in office.

In the second in a series of forums on Dec. 5, the Southeast Wisconsin Intergenerational-Interracial Community Connection’s Steering Committee chewed over the topic of poverty as it impacts the races and the generations.  Of course there was more talk, but it was revealing and worth considering.

What emerged from the discussions (at least to our mind) is this:  the solutions to ending poverty will indeed require direct public policy action, but before such action can occur we in the Milwaukee area will have to figure out a way to bridge the gap between two opposing deeply entrenched principles that are dividing us.

One viewpoint that persists is that people should be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”  Yet, as Martha Barry expressed during her presentation before the group, they have NO bootstraps!  The “people should be able to help themselves” view is held by a large segment of the population, often expressed through Tea Partians or Republicans like Newt Gingrich who insist kids need  to work (even in grade school as school janitors) to learn such a lesson.

The opposing view is that government has to be there to provide a helping hand to people so that they can overcome the barriers presented by living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, long term discriminatory hiring practices, questionable schools and poor nutrition (among other factors).  And this, of course, takes money through taxes.  In addition this view is that there needs to be government rules and regulations – such as child labor laws, safety and health rules and minimum wage rates – to protect ordinary folks from what are discerned to be predatory practices of business.

The differences are striking and dramatic.  Is there any way to develop a policy that can move our community forward to be a job-producing center (as it was in earlier generations) and thus reduce the unconscionable levels of poverty?  How is progress possible when the two sides are so far apart?

The answer belongs in building an understanding between these two poles, and that will be difficult.  The first group (those who contend “bootstrap pulling” is all that is needed) tend to live in the suburbs and rarely see how the working poor live and struggle; they have their own struggles, assuring that they can continue to pay their house mortgage and tax bills and car payments and they fill victimized by the poor person whom they often perceive as “milking the system” and causing their taxes to increase.

In addition, people from both sides of his question rarely interact.  Rarely does that suburbanite interact with a family of color or a working single mom who sometimes needs the food pantry and food stamps to get food on the table.  Nor, of course, does the single mom see the more affluent family struggle as both parents work to meet their obligations.

What is the role of SEWIICC in all this?  It’s to continue to seek to build a dialogue between the old and the young, between the suburbanite and the urban working poor, between the white and the black and the Hispanic and the Asian.

To be honest, right now such a dialogue seems as remote a possibility as landing people on Mars; yet the stakes are too high with failure leaving us a bleak, barren future, unless we begin to work together to build a stronger community.  – Kenneth Germanson, Dec. 8, 2011

Posted in Generations, Milwaukee, Poverty, Racism, Unemployment | 2 Comments

Milwaukee’s ‘quiet crisis’ — Jobs and diversity

How the world has changed!  On the day I graduated from high school in 1947, I already had two possibilities for union-paying jobs.  And it wasn’t because I was particularly brilliant; in fact my grades were just about average.

In 1947, however, good paying factory jobs were there for the taking.  That was true in this city for another 30 years or so.  We were called “the machine shop of the world,” and it was more than just a promotion slogan.  It was a fact!

Consequently, thousands of families flocked from southern states to join in the bonanza of jobs, joining the workforce of companies like A. O. Smith (once with 9,000 workers and now gone) and Allis Chalmers (once with nearly 20,000 workers here and also gone).  There were hundreds of other factories here, as well, also gone, or severely reduced in workers numbers.

As these factories closed, due mainly to a desire for their owners and managers to move to cheaper labor in other states or overseas, there would be no jobs for high school graduates anymore.  Everyone was hurt, but it was not an equal opportunity hurt:  it affected minorities, particularly African-Americans the worst.

Take a look at the statistics that Jim Bartos cited at the recent Steering Committee meeting of the Southeast Wisconsin Intergenerational-Interracial Community Connection.  Quoting from a 2008 study by Dr. Marc Levine at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Bartos showed that unemployment among African-American males (aged 16 – 24) in 2008 was 69.6%, compared to 35.6% for whites and 43.2% for Hispanics.  And the disparity was even higher among males aged 25-54 at 36.2% for African-Americans and 10.9% for whites.

[Bartos prepared an excellent one-page fact sheet with charts that outlines the situation.  View it here.]

Joblessness may indeed be the worst cancer in our African-American neighborhoods, causing despair and hopelessness that leads young men to an aimless, pointless life style that often brings about disruptive activities that cause further harm to themselves and the community.   The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 13 outlined clearly how this terrible degree of plant closings and downsizings has led to a whole host of social problems, noting in particular the high degree of infant deaths in the African-American community.

Bartos in making his presentation called this a “quiet crisis (that) can’t stay quiet any longer.”  He called for a community-wide call of action to address the high rates of unemployment among American males, particularly minority males.  It boils down to a question of will, he said.

The question is, however, what can we do specifically, individually and collectively, to correct this situation?

It may be only a beginning but SEWIICC feels the first step is to gain an understanding of the problem, to realize that the growing racial gap in the economic future for our citizens must be reversed.  Many persons fail to see the privation and suffering that is going on with those facing unemployment, how much that sours the lives of so many persons, rendering them unproductive for the future.  Is there any understanding, for instance, by many of those who live in our suburbs and exurbs for the desperation facing those without work?

Let’s begin to talk up this subject with an urgency so that we can again restore hope in the lives of our young men so that they can see the value of a high school and further education because there will be jobs awaiting them on the day after they get their diploma.

It’s my desire that all youth will soon be as fortunate as I was nearly 65 years ago.  – Ken Germanson, November 13, 2011.



Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments