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For years, the Milwaukee metro area has had a reputation as one of the most segregated in the United States.How did this complex problem come about, and why does it endure? How does it contribute to persistent poverty? Are there ways to break through the boundaries?WUWM seeks answers to those questions in our Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters series.

Racial Inequality is Still Strong in American Cultural Reality

Andrew Burton, Getty Images

We have discussed some of the myriad causes of racial discrimination.  And some have spoken about what they see as racially discriminatory practices at several levels.  While some lump that concept in under the umbrella term, “racism,” our first guest this morning would urge you to understand the distinction between the two concepts.

Doctor Imani Perry is professor at Princeton University’s Center for African-American Studies – she was one of Marquette University’s three Metcalfe Chairs this semester and talked about the persistence of racial inequality last week in Milwaukee.

Perry says that there are two sides to American cultural reality. On one side, Americans believe that we have been living in an equal society since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. On the other side, there is evidence of deep inequality and practices of inequality throughout today’s society. Perry says that there are patterns of people disadvantaging each other based on race.

Perry places race as a social and cultural phenomenon, showing that the idea of “race” is manmade rather than a natural barrier. Through this, racism is created through the ways we are taught and socialized to see each other. We are taught about who is “safe” to talk to and which areas of town are “safe” to be in. It is through these narratives that our judgment is shaped.

“To shift our narratives is to tell a fuller story in order to undo the way racial narratives guide our behavior.”

Racism and racial inequality are cultural practices and Perry investigates how we can undo those practices. The first way is to create more stringent standards of care. Everyone needs to be treated with the same respect, whether it is in regards to healthcare or income. The second way is to be more explicit about the evidence of inequality in America’s society. The average American is uncomfortable talking about race. It is shown that when people are more aware of a problem, they will make more of an effort to correct it.

Dr. Imani Perry, Professor at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies and Faculty Associate in the Program in Law and Public Affairs, visited Marquette University April 8th-11th.