Monday, September 15, 2014

Race and northern WI

I grew up in Merrill, but I spent 12 years - most of my adult life - in the Bay Area. Growing up, there were a couple of kids who weren't white (most were of pacific-rim east asian extraction, and a couple of Native Americans), but for the most part everyone was about as white bread as you can get. In the bay area, there was an absolute melting pot of all kinds of different peoples and cultures.

Growing up I heard many people complain and make jokes about the Hmong (our only local recent immigrant population at the time), yell about Native Americans spearfishing rights (using more racial epithets), and casually use the N word. "Pollack" jokes too, but at least those were mostly made by people of actual Polish decent. I was raised - by my parents, by Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers, by everything that I knew about science - to deplore such actions, but I got used to it.

Then I moved away, into a place where racism still exists but it is conversed about, and blatant racism is called out much more. I got to interact a lot with people from all over the globe.

When I moved back to Merrill I discovered that the population has become more diverse in northern WI, and some of the more blatant signs of racism have gone away, but it's still much more prevalent here, especially amongst the older generations. My stepkids' cousins - some of the sweetest kids you'd ever meet- are multiracial, and I hate to think of the things they are called, both behind their backs and to their faces.

I have still heard the N word used since I got back. I've still heard jokes about how lazy -fill in the blank- race is. I've heard the jokes about Mexican immigrants (who've apparently replaced the Hmong on the local scale of "scary immigrants") I've still seen the cops called on someone because they were playing "urban" (how's that for a cover word?) music.

Systemic discrimination is a problem everywhere (look at the headlines in the news! When your case is suddenly much better because of your witnesses' skin color, we have a race problem!), but it is so ingrained up here that I think we have to take a good look at our institutions and ourselves, and start to talk about how racism is effecting us all, and not for the best.

I'm calling this out. If I hear someone being racist, I will not look embarrassed and sheepishly turn the other way. I will tell them they are being inappropriate, and explain exactly how and why they are wrong. I will encourage people to learn more about other cultures. I will encourage people to learn more about the history of race relations in this country (at the very least, I'll encourage them to watch some Spike Lee joints). And I will not accept that this is just how things are up here.

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