|Vol. 11 No. 21
OCTOBER 13, 2016
Labels and Statistics
It seems that Donald Trumpism is starting to filter down to the local level. Donald Trump depresses me because he has lowered the standard of
presidential elections down to the elementary school playground level. He calls everyone a name who doesn’t agree with. He has stereotyped
Muslims, Mexicans and countless others while also reducing women to mere objects of lust in his attitudes, at least those whom he doesn’t
place on a marble pedestal. I despise Donald Trump’s view of people. It is so banal and limiting. He is negative and divisive so that he can
use his money to hold sway over people. He is using his private-sector model to try and win the U.S. presidency.
What makes my life so enjoyable and satisfying is all of the complex, dynamic and intelligent Muslims, Mexicans and women who are a part of
my life. Going beyond rhetoric and stereotypes allows me and countless others to move beyond the negativity and the cardboard cutouts of
people to work together, to understand life, to appreciate each other and the history that has brought them to Madison, Wisconsin. The last thing
that Donald Trump wants is for people to work together and no each other beyond working at one of his hotels or resorts. Divisiveness and
hatred are power. It doesn’t lead to solutions. It merely leads to a small number of people making decisions over our lives.
It is our own labels and bigotry that lead to our downfall. They prevent us from working together and allow us to be picked off, one by one, by
forces greater than we are as individuals. Life remains the same or worsens. Take some folks in Northern Wisconsin for example. The
Republicans have played into their stereotypes of African Americans in Milwaukee and other places. And so their votes for Republicans has
allowed a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature to take away their Medicaid and defund their public schools, picking
their pockets while they somehow feel better about themselves because Black folks are kept one very small level below them. I know
because I saw the same dynamic at work when I lived in Mississippi during the 1970s.
And so it dismayed me this week when I saw the blog of a young African American activist call a locally-elected official a racist and an African
American leader a racial epithet. What does the name calling do except perhaps make the name caller feel somehow superior and empowered.
But it does nothing for the African American community except divide it and makes it even more powerless than it already is.
What young and old leaders alike need to realize that a symphony orchestra cannot make beautiful music and move people if the orchestra is
filled with tubas — perhaps some people would be. Rather it is the mixture of instruments and techniques playing in rhythm that move an entire
audience. True social and economic change takes numerous people working diligently in their own spaces and sometimes in other people’s
spaces to effect change. Each of the instruments and approaches are needed. None is more superior than the other because they cannot make
sweet music without the other. To think anything else is true illusion and ego. And name calling and the use of stereotypes stop the music cold
in its tracks.
When Dane Dances first started up some 17 years ago, I remember that a reporter for one of the major newspapers in town came to the
beginning of the event a warm Friday night in August. Now when the reporter was there, there weren’t that many people there and the reporter
didn’t stick around for the entire event. So in the reporter’s article about Dane Dances, they mentioned that only a couple of hundred people
attended the event. One would think that Dane Dances was a failure.
Well that was true for that one moment in time, in that brief snapshot of Dane Dances. But after the reporter left, by the time of the second act,
several thousand people were on the Monona Terrace dancing the night away. It was a tremendous success and has been rolling along ever
since and now no one would think that it attracts small crowds.
I have been watching the recent furor about Mayor Soglin’s comments about the Race to Equity report and it not reflecting what is going on in
Madison with Madison’s Black community. Race to Equity is an extremely helpful and important document that woke this community up to what
had been the lot of the African American community for decades upon decades. But the data is somewhat a snapshot and even three years
later, some of the data can be old, especially as it relates to income.
For the past 13 years, I have taught in the UW PEOPLE Program’s middle school workshop component and I have witnessed the hundreds of
youth whom it has helped to not only get to college, but also to graduate from college. Well part of an evaluation of the PEOPLE Program was
leaked to the press last spring that called into question its effectiveness when only about 40 something PEOPLE high school seniors entered
UW-Madison. And with that narrow snapshot, I can see how people might be concerned.
But people also have to take into account the context of the statistics. When that sampling was taken in the early 2010s, there were individuals
and organizations, local and national, who were threatening to sue UW-Madison over any race-based admissions and alleged “reverse
discrimination.” I felt that the university played it very safe during those years and bent over backwards to not give cannon-fodder to the anti-
affirmative action forces. I almost felt as if there were some reverse-reverse discrimination going on.
Well this year, UW-Madison offered admissions to about 105 PEOPLE students and 92 of them are a part of the freshman class now taking
classes this fall. And of course this doesn’t take into account students going to other UW System campuses or colleges like Stanford.
And so to get a true picture, we have to look at the truth of things over time and understand the context within which they exist to get a true
picture. Snapshots are important, but looking at things longitudinally is important too.
Soglin released a five year set of statistics that appear to show some of the income gaps between African Americans and the community as a
whole narrowing. While the city cautioned that the sample size may not be big enough, it appears to say also that income and poverty are
dynamic things. There are people who rise above the poverty line and others take their place. It is not a simple thing like saying we have a gap
of 15 percent and then we are going to take away five percent this year. There are external forces — as well as family circumstances — that
impact it. And so we must analyze all of the factors that influence it over time.
For instance, the city figures tend to suggest that the income gap is narrowing. But the beginning year is 2011 when we were at the height of
the Great Depression. When I was at the Urban League in the early 1980s, we used to say that Black people were the last hired and first fired
as the different economic cycles impact a community. So the numbers that the city has provided may indicate that trend, that Blacks
experienced the most firings and layoffs during the beginning of the recession — and lost their homes at a greater rate — and are just now
starting to catch up again. And so one must ask, ‘What’s going to happen when the next recession comes along, as it inevitably does? Will the
gap widen once again?’ What can we do now to ensure that phenomenon is eliminated or at least moderated?
These are the questions we need to be asking and answering. Calling people names will not contribute to the solution, it only prevents us from
seeking a solution, a solution that will take all segments of the community.
And in my view, nothing takes the edge off a problem like a life and family-sustaining wage job.