Black people comprise 12.3 percent of the population of the USA, but only 6.3 percent of the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin outside of the City of Milwaukee, is actually only 2.5 percent Black – less than one-fifth of the percentage of Black persons in the population of the USA as a whole. That’s the kind of statistic that harbors and attracts explicitly racist white enclaves. If, compared to other states, Wisconsin were a great place to live, with equitable opportunity for all, more people of color would be living here by now.
70 percent of all Black citizens of Wisconsin live in Milwaukee County. 94% of all Black residents of Milwaukee County live in the City of Milwaukee. Less than 6 percent of all white persons living in Wisconsin live in the city of Milwaukee. But two-thirds of all Black persons living in Wisconsin live in the city of Milwaukee. Are you getting the picture? Wisconsin has never been particularly welcoming to people of color, and has always kept the races separated, with people of color oppressed and in poverty.
Black people living in Milwaukee are bounded by a Great Lake, and by a sea of suburbs. Ozaukee and Waukesha counties are each 1.5 percent Black, with @ 6000 black residents, total, in both counties. The City of Milwaukee is 40 percent Black, with almost a quarter million Black residents. And if all of the areas of Milwaukee County that do not include the City of Milwaukee were lumped together as if they were a separate county, those municipalities together are only 4.5 percent Black – almost three times as “white” as the USA as a whole. It’s not just that people of color are segregated from white people in Wisconsin. The City of Milwaukee itself is segregated from Wisconsin.
History and the white power structure in America – and in Wisconsin – defined the political (municipal, county, and state) boundaries that exist today. And history and the white power structure has concentrated and segregated the people. But it is not only people of color that have been so concentrated and hemmed in, in Wisconsin. Extreme economic disparity – not to mention many other forms of social injustice – have been similarly concentrated – and (not coincidentally) within much the same boundaries. The white suburbs surrounding the City of Milwaukee have proven more than ready, willing, and able to exploit, profit off, and denigrate, deny, and suppress the aspirations of both the City of Milwaukee, and people of color.
Let us now look at economic disparity as revealed by comparative per capita income. Per capita income is simply the total personal income of a region divided by the number of people who live there. It’s the average income. Per-capita personal wealth is a far better, far more useful sociological measure to use, but data is harder to find and harder to not quibble about.
Ozaukee and Waukesha and Milwaukee counties share common boundaries, and are part of the immediate Milwaukee metropolitan area. But in particular, the suburban municipalities of Milwaukee County, along with the municipalities of Ozaukee and Waukesha counties, have become defined by history as white-flight, lily-white, collar communities. Let’s look at the per capita income (the average income per person) in these three conjoined counties, as tabulated by the latest (2010) U.S. Census data.
Ozaukee County and Waukesha County are (number one and number two respectively) the two richest personal income per capita counties in the state. They are the only two counties in Wisconsin, which are listed among the 100 highest in per capita income in the entire USA. Milwaukee County is number 40 among the 72 Wisconsin counties in per capita income.
But it is again useful and instructive to contrast the City of Milwaukee, compared with all the rest of Milwaukee County that is outside of the City of Milwaukee. The residents of the City of Milwaukee have a per capita income that is a good deal less than half of the per capita income of residents of suburban Milwaukee County. If the portions of Milwaukee County that are outside of the City of Milwaukee are imagined to be a county, it would be the third wealthiest county per capita in Wisconsin. And it would also join Ozaukee and Waukesha counties among the richest 100 counties in the entire nation. However, if the City of Milwaukee were, by the same token, imagined to be a County, it would be the poorest County in the state in terms of per capita income – with the lone exception of the Menominee Indian Reservation, which is Menominee County.
The suburbs surrounding the City of Milwaukee (both in or outside of the County) are (collectively) by far, the richest per capita region in Wisconsin, while the City of Milwaukee itself has the lowest per capita income compared to any county in Wisconsin, other than the Indian reservation. We cannot fail to see how closely that stark economic disparity correlates with the stark racial disparity in terms of existing political boundaries. It’s not just that the City of Milwaukee and people of color have both been segregated by and from the state. Both the City of Milwaukee and people of color are also being politically and economically oppressed by the state. And that’s exactly how and why segregation (and its profane justification – racial bias) is employed. It works to socially isolate while simultaneously enabling economic oppression and exploitation.
Do you think that the powers-that-be intend to change that shameful “per-capita income” metric in the City of Milwaukee? Would they even try to do that? Will the white power structure in the City grapple with the white power structure in the suburbs over their own competing narrow parochial interests? Or would they cooperate to ease the “burden” on private corporate entities located in the City, which are discomfited by certain inconvenient manifestations of increasing social injustice and disparity? Would they even allow, much less seek a racially just solution? HOW would they deal with the glaring per-capita income disparity between the city and the suburbs? Do you think they might take steps to work with the people in the oppressed communities to increase income opportunities and empowerment in general of all current city residents? (Income disparity is only one of a whole spectrum of disparities and injustices, of course.) Or will they, on the other hand, try to move the people themselves around – by encouraging certain people to come into, and dispersing other people out of the city – by Katrina-like subsidized gentrification combined with community fragmentation and dispersal, and continuing isolation and impoverishment? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. That means the answer is up to us – the people.