Milwaukee has the dubious reputation of being one of the most segregated cities in the United States. As part of our Project Milwaukee series on race relations, we sat down with a group of four inner city teens to explore the issue. They spoke about race and the role it plays in their lives with WUWM’s LaToya Dennis. Speaking openly about race doesn’t seem to be a problem for these four teens from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“For any of you guys, has there ever been a time when you felt aware of your race or your ethnicity?”
“All the time.”
“There was an instance where I was in camp to learn about animals and different things like that, and I was the only black person in the camp and so, well you know, I felt different from everybody else.”
Lowrysha Cheatham is a 17 year old senior at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy in Milwaukee.
“It didn’t really bother me. It’s just, I knew who I was,” Lowrysha says.
“You said you were the only black person so the rest…”
“They were all Caucasian,” Lowrysha says.
“And you said you were the only black person so you knew who you were. What does that mean?”
“As in like I knew I stood out. I knew I was different from everybody else,” Lowrysha says.
Lowrysha sat next to 14 year old Melissa Valencia. She identifies as biracial, El Savadorian and Mexican. She attends Hamilton High School, one of the more diverse schools in Milwaukee.
“You know when the swine flu broke out. Yeah, in Hamilton they made a big deal about it. And so everybody was going around saying Mexicans go back to Mexico. Or like when they were around a Mexican they would cover up. You know it sucked. It made me feel bad because you know, I’m Mexican. Not fully, but I’m still Mexican.” Melissa says.
Next to speak up was Ashleigh Boatman. The 16 year old identifies as black. Her mother is a mix of black and white and her father is African American. She attends South Milwaukee High School.
“The majority of the people at my school are white. So we were in a class reading a book or something and they happened to use the “N” word or whatever. And like every time someone had to read and like the “N” word was there, everybody would say the “N” word. They wouldn’t say it, but they’ll actually say the “N” word and they’ll look back at me. I just started laughing like, you know what I mean, it’s not really a big deal but everybody just looked back at me because I was the only black one in the class,” Ashleigh says.
“And how did that make you feel?”
“I didn’t care. I don’t care,” Ashleigh says.
“How many of you have close friends or family members of different ethnicities than you?”
“I have a lot of Koreans in my family and I have a of like Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in my family. And a lot of people like on my mother’s side, they’re Irish. When I tell people this they don’t really believe me. My grandpa, like he got around a lot, so yeah. So that’s why it’s a lot of different races in our family, but we all get along. When we all get together they, we all just consider ourselves African American. You have to ask them why, but it’s not a big deal,” Lowrysha says.
“And what about you Eric?”
18 year old Eric Sanders identifies as African American. He graduated from Bay View High School last year. He frequently mentions one of his good friends.
“Yeah my guy, he Arabian. We call him Arab, I don’t even know his real name,” Eric says.
Eric is the comedian of group.
“You don’t know his real name, but he’s your close friend?”
“That’s my guy,” Eric says.
“Does race and ethnicity matter?”
“No.” “Not to me.”
“Not really, no.”
“We’re all the same. We come from different areas, we have different skin but we’re all the same, inside you know.”
“Older generations, do you think they make a bigger deal out of race than what needs to be?”
“I guess it’s because of what they went through when they were younger. My grandpa, he, wow, he doesn’t really like Caucasians. Every time he get around them he make like this grunt face. I guess it’s probably from the way he grew up” Lowrysha says.
“My uncles, they’re straight from El Savador. Since I’m like the darkest one in the family they make fun of me And they’re kind of racist to black people, a little bit. I’m telling them it’s not right but they’re like oh we’re just playing, and you know they’re taking it a little bit seriously. And how some races like to keep it in the family with date an El Savadorian date a Mexican cause they’re your race. I don’t think they like the cultural diversity. Maybe that’s why it’s different for us because we have different race friends,” Melissa says.