Well-off black families can still end up living in poorer areas compared to white families with similar or even lower incomes. Studies have shown that white people prefer to live in communities where there are fewer black people, regardless of their income. And that truth often makes blacks feel like “the other”. Cultural divides, differing feelings about police brutality, racist governmental policies and the like can put more well off blacks between a rock and hard place.
There are small-black business owners doing well in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They have college degrees, but still their choices have been limited. For instance, one black families Victorian home bought a decade ago, is now being renting out in a majority black neighborhood, then poverty in this area has increased, and damaged their investment. There are other instances where Duplexes a families grandparents bought six decades earlier can have a median household income of just $34,000 a year, around $20,000 less than what’s typical for the region. It’s one of many ways that living around people whom blacks best relate to means wrestling day and night with the cumulative effects of racism.
For too many years, blacks have faced higher poverty rates, lower incomes and higher incarceration rates than other Americans. While such problems are nationwide, racial inequality is much worse in some parts of the country. We examined the disparities between white and black Americans using several economic and social measures and unfortunately the midwest had the worst results! It’s never enough to merely mention problems, history is always a light to understand how we can move forward! The Great Migration was when millions of African Americans fleeing from the oppressive Jim Crow policies, relocated from the South to cities such as Chicago and New York. The Midwest in particular had a huge a manufacturing boom at the time offering relatively well-paying jobs to relatively uneducated people.
Then the 70’s rolled around and the industrial Midwestern economies started declining dramatically and cities like Milwaukee became known as the Rust Belt. Valerie Wilson, director of the program on race & ethnicity explained that, “those industries dried up and left, but the people were still there.
Structural racism is a beast and must be destroyed to overcome much of these problems. Historically when blacks were literally prohibited from home and land ownership, we were at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to inherited wealth. Also the pattern of redlining, in which banks choke off lending to minorities and minority communities, crushed the midwest even more severely than other places, because black migrants began arriving in droves just as the economic structure that was supposed to buoy them was disappearing. The shifts ensured that no enclave for affluent black people was ever developed. This wealth inequality helps perpetuate racial inequalities. The value of property and financial assets is what passes from one generation to the next!
For too many black families, “each generation starts from zero and once this happens across generations, that wealth gap starts to widen. Education, employment, wages, income, all of that affects your ability to build wealth,” Wilson said. “If one of those things isn’t working, it just sort of ripples into each of those other areas.”
The NewYork Times did a detailed report about Milwaukee resident Zeddie Quitman Hyler who directly challenged housing segregation in 1955 when he began laying the foundation for a house on an open patch of land in the white Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. A postal worker and World War II veteran from rural Mississippi, Mr. Hyler was the first black man to try to build there, and his efforts were not appreciated. He returned to his construction site one day to find the frame damaged. He fixed it, but when he came back again, it had been burned. So he enlisted several friends to camp out with him at the construction site one evening, rifles in hand, ready to turn away intruders. The vandals never returned, and Mr. Hyler finished building his house, which he lived in for nearly half a century until his death in 2004.
These historic dynamics of race and housing have not disappeared even today. As recently as 2006, a city government report found that affluent, nonwhite Milwaukeeans were 2.7 times likelier to be denied home loans than white people with similar incomes.
Many black people in Milwaukee still view the suburbs as hostile toward them. Just several years ago, the New Berlin mayor’s initial support for an affordable housing project in the nearly 93 percent white suburb was met with threats, including a sign in his yard that read, “nigger lover.”
In Milwaukee roughly 40% of the population identifies as black and in 2015 the Huffington Post named Milwaukee as the #1 worst city for blacks! Of a top 10 worst cities for blacks list they compiled, all the cities were in the midwest, again pointing to the historical Jim Crow exodus (great migration) from the 50’s.
All this shows that blacks have been generationally affected by the structural and racist policies our country has historically conducted. (Jim Crow laws etc.) But it also shows that blacks want great opportunities to uplift their families, and make decisions accordingly.
In Milwaukee, the difference between white and black high school attainment is 94.9% and 80.7%, nearly double the national average disparity. White area households in Milwaukee are relatively wealthy even compared the rest of the nation, with a median income of $61,675. Whereas, black area households, are relatively poor with a median income of just $25,646. This was one of the nation’s largest income disparities. (Stats from 24/7 Wall St.)
No one’s surprised, then, that only 11.1 percent of African-Americans in “Miltown” live in the suburbs, the lowest rate of black suburbanization among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country, according to studies by Marc V. Levine, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Milwaukee itself, which is nearly two-thirds nonwhite, has never elected a black mayor. As for Wauwatosa, the suburb that Mr. Hyler changed a generation ago, it is still 90 percent white.
Now more than ever there’s a need for blacks whether well off or poor to unify. We as blacks must reason together socially and economically to lift up our overall reality. We truly need each other to build and maintain generational wealth within our communities so that our cultural beliefs, moral resolve and common understanding of history can motivate our future dreams.