Ah, yes, the “liberal bubble.” Madison takes pride in its progressiveness: huge turnouts for the Women’s March, immense support for walkouts for gun control, a large partaking in the Black Lives Matter Move — oh wait, the progressiveness stops at race.
Actually, Madison is one of the worst places in the country for people of color, but many white liberals may conveniently forget that fact, and/or choose to do little about it (a black child is 13 times more likely to be born into poverty than a white child in Dane County). But don’t let the “ignorance” fool you; there are daily displays of Madison’s covert racism, from mistreatment in the classroom to the workplace, to even the exploitation of an entire neighborhood.
This neighborhood, known as Allied Drive, is one that values strong community bonds and collectivity. Yet it is written off as an unsafe area filled with crime and violence, and is devalued and avoided by many white Madisonians. Allied has the highest number of people of color of any neighborhood in Madison, and is one of the poorest, with a median household income just around $37,000. The median income for black households in Allied is only $12,400.
Madison exploits the members of the Allied community and does very little to reinvest in them. There is no library, no school, no proper infrastructure, and until now, with the recent arrival of Luna’s Groceries, Allied had been a “food desert” for almost a decade, despite being one of the most heavily populated neighborhoods in Madison (and having the highest percentage of inhabitants qualifying for food stamps, 36.5 percent). Instead of pivotal institutions like a library, school, or community-owned businesses, there are establishments such as a blood bank that rests just inside the area, exhibiting how Madison exploits community members not only for their labor — but for their blood.
More chilling is how the Allied neighborhood was doomed from the very start. It rests between two suburbs of Madison — Verona and Fitchburg — and it is divided between two different municipalities — Fitchburg and Madison. The split tears Allied’s children among five different elementary schools (some many miles away), meaning they could be getting a different education from their next door neighbor. And with 26.2 percent of those 25 or older in Allied not achieving a high school diploma or equivalent, the lack of a central education center is worrisome, as common schools are vital in bringing a community together. This raises the question — who is held accountable for the way the Allied neighborhood has been treated? How can this community begin improving when caught between two cities, neither of which is investing in them?
Allied neighborhood’s improvement is also repressed due to an alarming lack of voter education and voter suppression like voter ID laws. Unfortunately, only 29.7 percent of those eligible to vote in the neighborhood are registered, and fewer actively participate in elections, likely due to the lack of knowledge of the location of polling places and little encouragement by city leaders.
As Allied is split between two cities, Madison is split between two identities: the image of its progressiveness, and the truth of what actions it has actually taken (or more accurately, not taken) to improve the lives of people of color and promote equity for all. Madison citizens who notice their display of injustice toward people of color are few and far between. I have witnessed Madison’s white liberals fail to call out racist jokes in the hallway, the discrimination a teacher exemplifies when scolding a black student for actions that go unreprimanded when done by white students, and how school resource officers stop to verify only the students of color walking past.
Help Madison’s image of progressivity become a true reality. Call out the racism and discrimination that surround you in your everyday life, from the big and noticeable to the small and hidden. As for the Allied community, treat its members with respect and value them as you would a majority white and middle-class neighborhood. Write to change-makers and urge them to redraw district and municipality lines to channel Allied kids into one school and hold those in power accountable. Ask wealthy patrons to invest in Allied-owned businesses, even if they are seedlings of ideas. Register members of the Allied community to vote. Persistently speak up to those in power and plead with them to invest in the Allied Drive neighborhood. Most importantly, be introspective about how racism and discrimination have gone unrecognized in instances that surround your life. Challenge racism!
Sofia Johansson is a rising junior at Madison West High School, and co-chair of West’s activist club, Get It Done Club.
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