Wisconsinites need not be smug about racism in South

For years, northerners, such as those of us in Milwaukee, have always had a superior attitude about our racism when we think about places like South Carolina, where the confederate flag – and its symbols of slavery – for years flew proudly.

We have nothing to be smug about; racism still reigns in the State of Wisconsin.

Just a few examples from some recent personal experiences:

An African-American teacher who lives two blocks east of me in our once historically  white Milwaukee neighborhood  told me that she experienced the usual hateful racist artifacts being placed on her property after she moved in five years ago. It was a next door neighbor who was unmoved by her efforts to keep her lawn mowed and snow shoveled well above the typical standards of the neighborhood.  To be honest, her lawn is much neater than mine.  Finally, she called the police who set the man straight; to his credit, he backed off.

A friend told that he was called a “n—— lover” in an argument with a neighbor on the Northern Wisconsin lake where he and his wife had purchased an older home and were fixing it up. His sin, in the neighbor’s eyes, was that he took a nephew (an adopted nine-year-old Ethiopian boy) fishing.

While our politicians and public officials never use racist terms outwardly, there are still plenty of our neighbors in this state who do so regularly. Some will avoid openly racist terms, but soon their language will be populated with euphemisms that seek to hide their true racist feelings.

Obviously, there’s still a need to attack racism in our community. – Ken Germanson, July 21, 2015.

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A Middle Ground for Ending Gun Violence

A friend has two guns in her apartment, ready to protect herself from any entry by an assailant.

She is disgusted with me when I argue that such weaponry is not necessary and could even end in tragedy for herself, such as being picked up and used in anger at a friend or in a fit of depression being used to commit suicide.  I choose not to press the issue: if she finds comfort with such “protection,” so be it.  “To each her own,” in the words of a politically correct refrain adapted from a 1940s song.

To my knowledge, she is a stable, sane human being; her apartment is in an acknowledged safe neighborhood.  Having been raised in a rural area where guns often are a tool for hunting or ridding a farmstead of predator animals, she presumably  knows how to use a gun safely.

Yet, when the discussion arises about gun control legislation, she bristles.  She won’t even listen to arguments about banning AK-47’s or background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  Is she mentally ill, or does she desire an assault weapon?  No, of course not, yet she believes that those of us who favor any such legislation are hopeless “liberals” or “do-gooders” who want to turn all weaponry into plowshares.

Few who favor gun legislation want to take her legally licensed guns from her, nor do we wish to end hunting.  We recognize the right of a person to protect herself (as long as she keeps her guns in a safe place and knows how to use them) as we recognize that for many persons hunting is part of the culture.

Gun violence hits hardest in the most “at risk” neighborhoods of most major cities.  It does not occur in such near epidemic levels in rural or suburban neighborhoods, and perhaps that accounts for the strong opposition to even the most reasonable and modest gun legislation.  Most of those in the more endangered neighborhoods favor such controls, even while many will still obtain guns “to protect themselves.”

Many of the opponents view gun control legislation as part of the larger campaign to protect their “individual liberties” from what they consider an intrusive (or in the more extreme view “dictatorial”) actions.  The truth is we already obey many governmental laws, like stop signs, speed limits and the need to carry auto insurance; most modest proposed gun laws are nothing more than reasonable attempts of “keep the peace.”

Sadly the gun control issue has taken on the same “us” versus “them” aspect as our political climate, such as the situation where Democrats won’t talk with Republicans or vice versa.  In a democracy, we must remember that “compromise” is not a dirty word, that it requires talking – and more importantly – listening.

The first step is to realize that the person on the other side of an argument is NOT inherently evil, or that he or she is a dunderheaded “wing nut,” even though in our estimation the person may be thinking like that.  Remember they’re likely viewing you in the same light.

Sometimes I despair that we’ll never be able to bridge the ideological chasm that has developed between the opposing views on gun legislation.  It’s hard to listen to arguments from the “other side” when they seem downright goofy and misguided, but it is something we must strive to do.  Perhaps if the other person begins to view you as someone who listens while not responding in a rabid fashion, we will eventually be able to talk and begin to compromise.  It’ll take tons of patience, but it’s a necessary start to dialogue.

Perhaps if we began a dialogue we might be able to engage those who seem to violently disagree about guns, like my friend, to agree that they may keep their guns while going along with more reasonable restrictions that might curb the use of AK-47s or keep weapons from the hands of the mentally ill. – Aug. 18, 2014

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee and Racism

It’s an unexpected joy to learn that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “likes” Wisconsin.  At least, he says he does, based on the comedic – some would say embarrassingly corny – commercial promoting tourism in the state.  If you haven’t seen it, Kareem re-enacts the part he played in the hilariously funny movie, “Airplane,” as the plane flies over prominent vacation spots in the state.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A/K/A Lew Alcindor Milwaukee Bucks, 1969-1975

Back when he was drafted to play for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, he showed little affection for the city or the state and couldn’t wait until he flee to the LA Lakers, as he did in 1975.  In spite of the role he played – along with a marvelous supporting cast including Oscar Robertson, Jon McGlocklin and Bobby Dandridge – in bringing the Bucks their only NBA championship in 1971, he failed to win the hearts of Milwaukee fans the way Oscar (the “Big O”) did.

As a big fan in those days, a co-worker and myself shared two season tickets in the cheap seats at the Milwaukee Arena.  The seats, by the way, offered a better view of the game than any but the most expensive seats in the Bradley Center.  I know I marveled at this towering player’s sky hook and his ability to block shots.  He was a joy to watch; never was such a tall man so graceful.

