Talking about Segregation
Sherman Park is at the center of deliberations and disputes around racism, police shootings, and social inequity. This predominantly African American neighborhood is in a city that is currently ranked as one of the most segregated urban centers in the nation. The State of Wisconsin doesn’t do much better: it scores highest in terms of income inequality.
We live in a new era of segregation, one without signs or markers. Old patterns of division still exist, even while new ones appear. Many assume, incorrectly, that people prefer to live amongst those from similar racial backgrounds, that settlement patterns in the twenty first century are determined by individual choice. We fail to acknowledge the continuing impact of a history of laws, practices, and intimidation that prevented homeownership, mobility, and financial freedom for people of color, African Americans in particular. It is true that many have successfully dismantled patterns of segregation and disenfranchisement. Yet, some patterns still hold true. Inherited legacies of wealth are harder for people of color to build, while many have inherited legacies of poverty that are difficult to undo. Where one is born — not just the zip code, but additional characteristics such as the name of the neighborhood and the school district — informs who one becomes, how one talks, the kind of education one is likely to receive. Location determines access to healthy lifestyles, interactions with law enforcement, and susceptibility to crime. The location of homes in wealthy or poor neighborhoods determines the family’s financial foundation. Indeed, the value of our house and land is often the key to the magnitude of our wealth, education, and ability to invest.
Field school researchers Lena Jensen and I spoke with Reggie Jackson, a resident of Sherman Park and a local scholar on segregation. He spoke to us about the hidden history of present-day segregation. He described the role of the federal and local governments in promoting the basis of contemporary segregation. He explained that during the New Deal, homeownership, social security, and other programs were often tailored toward Anglo-Americans while restricting access to people of color. Jackson told us how local governments wrote racialized zoning laws and produced restrictive covenants preventing people of color from living in wealthier neighborhoods. These policies often left the most degraded and crowded housing for people of color. Financial institutions offering loan program were also complicit because they used a practice called redlining, by which they would rate areas in the city based on the racial background of its residents. Lower ratings were given to the places where people of color lived. Redlining flagged neighborhoods where African Americans, Mexicans or Jewish residents had recently moved in. Bank loans in these neighborhoods had greater interest rates and harsher penalties. This led to crowding and deterioration of the housing stock in areas occupied by minorities. Redlining also encouraged white residents to move away in the fear of declining property values. Even after the courts struck down these measures in the 1940s, the outline of segregation had already been etched into Milwaukee's landscape, in places such as Sherman Park. We are still living in the aftermath of these policies, because they have framed how we think about the city, and where we place ourselves in it.
Jackson also talked about the uprising last summer in Sherman Park. He pointed out how popular media conversations around this event omit the fact that on the morning after the uprising, there were more people cleaning up the debris than there were people causing it the night before. These stereotypical stories drive and are driven by segregation.
Local history projects, oral histories, and storytelling events are important because they tell us alternative stories that showcase the positive vibrancy, pride, and heritage of neighborhoods. As we spoke to residents of Sherman Park, many of the stories they told reflected the same goals that all urban residents share: to be safe and healthy, to gain knowledge and understanding, be respected, and build a legacy for our children in books, buildings, businesses, and social relationships.
My conversation with Roy Evans reiterated this message. Mr. Evans was clear that conversations that build understanding are needed to combat segregation and the problems it causes. These conversations shed light on the impacts of segregation such as racial profiling, mass incarceration, racialized extraction, and other facets of systemic racism, but they also bring recognition of each other's humanity.
We will like to keep this conversation alive. We welcome you to share your story here. How does segregation affect your life? How do you overcome the dark legacy of the past?
Both the practice and the history of architecture are based on deeply materialist premises: that in some way, the physical environment affects, and can even be used to shape, human values and human behavior. Dell Upton's talk discusses a familiar form – the penitentiary – in an unfamiliar context: that of spaces designed for voluntary self-improvement in the first half of the nineteenth century, primarily in the United States.
I am more concerned about segregation of the mind, spirit and soul where the person has internalized the effects and experiences of segregation/racism/bigotry in their life. When you believe you are less than someone else and accept second-class citizenship. My experiences are many but yet I began to see the light of who and what I was and could become over time as a first generation college student and a first in jobs not typically held by African American men in Government/Corporate/Education with degrees in Architecture from UWM-SARUP 1977 and MATC in 1975. I always made sure that my children and now grandchildren knew the difference between physical and mental/mind segregation in their pursuits of success in life/play/faith/work. Know thyself, Our History, Believe in yourself, Be Respectful and to Thyself be True.
-- Tyrone Dumas