UWM students Sydney Lee and Dwayne Lee – not related, are both black and grew up on Milwaukee’s North Side.
“I think growing up it becomes normalized because you have like the South Side that’s supposed to be Latino, and then the North Side is supposed to be black and the East Side is supposed to be white. So when you grow up with it, it becomes normalized so you don’t really question it until you get older when you’re like ‘well, that’s kind of weird that we look at it that way’. So it wasn’t until I got older that I was like that’s not really normal. Normal cities don’t really do it like that,” Sydney Lee says.
“And I feel like it’s not helping when people are saying they’re ‘oh I don’t see color’ or ‘I’m color blind’ because that means you don’t see me. That means you don’t see the type of discrimination I face or the world we live in. If you’re saying, ‘oh I don’t see color’ or ‘I’m color blind’, like what does that mean? I understand not seeing actual color like you can’t see red, but I’m not red, I’m black,” Sydney Lee says.
“You know we talk about sides of the city. You know, like if I were to go to the South Side. I mean there’s a reality that I may encounter a racist incident. Say I went to South Ridge. The lady who works there, she just made it a point to let me know she was looking at me. I expect them to watch everybody, that’s understood. I think everyone understands that. But when you’re making it such a bare point that you’re focusing on me, it’s just like the skit, this is gonna date me maybe you didn’t see this. In Living Color where they’re so focused on the black guy the other people are taking things off the shelves but you’re so focused on who fits a stereotype that you have preset in your mind, that you’re not even doing a good job of crime prevention,” Dwayne Lee says.
“I don’t know if it’s a question you ask directly but it’s a thought I have. What is it like being given the benefit of the doubt in every situation? Because black people, you have to prove yourself in every situation,” Dwayne Lee says.
The women in our discussion group all nodded, saying that, as women, they have sometimes felt a sense of discrimination and vulnerability.
Before Mackenzie Paschke moved to Milwaukee to attend UWM, she grew up in a white suburb a couple hours from here.
“Being a woman, I’m also Jewish and Mexican. You might not know it looking at me, but growing up I was, in predominantly white areas, they were like, ‘Oh you’re the odd one out’. I’m like, ‘But I feel like I’m like everyone else’. I’m fully aware that it is not to the degree of what a lot of other people have faced, but trying to always prove yourself as a person is difficult, let alone when there’s something or a greater force against you to begin with. I don’t fully know what that’s like, and I frankly don’t want to,” Paschke says.
“I also feel like, and this goes for everyone not just black people, not just white people, not just whatever. But when people, or incidences do happen that fall into stereotypes I don’t always know how to react in those instances. And the other day, for example. I was walking to campus. It was noon, daylight, everything else, and this guy, he was and older black gentleman in a black, beaten up SUV followed me for like four blocks. Just hollering at me outside of his car. But I mean it is what is was and it was frightening from a there’s a creepy guy following me, but not necessarily from a there’s a black creepy guy following me or a white creepy guy following me. Just a general creepy guy following me, but you’re also not helping stereotypes here while you’re doing that,” Paschke says.
Leah Mailloux also grew up in white suburbs, where she was in the majority. When she moved to Milwaukee for college she says it was eye-opening to see the segregation she had heard about. Mailloux says she fights the inclination to stay with what is familiar.
“Every once in a while I have to give myself a reality check. I think I heard somewhere where it’s like, what you think first is what’s engrained in you, like sort of what you grew up knowing. And then your second thought is how you actually feel. So sometimes I walk to school and I’ll see like a group of black high school students hanging out by the Little Cesars, and I’ll cross the street. And then I’m like wait, I don’t have to do that, like they’re probably fine. Every once in a while you do things without thinking, and then you have to think about why,” Mailloux says.
In the end, everyone at our discussion agreed Milwaukee has a long way to go in fixing its segregation issues. However, the students say they’re confident their generation will make a difference, and that gives Dwayne Lee hope for the future.
“I feel good about the race relations among the young people,” Dwayne Lee says.
For more on this topic, explore our Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters series.
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