Nonetheless, many fans were disappointed in how Kareem (then known as Lew Alcindor) rejected Milwaukee, its lack of sophistication and culture when he asked to be traded to either Los Angeles or New York.  Though he didn’t say it directly, it could be inferred that the racism of our city bothered him.  Even then – when the minority population was a fraction of what it is today – Milwaukee had the reputation of being the most segregated city in the U. S.

Despite his snub of our city, I liked Kareem for his intelligence and honesty.  Like his play on the court, he never held it back, and he didn’t in a recent comment in Time Magazine when the Don Sterling’s racist quote caused Sterling to be dropped as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In true Kareem fashion, he minced no words in saying that just because the nation elected an African-American president Americans are still far from wiping out the stain of our historic racism.  The Don Sterling remark was an example and a symbol of how racism still haunts Americans, even when they don’t realize it.

For instance, Kareem reads off the words we often hear from whites that “I don’t care if you’re white, black, yellow or purple.”  Then he writes: “You might be a racist if you’ve used that phrase.”

He continues: “Maybe the worst racism of all is denying that racism exists, because that keeps us from repairing the damage.”

The Milwaukee of forty years ago when Kareem left the Bucks for the Lakers is now a much different place.  Then, it was an acknowledged “white” community with relatively few minorities.  Today, it is a majority minority city; yet, I doubt that if Kareem returned to spend more than a few hours in the community he’d find anything more to be please him.  While African-Americans, Hispanics and the growing numbers of Asian and Middle Eastern persons filter into many neighborhoods of the city, including a few of the suburbs, African-American and Hispanic ghettos are as concentrated and desperate as ever.  Our public school system is less than 20 per cent white.  Wisconsin continues to incarcerate black males to an extent that no other state does.  And our minority poverty rate is among the worst as well.

Meanwhile, the current reactionary state government in Madison has turned a blind eye to assisting in developing a climate in which all citizens may thrive.  Are the politicians making those terrible decisions all racist?  They would tell you that they “don’t see color;” yet, their very blindness to the issues in our minority community betrays their racism even when they don’t realize it.

The solution, Kareem tells us, should come from each of us.  Each and every time we see an example of racist behavior, we should say so.  He writes:  “That’s why the best way to combat racism . . . is to seek it out every minute of every day and expose every instance we find. And not just racism, but also sexism, homophobia and every other kind of injustice that lessens the principles of inclusion that define this country.”

During his five years playing for the Bucks, Kareem hurried back to either his New York roots or to LA as often as he could.  Now, in his recent tourism advertisement, he seems to show a certain fondness for the state.  Do you think he would find Milwaukee any less racist today as it was during his playing days here?   Ken Germanson, June 21,  2014

(NOTE:  If you feel you have an answer to the closing question, why not answer it with a comment below.)

When our noses smelled Milwaukee’s prosperity!

There was a time when you could tell by your nose where you were in Milwaukee.

When you felt the sour, sweet odors of animal renderings impregnate your senses you knew you were likely crossing the old 6th Street viaduct; scattered across the acres under the bridge and to either side stood Milwaukee’s thriving packinghouse industry with names like Plankinton and Armour.

If the rotten egg scent entered your head, you might be driving along S. First Street at about Greenfield Avenue, created by the old Milwaukee Solvay Coke Works that was cooking up fuel for foundries and other manufacturers or for residences that burned the fuel.  Maybe, too, the sharp scent of foundries stung your nostrils as you wandered  along South First or along Greenfield Ave. in West Allis.

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A 1954 photo shows smoke emanating during manufacturing process.

Also emanating from the Industrial Valley that rimmed the Menomonee River to about 50th Street were foul scents of tanneries like Pfister and Vogel; similar scents arose from along North Water Street from Gallun and around N.32nd Street and West Hampton Ave. and South Greeley Street in Bay View from the two Greenebaum tanneries.

Driving along West St. Paul Avenue about 20th Street you’d likely find a yeasty odor in the air brought on by the old Red Star Yeast Co.

At about South 43rd and West Mitchell Streets, you’re suddenly hit with the malty smell from the huge silos of Froedtert Malt preparing the goodies that filled Milwaukee’s four major breweries, Schlitz (the largest brewery in the USA in the late 1940s), Schlitz, Miller, Blatz and Pabst and two popular secondary brewers, Gettleman and Braumeister.

Gone from downtown is the sweet scent of Ambrosia Chocolate plant that brought smiles to the workers and lawyers entering the Courthouse or the students at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

As a child of the Great Depression and a teen during World War II, these were the smells that permeated my senses and all of Milwaukeeans then.

Some of the scents were downright nauseating – such as what occurred on stuffy summer nights when it was necessary to open windows to get priceless breaths of air, only to be greeted by a combination of all the scents.

The scents are gone from the city today, along with the jobs that created those scents as well as a comfortable standard of living for so many Milwaukee families.  At one time, Milwaukee was called the “machine shop of the world” and there’s no doubt that the industrious spirit of workers and ingenuity of many of the entrepreneurs were critical to the production of U.S. industries to help win World War II.

In addition, the city often ranked among the top three communities in the country for production in leather, beer, shoes, hosiery, machine tools and other areas.

We don’t wish the foul and intrusive odors to come back, though we’d welcome them again if it meant the jobs that created them were still here.  Ironically, with a mix of EPA regulations and modern technology such production could return nearly odorless.

No doubt about it, Milwaukee is a changed city.  Somehow all of our leaders and citizens need to figure out how to thrive in the new odor-free environment. November 16, 2013.