Recently, I attended an event at a local parish in Brookfield connected to the 200 Nights of Freedom movement, which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing marches in Milwaukee. For 200 nights in a row, Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council led protests that opposed laws which prohibited Blacks and other people of color from living on the city’s predominantly white south side. As these protests gained traction nationwide and were met with much resistance, Milwaukee became known as “Selma of the North”, in reference to the many Civil Rights battles in Selma, Alabama.
Each attendee for the event was given a program and historical (and current) facts on housing discrimination practices in Milwaukee. On the program was a photo of Father James Groppi speaking to the press as four of the NAACP Youth Commandos (who served as protectors for the marches) were seated in front of him. One of the Commandos had a very intense stare on his face, which caused one of the attendees to ask her colleague, “Why does he look so angry?” The colleague responded, “I think it’s more of an intense look than anger.” As I’m listening to this conversation, I immediately thought to myself, “If it was a look of anger, wouldn’t it be justified?” After all, the whole reason for the protests was because Blacks and other people of color were not allowed to live in a particular part of town in a country labeled “land of the free.” Vel Phillips, the first African American and woman to be elected to the Milwaukee Common Council, proposed a Fair Housing ordinance, beginning in 1962. It was vehemently voted down four times. In essence, Aldermen were actively participating in discriminatory practices that denied quality housing opportunities for all people. It wasn’t until 1968 when the Common Council finally passed the housing ordinance and then only after the federal housing law had been passed.
If this country is about equality, fairness, impartiality, and the like, then how is it possible that these principles would only apply to a particular body of people? Why are Black people and other people of color constantly placed in a position to prove they are deserving of the same opportunities? How is it that people of color are continuously subjected to inhumane treatment, both in word and action? Why is there a question of the value of quality of life in communities of color? Homeownership, family sustaining employment, excellent health care, quality food options, etc.; people of color desire these virtues of life just as everyone else. However, as strategies continue to exacerbate inequality and injustice, these basic questions continue to go unanswered. This is why the anger persists.
It is not helpful to say to people of color, “If you just work hard, you can achieve anything”, as if people of color’s labor did not build this country. Many people of color have yet to realize the “American Dream.” Malcolm X said, “I don’t see an American dream; I see an American nightmare!” If the anger expressed by people of color is somehow bothersome to you, become part of the existing efforts focused on alleviating the root cause of that anger: racism.
Do not continue to question the truthfulness of the effects of racism or issue an ultimatum of, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!” Instead, be part of the solution to eradicate it. After all, if the roles were reversed, it would be hard to imagine people who are not the target of racism now living in a blissful state.