NO. 22: WHAT INJUSTICES HAVE YOU FACED GROWING UP IN MILWAUKEE?
ANGELA LANG (@angelamlang) ANSWERS
LOCATION: MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN
INTERVIEW DATE: AUGUST 2016
The injustice of her late mother’s quality life…
When I was 12, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I was raised in a single parent home around 32nd and Wisconsin, which is seen as a rough side of town – predominately black.
And my mom was white raising this little-mixed kid. And she got terminally ill and she had to continue working because it was just me and her. She didn’t have a whole lot of family to rely on and there would be days when she would go through chemotherapy and if she was lucky she would go to work the next day. Sometimes even the same day.
And so seeing the struggles of that side of town and even movements like the Fight for Fifteen. I talk about this a lot. If she got paid more, maybe she could afford to take time off to have been able to rest and go through treatments that are so volatile to your body.
And so having to work at a place like Walgreens to make ends meet. You know the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, back to school is coming up, you need shoes and her having to put her own health and well-being aside to provide.
And I think that’s something that is not unique to a lot of people that live on the North side of Milwaukee. People that live in marginalized communities. People are struggling day-to-day and trying to make ends meet. When there is extreme poverty…people are feeling helpless. There is nowhere for them to turn and so what are they supposed to do?
People have tried calling and emailing their legislators. People have tried marching peacefully in the streets. Saying enough is enough. And when it becomes hard for you to survive on a day-to-day. I think that is why Milwaukee is a little bit more of a turmoil now. [Editor’s note: The deadly police shooting of Sylville K. Smith on Aug. 14, set off a wave of protests in Milwaukee].
And it’s situations like my mom you know she was fortunate. At the end of the day, she was a white woman so she was able to walk through life differently than I am now. But it was seeing how poverty affects people even on a health level when you’re still trying to provide for your child.
Growing up biracial in Milwaukee…
I think my experience when I talk to other biracial people is it’s very similar. It’s ‘I’m too black for the white kids. I’m too white for the black kids.’ And it was a constant struggle trying to figure out where I fit in in a place that is so segregated. I think if Milwaukee wasn’t so segregated It would have been a little bit easier for me, but growing up I was a little bit of a loner. I was a bookworm. That nerd that stayed to myself that did my work and it was only up until the last few years are so that I felt comfortable being in black spaces and felt welcome.
Some people have had to sit me down and tell me I am welcomed. I am very cognizant and aware because I understand how sacred those spaces are. But also acknowledging at the end of the day, I am a black woman. I use black and biracial relatively interchangeably. But I know that if I was to get pulled over by the police my half-white side is not going to save me.
The political atmosphere of Wisconsin…
The atmosphere in Wisconsin is incredibly polarized ever since the Scott Walker election in 2010. There is no middle anymore. You’re either pro-worker, pro-people of color, pro-marginalized communities or you’re not. There is really not a whole lot of in-between anymore.
The Milwaukee divide…
We’ve been having our own issue with police accountability and police brutality for years now.
People dying in the back seat of squad cars and there are videos saying that (Derek Williams) he can’t breathe as well. This happened close to five or six years ago now. We had somebody in 2014, get shot in broad daylight downtown (Dontre Hamilton) who was mentally ill and was trying to take a nap on a park bench. He was shot 12 times by a police officer.
There is not a mechanism to hold people accountable. And I think what further fans the flames is that Milwaukee is so segregated [Editors Note: A history of Milwaukee’s segregation].
You literally know that on the north side it’s all the black people, the south side is Latinos, westside is a little bit more mixed, and the eastside is like white folks. And so you see the dividing line in the community. And you see the street and you say, ‘Okay anything north of that is the hood. Anything south of that, ‘Okay. That was a place that was gentrified. And that is now hippy white people.’
I was telling somebody the other day it really is the tale of three or four different cities depending on what side of town you’re in. As in you see the lack of resources in a certain area. Predominantly the north side and the south side where there are Black and Latinos. But on the east side you have things like the Milwaukee Art Museum, downtown, you have nice coffee shops.
And we’re not investing in some of those other places and then get surprised when it’s things like Saturday night and a gas station was set on fire. We get surprised when things like that happen but they haven’t been given the same amount of opportunity and resources.
Outlook on the future of American politics…
I’m incredibly fearful, yet incredibly hopeful. I try to be optimistic like well there is no place lower to go, there’s only up. But it’s scary because I don’t know how far down we have to go in order to have the upswing.
I think there is a generational divide. You have the people that protested in the 60s and the civil rights movement. They’ve seen a change. They’ve seen things get better. Whereas my generation we haven’t seen a change. We’re living in the now and so I’m hopeful that we continue to put pressure on whoever is elected and continue to build community and to build power and be recognized.*
Angela Lang is the executive director of BLOC, a Milwaukee-based organization working to improve the quality of life of black residents.