Written by admin   // March 24, 2011   // 0 Comments

The good, the bad and the ugly truth about being the “majority minorities”

by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt

First, the good news.

It’s official: The U.S. Census Bureau has confirmed that African Americans are Milwaukee’s largest ethnic group. And when combined with the Hispanic population, Milwaukee is firmly a majority minority community.

Now, the bad news.

It’s official: The U.S. Census Bureau has confirmed that African Americans are Milwaukee’s largest ethnic group. And when combined with the Hispanic population, Milwaukee is firmly a majority minority community.

Naw, that’s not a misprint. I’m really unsure if our status as Milwaukee’s largest ethnic group is good or bad news.

Theoretically, we are in a position to control the political, economic and educational paradigms that define Milwaukee. Obviously, that’s not the case, and it won’t be in the immediate future.

Hypothetically, we possess the numbers to dictate the political agenda. But the reality is racial clustering has limited our clout. And save for the Obama presidential election two years ago, we’ve never shown true political clout.

(Indeed, I hate hanging our dirty laundry out in public, but the sad truth is we don’t make those already in office accountable, so what’s to suggest we would pressure a larger number of Black politicians to do anything beneficial to us?)

I hate busting your bubble, but economically we are the most impotent people on the planet. We’re so impotent a 1,000 mg dose of Viagra would have the same affect as feeding an elephant a tic tac.

Despite what you’ve been brainwashed to believe, we’re not a poor people. Poverty is our middle name, but cash flow isn’t. We spend several billion dollars a year. Annually, enough money passes through the Black community to fund the city and MPS budgets.

The problem is where and how we spend it.

If we were any other culture—Korean, Jewish or Martian—we would understand the value and power of prioritizing Black reinvestment in our community.

We would understand the importance of making sure our hard earned dollars touched three Black hands before leaving our community. If that simple scenario became a reality we could reduce unemployment to single digits in a matter of months. We could also sow the seeds of self-determination and Black empowerment.

Instead, too many of us are socialized to think white ice is colder, or we are victims of our own self-hatred and as a result don’t support Black businesses, thus creating this state of dependency and economic starvation.

Educationally, we not only have the numbers to dictate the direction of MPS, but since our children make up over 70% of the school district’s population, we should be watching as the walls of educational apartheid crumble before our eyes.

Instead, most of us silently sit back or blame our children for their educational predicament. Does anyone question why the district is 80% minority but we have the same number of Black school directors as we did two decades ago?

Or maybe we should ask why after a half dozen superintendents in 20 years, the gap between Black and white academic achievement is wider than the Grand Canyon; the Black drop out rate continues to hover in the 40-50% range, and 70% of Black graduates lucky enough to get into college need remedial courses.

That latter reality is grounded in embarrassing national statistic showing our Black students have the lowest fourth grade reading proficiency in America.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only concerned Black citizen who paused when the Census Bureau announced last week that we have grown into the city largest ethnicity and asked the anecdotal question: ‘what does it mean?’

Does our numerical status portend a brighter future? Or does it foreshadow economic abandonment of city by the powers?

Will our newfound status speed up the 30-year migration of Whites to the suburbs, or does it signal the emergence of a sociocultural renaissance?

Do we have the political, economic and cultural leadership in place to take advantage of our numbers to create a new paradigm to benefit the have-nots?

Before you answer those questions, consider the following:

Milwaukee has lost nearly 250,000 residents over the past three decades.

Whites have been moving out of Milwaukee since the 1976 school desegregation order. That process has been slowed only because of employment trends and Milwaukee’s employment residency requirements.

The city and school board’s residency requirement was the last line of defense. Because of it, thousands of White Milwaukeeans employed by local government have not been able to ‘escape’ what many of them feel is a dangerous environment—assumed crime (its actually dropped in recent years), deteriorating neighborhoods and that unnamed commutable disease that apparently comes from continuous contact with Black people.

You can debate why the White middle class has abandoned the city beginning with the federal decree that the public schools be ‘desegregated.’ And if you come to the same conclusion most of us have, you can also theorize that pending legislation to rescind the residency requirement will spark another mass exodus, which this time will probably include Black middleclass city employees.

As a conspiracy theorist, my first thought after hearing of the legislation was that certain power brokers saw the handwriting on the wall (written in Ebonics) and figured they must part the Red Sea (in this case the Menomonee River) for the nervous middle class.

And if you follow the trends of other major cities, including Detroit, somewhere between 50 and 70% of its public workers (including middle class African Americans who share similar fears with their White counterparts) will be packing their bags with the fear that the Mau Mau are coming to visit them. In this case instead of knives, the Mau Mau will use affirmative action to take their jobs and end white privilege, which to some is worse than decapitation.

Will economic divestment doom Milwaukee to Gary, Indiana status?

In truth, we’ve been seeing this trend for two decades: Businesses packing up and moving out of state, or to the suburbs; political myopia that thwarts businesses moving to the central city; a coordinated propaganda campaign to strike fear in the minds of potential investors.

Bias, prejudice, immoral? Yes, but let’s face it, most corporations make decisions to (re)locate based on sociocultural and quality of life factors, including professional sports, cultural amenities like a zoo and museum, and restaurants and nightlife.

They also take into consideration the ‘intangible’ factors like poverty, crime and ethnic makeup. And the word is out about Milwaukee in “corporate circles.”

We’re home to the second worst poverty index in the country. The perception is that our public schools flunk the test (and will get worse with pending reductions in state aid and the assumed firing of hundreds of teachers), and there’s a gang member hiding behind every fire hydrant.

Of course, we can argue those points, provide a strong case that investments in the city negate those social negatives. But are we speaking to the deaf?

OK, enough of the cynicism.

Despite my occasional concerns about Black political impotence, communal self-hatred and cultural ignorance, I conversely acknowledge we have several bright stars ready to emerge, and war-tested Black veterans ready to create a stratagem that would lead us to BET studios, if not the promised land.

We have leading business ventures like V&J Foods that provide a template. Despite the loss of Legacy Bank, we have successful Black owned financial institutions—Columbia Savings and North Milwaukee State Bank— eager to invest in viable projects.

We have private Black investors, and leaders strategically placed in public sector positions that can help develop a strategy that could turn Milwaukee into the new Atlanta— albeit without the good weather.

Someone recently said about half of our Black politicians are either on a ego trip, put party or special interest before the people, or don’t have a clue. Even if that is an accurate assessment, there are several emerging leaders amid their ranks; pragmatic and progressive politicians who if given a chance can orchestrate a revised Black agenda.

Obviously, political expertise is only part of the solution. We need religious and cultural leaders to consistently advocate a cultural paradigm that moves the entire community from out of the shadow of a slave/poverty mentality.

Of course getting those entities with their “baggage,” may be a Herculean task. But what other options are on the table? If we don’t see them taking their places at the table, I feel Milwaukee is dead.

Now back to the original question. Is the announcement of our majority status good or bad news?

I guess the answers to those questions will be answered soon.


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