Compared to Milwaukee, Memphis looks good on race, writer says

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Annette Mertens describes her new city as being in a state of denial on the issue of race compared to Memphis, where she lived for eight years. Racial tensions and inequalities are facts of life in both cities, Mertens says, but at least black and white Memphians tend to cross paths and interact.

In Memphis, race is the issue, but I saw black people everywhere -- at the grocery store, at the library, in church, in City Hall. Memphis is not fully integrated, but both black and white people are fully visible in every aspect of life.

In Milwaukee, I don't see black people at my church. I don't see them at my doctor's office. I don't see them at the fish fry I go to.

What I do see is a city with a black infant mortality rate that is better than Memphis' but nothing to brag about: 14.1 per thousand for Milwaukee, according the City of Milwaukee's website, vs. 19 per thousand for Memphis in 2002.

High school graduation rates? Milwaukee has a worse rate than Memphis: around 40% vs. 43%.

Poverty? In 2009, Milwaukee had the nation's fourth-highest poverty rate for a big city at 27%. Memphis ranked seventh at 26.2%.

Male black unemployment? A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that Milwaukee's black male joblessness in 2009 was 53.3%. In 2007, that rate in Memphis was above 40%.

Mertens ends her essay by scolding Milwaukeeans -- and by extension, all non-Southerners -- for harboring a sense of superiority on racial matters.

We have our own problems to fix, and they belong to all of us.

2 Comments

I'm afraid being better than Milwaukee isn't a great accolade. Milwaukee's kind of legendary as the armpit of everywhere.

But yeah, other places have racism too, both currently and historically. How nice of folks to notice. In the 1920's, 1 in 4 white men were KKK members in what Southern State?

Oh that's right, it wasn't a Southern state. It was Indiana.

No kidding. A lot of Wisconsin is like that, especially Waukesha county just outside Milwaukee. Madison's nice, but the rest of the state is basically Mississippi with snow.

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