Recently, Rev. Alex Gee, wrote an incredible personal story about his Justified Anger about racism in Madison. The story’s publication on the front page of the Capital Times has sparked many fruitful conversations about how to end enduring racism in a city where most would expect that such problems would be minimal. After I read his compelling story (and I strongly recommend that you read it as well), I reached out to Rev. Gee to meet him and discuss how we might work together to transform the important conversation his article has started into enduring systemic change.
We met for coffee the day before Christmas, which I am sure must be a very busy time for any Pastor preparing for his church’s most important holiday. But his commitment to ending racism in his life long town inspired him to take an hour out of his day to meet me and start what we both hope will be a fruitful relationship.
Of course, neither of us is naive enough to think that ending racism in Madison is an easily accomplished task. After all, given its liberal, progressive history, if it were easy to end racism in Madison, it would have been done long ago.
Sadly, however, the markers of racism pervade our bastion of liberalism. An examination of the available data tells the story only too well. Whether it is the gigantic gap in our schools, with Black students graduating over 30 percentage points lower (55%) than White students (86.7%), or the juvenile arrest rates with Black juveniles being arrested at a shocking rate of 46.9% compared to the White arrest rate of 7.7%.
While some might jump to the conclusion that these horrific statistics are evidence of internal problems in the African-American community, Rev. Gee’s article reveals that the problems of racism are deeply rooted in systemic attitudes and perceptions about people of color. Indeed, Rev. Gee himself has been a victim of racial profiling, as the Madison police dared to question him in his own car in his own church’s parking lot, investigating what he was doing there! On another occasion, when he was questioned by the police while at a local bank, Rev. Gee asked why he was stopped. A police officer told this honorable man of the cloth that it was because he fit a drug dealer profile! It does not take a deep understanding of racism to understand that the only reason Rev. Gee fits a drug dealer profile, is that this well dressed professional happens to be black.
Thus, without enduring systemic change in the multiple layers of our society: schools, police, courts, housing, employment, and health care, the problem of racism is simply not going to go away. The task is not easy, but if our nation can elect a Black President, surely we can bring the legacy of racism to an end in a liberal college town.
As I have written previously, systems change requires persistence. It must start with how we treat our youth in school as generational change begins with the newest generation. That means we must put an end to the schools to prison pipeline, which starts by ending the practice of routinely suspending students for mere disruptive behavior. Of course, if we do not resist the racism of low expectations, we will be doomed to stay mired in this painful cycle of low achievement rooted in racism.
After my meeting with Rev. Gee, we exchanged messages about how we both hope to work together on this important issue. I felt truly blessed when Rev. Gee said that he “was inspired” by our meeting. Indeed, Systems Change Requires Inspiring Action.
In the coming weeks, I hope to work with Rev. Gee to bring together key community leaders to take his inspirational article from starting many important conversations to truly ending racism through systemic change.