Teens Speak on Race

Jun 16, 2009

We’re continuing on with our Project Milwaukee series exploring race relations in Milwaukee. This morning WUWM’s LaToya Dennis brought us four inner city teens of various skin colors. They spoke to her about the importance of race and ethnicity and how it impacts their lives. This afternoon, we’ll pick up where we left off this morning. We’ll here from those same teens about segregation in Milwaukee and stereotypes. There’s a lot of research out there that pinpoints Milwaukee as being one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Some people say you can guess which side of town someone lives on simply based on their ethnicity. I wanted to know if that was true, so I asked the teens about their neighborhoods.

Lowrysha Cheatham, Melissa Valencia and Ashleigh Boatman.

“Ashleigh, you said you live on the south side. Who lives in your neighborhood, what groups, what ethnicities?”

“Mexican and Puerto Ricans,” Ashleigh says.

Ashleigh identifies as African American. Her mom is mixed, black and white, while her dad is black. “And are there any other black or African American families…”

“Yeah, if you turn the corner there’s plenty of black people,” Ashleigh says.

“And what corner is that?”

“I live on 18th and Becher so if you go two blocks down on 16th and there’s plenty of black people, so,” Ashleigh says.

“And Lowrysha, you said you live on the north side.”

Lowrysha is a senior at Holy Redeemer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee.

“All black, all black. I ain’t seen not one different race since I moved over there. I be looking for them but they don’t be there,” Cheatham says.

“What about you Melissa?”

“Caucasians and Serbians,” Melissa says.

Fourteen year old Melissa is biracial, mixed with El Savadorian and Mexican.

“Where do you live?”

“I live on 60th and Morgan. So some Mexicans around, but barely,” Melissa says.

Eric Sanders

“And Eric, what about you?”

“It’s black and white people, I don’t see no Hispanics though,” Eric says.

Eric graduated from Bay View High School last year. He lives on Milwaukee’s northwest side and he’s black.

“Where do you live?”

“On 100 and Hampton,” Eric says.

Based on their answers about neighborhoods I pose the question of whether Milwaukee is segregated. Eric is up first.

“What you mean segregated?

Like all the Mexicans live on the south side?” Eric says.

“Is that true?”

“Most of them do,” Eric says.

“This is the thing. When you hear about Hispanics you think like okay, you live on the south side, black people, on the north side. Like you ask most black people where you live, north side, Hispanics, south side, so it is segregated,” Ashleigh says.

“It depends on what parts of Milwaukee you go to. If you go to a Caucasian neighborhood and you’re African American, say you’re like the only African American family that lives on that block. You know probably like a week later two families done moved or they don’t come outside no more. They gardens done dried up cause they don’t want to water it cause they afraid something bad go happen. I mean I lived in a neighborhood like that, like for real,” Lowrysha says.

From here the conversation quickly changes to one about stereotypes.

“When you stereotype African Americans you think loud, ghetto, ignorant, you know always tearing up something, but that’s not necessarily true. If you throw away the stereotypes of different races you wouldn’t have nothing to say about anybody cause you would think of yourself equally. I think everybody would be a lot better,” Lowrysha says.

As the conversation continues even a few of the stereotypes held by those in the room are exposed.

“You are who you make yourself to be. So if you just say oh I’m black and blah blah blah blah blah then okay, that’s who you are. But it really doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Melissa says.

“Now, this is just me playing devils advocate and this is in no way to target you at all Melissa, but when you said oh I’m black, you did a little neck roll.”

“Oh I’m sorry. Well I don’t know,” Melissa says.

“Black girls got attitudes. And when they got attitudes they roll their necks, snap fingers, roll eyes,” Ashleigh says.

And just like that we were back to talking about stereotypes even though everyone agreed earlier that if we threw them out the window, we would all be much better off, which got me thinking about racism.

“So race doesn’t matter to you guys but you all still seem to think that racism still exist. Do you guys think that will always hold true?”

“I think it will never change just because of how people are brought up. We said earlier you know how our grandparents and parents, you know, probably think differently on racism then we do. Some kids might still be brought up that way. They don’t have a choice, they don’t know anything but that,” Lowreysha says.

“I think in time it will die down cause if you look back we’ve come so far. Cause like before black people couldn’t even look a white person in the eyes, you know what I mean. And now we got best friends that are white and black. So I don’t think that it’ll ever stop, but I think that it can only get better,” Ashleigh says.