Racial and economic segregation impairs economic growth according to a new study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. The formula is pretty straight forward. If the region doesn’t have a ready and accessible workforce, then business can’t expand. And if business can’t expand, then the region’s growth is stunted.
Our stunted regional growth is graphically brought home by another study recently published, this one by the Milwaukee Public Policy Forum. The report, Cultivating Innovation, rates the region’s “business dynamism” against peer cities nation-wide. A graphic summary of the report is seen in the picture at the head of this post. It shows our region behind in every business dynamic measured. What is interesting is that this report states that the regional “talent pool is strengthening….and the educational level is rising” when looking at workers in the knowledge and skilled workforce sectors. It is unfortunate that the Public Policy Forum report doesn’t break down the “talent pool” by demographics or by location (city or county).
According to the Brookings study, female, black, and Hispanic workers are underrepresented in the tradable industries (the part of the economy affected by international competition) and in the STEM workforce sectors. Both provide better wages and opportunities for advancement. I suspect that what the Brookings report found at the national level is mirrored, if not accentuated at the Milwaukee regional level where there are high levels of racial and economic segregation.
Another area where the region lags is in minority owned business relative to the minority population. Only Cleveland has a worse record than Milwaukee in this category.
What seems clear is that our acute racial and economic segregation in the four-county area surrounding Milwaukee is stifling the economic growth of the entire region.
Said another way:
The data on how segregation impairs economic growth is apparent. But knowing the data won’t change the policy dynamics that maintain the racial and economic segregation in the region. Only a change of heart within each of us will do that. Only a change of heart within the key decision makers will allow us to affect the change needed to ignite our regional economic growth.
It is a bit ironic that we can develop all of the economic development plans we want, but we won’t be able to maximize our regional potential until we heal the wounds in our own hearts. It appears that the best economic development strategy for the region is for each of us to peer into our own souls and search out our capacity to share and to love.
Our best economic growth strategy may be one where we reach out our hand to those around us and help all to share in the bounty.
All white men should apologize for the carnage we have rained down on America. After all, since 1982, 55% of all mass shootings in the United States were committed by white men.
I feel like I must apologize for the mass murder in Las Vegas, Nevada this week. The shooter was a 64-year-old white male. I am a 65-year-old white male and feel some sense of obligation to everyone affected by the carnage that was committed by someone who – outwardly – looks like me. The perpetrator is reported to have been relatively wealthy, a gambler, owned multiple guns, and lived in the American southwest – none of which apply to me. I doubt he was a Quaker, but of that I am not certain. That shouldn’t make a difference. By all outward appearances, he is just like me: white, mid 60’s and male. So, I am compelled to apologize.
I expect all my mid-60s white male peers to apologize, as well. In fact, all white men should apologize for the carnage we have rained down on America. After all, since 1982, 55% of all mass shootings in the United States were committed by white men.
When I first heard about the massacre in Nevada I prayed that the gunman wasn’t identified as a white male. Not another one, I thought to myself and prayed. But alas, the killer was another white male. And again – I must apologize.
Isn’t that what we expect when these things happen? If the gunman was black or a Muslim or a Latino, wouldn’t we expect the leaders of the black or Muslim or Latino community to make a public statement affirming how they despise this type of violence and confirming to the broader population that these actions are not condoned nor are they representative of the black or Muslim or Latino community as a whole?
If the perpetrator of the largest mass-murder in American history was a black male or a Muslim male or a Latino male, would it not cause all black or Muslim or Latino people to pause for concern? Concern that they would somehow have to “own” the actions of the murderer because – outwardly – he looked like them. Concern that the broader population would become overcome with fear and hate and resort to violence against them as a people in retaliation for the blood caused by “one of theirs”. Would the black, Latino or Muslim community need to worry that there would be political ramifications as a result of these killings such as a threat of deportation, or a ban on entering the country, or some special corrections sentencing specific to their demographic profile?
But since the shooter was a white male, our black, Muslim and Latino friends cannot be held accountable. The shooter was a white male. I’m a white male, and I apologize. It’s the right thing to do.
"America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath-- America will be!"
For all who are struggling to make sense of the current debate about standing for the national anthem and saluting the flag, I suggest you read the 1935 poem of celebrated poet Langston Hughes.
This poem talks about an American ideal that – even in the 1930’s – was out of reach for the poor and the immigrants and all of those who struggle to survive in American society. I read and re-read this poem regularly. It speaks powerfully to me about the ideal that is America – and how far we have yet to go to achieve it and how valiantly we need to struggle to realize the American dream for all of society.
In the words of Hughes: America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath-- America will be!
Let America Be America Again
A Poem by Langston Hughes
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Either we act out of fear and watch as another generation suffers the sins of racism and discrimination or, we act out of faith and a belief in generosity and abundance and watch as all prosper when discrimination is reduced.
While accurate and poignant, the words in the six phrases below were written in 1979 – nearly 40 years ago – in a Pastoral Letter on Racism which was adopted at the time by the United States Catholic Bishops. These words ring as true today as they did when originally written during generations past.
I’ve written before on the sins of discrimination in our region and don’t need to go into it again here. What I do want to talk about is what would the region look like if we were to eradicate discrimination and racism? A recent study by the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council looked at the Cost of Segregation which if reversed in the Chicago region, would save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars – each year. What we see in this particular study is that Chicago and Milwaukee are quite similar. Both are ranked in the top five metro areas in terms of racial and economic segregation.
The following numbers reflect savings in the Chicago region based upon the study, but we must assume that the Milwaukee region would reap similar benefits if the regional gap between white and African-American economic segregation was brought down to the national median. Savings would include:
What this and many other studies shows is that when racial and economic discrimination is reduced (or eliminated) everyone benefits. The region as a whole would realize increased income, saved lives and see new opportunities open up.
We have built racial and economic discrimination into our institutional structures out of fear. Yet, if discrimination was reduced, everyone would be better off. So, why don’t we do this? Why do we see a 40-year-old document describe the effects of discrimination so accurately that it could have been written today? I believe we do so because of a false sense of scarcity. We have completely bought into the idea that our economy thrives on a zero-sum equation: if someone else “wins” - I will “lose”. And it is this sense of win-lose that drives us to support the subtle racism inherent in our institutions and to ignore the pleas and plans of many to end discrimination.
In the gospel stories, Jesus wanted to feed the crowd of thousands with the food that was on hand. His followers saw only scarcity in the five loaves and two fishes they found. Jesus had another idea. He saw the world as one of generosity and abundance. He asked all to sit and to share what was available. All were fed and 12 baskets were filled with the leftovers. I think this analogy holds true about eliminating discrimination.
Either we act out of fear and watch as another generation suffers the sins of racism and discrimination or, we act out of faith and a belief in generosity and abundance and watch as all prosper when discrimination is reduced. That is the choice in front of us. Which do you choose?
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.