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The Shocking Racial Gap of Madison WI

We often take it for granted that the Civil Rights Movement brought an end to segregation in American cities. But it’s often forgotten how racially divided our cities still are.

Shown below is the Racial Dot Map – one dot per person. Green represents blacks, orange represents Hispanics, blue represents whites, and red represents Asians.

As you can see, Chicago’s North Side and outer suburbs are white. Its west and south sides are black, and its northwest and southwest sides are hispanic. The borders and clear as day to see.

In Detroit, everything above 8 Mile Road is white, everything below is black. It’s that simple.

New York is subdivided at a very acute level – Hispanics in Harlem, blacks in Brooklyn, Mt. Vernon, and South Queens, and a blend of whites and Asians everywhere else.

Milwaukee‘s segregation is incredibly stark.

And it even occurs in small towns. Delano, California, for instance, is a Hispanic city with the west side adding blacks and the east side adding Asians.

NOTE 5/1/16: Upon further investigation, it has been found that the mixed Black/Hispanic neighborhood on the left is a jail.

And do you see this little pocket of black people in southern Green Bay?

Well, I looked it up on Google Maps…

And I found that it wasn’t a neighborhood at all…

The only black neighborhood in Green Bay is “Green Bay Correctional Institution”. A jail.

That is absolutely horrendous.

We have a racial problem all across America. It seeps into our economic systems, our educational systems, our health care systems, our police systems, and every other system imaginable. This occurs in every city in the country.

But the focus of this article is on Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown. There couldn’t possibly be more of a story to tell about the racial gap in Madison, a city with a growing black and hispanic community. While together blacks and hispanics make up only 14% of the population, the black population increased by 38% from 2000-2010, and the Hispanic population increased by 84% in the same time frame. Madison’s black and hispanic communities are growing almost 15 times faster that its white and Asian communities – and Madison’s black and hispanic communities are following the trend we saw above…they’re settling into increasingly segregated communities: The North Side, The East Side, and, most predominantly, the South Side.

According to Business Insider and livability.com, Madison is the country’s #1 city to live in. That’s definitely true for me and most that live in the rich, white sections of Madison, where we are pampered with a thriving college campus, a plethora of high paying jobs, a growing middle class, a superior education system, and nicely paved bike paths.

But it’s often said that Madison is a city of two worlds. The world that Madison has a reputation for is the one I described above: the Utopian paradise for the affluent. But there’s a big piece missing. It’s the piece that, in my first nine years of living in a white West Side neighborhood, I never knew existed. This missing piece is the other world of Madison. It’s the Madison you don’t hear about.

When you look at Madison’s Racial Dot Map, you notice a pattern. The bottom and right sides of the map hold the majority of the black and hispanic population. It forms a curve almost – starting in the South Side, crossing along the east side of Lake Monona, and ending at the Northeast Side. I dub this curve-like chain of black and hispanic neighborhoods “The Crescent”.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. And by interesting, I mean appalling. Shown below is a map of every single school in Madison with above average usage of free/reduced lunch programs:

That’s right. 23 out of 23 schools in Madison that have above average usage of free/reduced lunch programs all fall along the Crescent.

The deal is, the children who need free/reduced lunch are poor, obviously. So does that mean that the poorest neighborhoods of Madison fall along the Crescent? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it means.

In Madison, a black child is 13 times more likely than a white child to be born into poverty – an insanely high disparity.

So, Madison’s black and hispanic neighborhoods (the ones on the Crescent) are its poorest neighborhoods, and Madison’s white neighborhoods (the ones not on the Crescent) are its wealthiest neighborhoods.

What are the implications of this poverty disparity? Well, to start, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and achievement gap expert James Thindwa, the number one deterrent to education is poverty. The secondmost, of course, is race. But, of course, these are not isolated phenomena – they are deeply interconnected (as the chart above shows).

So, we have poor majority of black kids who have a dual economic-and-racial barrier to education, and a rich majority of white kids who have a dual economic-and-racial advantage in education.

It’s clear, then, that schools in the Crescent of poor black/hispanic neighborhoods would be expected to have below-average academic success. And unfortunately, the map below of all Madison schools with below-average reading proficiency rates indicates that this is exactly the case.

Believe it or not, 24 out of 24 schools with below-average reading proficiency rates fall along the Crescent.

The disparity in education couldn’t be more drastic. In Madison, while a solid 84% of white students graduate within four years, the reality couldn’t be any different for black students: only half, 50%, of black students graduate on time. The small percentage of black students that do take the ACT average a 36th percentile score (compared to 74th percentile scores for white students). And the percentage of black students not proficient at reading and math is almost five times higher than it is for white students.

Madison’s disparity in poverty is also directly correlated with obesity. 28% of white Madisonians are obese, but for black Madisonians the rate is a whopping 38%. This is, for a large part, a result of the fact that 17 out of 24 McDonalds, KFCs, and Burger Kings in Madison are located directly on the Crescent.

See the correlation? And this poverty disparity isn’t going to go away any time soon, either. Payday loan companies are businesses that give out loans to poor people – but the average loan has an interest rate of 570% per year, meaning that they’re hard to pay back. Payday loan companies target the poor and perpetuate the cycle of poverty — and 10 of the 12 payday loan companies in Madison are located along the Crescent, including three within three blocks on East Washington Avenue.

And perhaps one of the worst effects of the racial poverty disparities in Madison can be found in the Madison jails. When I worked as a protest organizer in Madison’s Black Lives Matter movement as a member of the Young Gifted and Black (YGB), I learned about YGB’s “Free the 350” campaign. The backstory was shocking: Of about 800 people in Madison’s jails, a whopping 400 (50%) of the inmates are black. Even worse, 350 of the 400 black inmates were arrested for crimes of poverty. It’s called a crime of poverty, because it means that almost 90% of Madison’s black inmates are in jail for a small crime (like public urination), and they’re still in prison simply because, with Madison’s poverty disparity, the bail is one that they just can’t pay off (while their white counterparts could). In Madison, black people are arrested at a rate 11 times higher than that of whites, even though study after study shows that blacks and whites use drugs like marijuana at roughly the same rate, as seen in the nationwide chart below.

What we see is this: a direct correlation between being black/hispanic and suffering from obesity, police injustice, educational barriers, and a cycle of poverty. All across the country, but most dramatically in Madison, a plethora of bad conditions are tied to something you can’t control – the color of your skin.

The result? In 2015, Terrell “Tony” Robinson, a black teenager in Madison, was shot by the Madison Police Department, with what I and the YGB consider an unlawful use of deadly force.

I think that YGB has it right: black and hispanic people living in these neighborhoods are not responsible for these problems. What is responsible? The racist and classist system that we live in. It’s a system that targets minorities and the poor, and has not once had the intention of doing anything but.

Black and hispanic neighborhoods need community power; they need resources, and funding, and reparations, and, most of all, action. We’ve been waiting for our government to provide these for a long time now, and it simply hasn’t happened. If our system were about to naturally fix itself, it would’ve done so by now. But it hasn’t fixed itself. What does this mean? This means that it’s wake up time. These problems won’t get solved until people begin to disrupt the system that keeps them intact. These problems won’t get solved until each and every one of us takes action to fix them.

For those interested in more, please read my newest article about Wisconsin’s incarceration disparity by clicking here.


UPDATE 7/11/17: The map below of the addresses of incarcerated Madisonians shows that incarceration in Madison tends to be clustered around the Crescent.