Growing Up With Racism in Green Bay, WI

Photo: Google Images 

I'm not sure where even to begin. But let me start with saying, I love living in Green Bay. I've lived out of state in the past and couldn't imagine moving away again. My family is here. My roots remain here. I'm raising my child here. The people in my life who I genuinely love being around are here. 

Here's the thing though.. Racism in Green Bay, WI - it isn't loud. It isn't in your face. It's actually scarily quiet. It's dirty looks, being looked down upon, backhanded comments, being bothered by law enforcement, and more often than not - played off as a joke. 

I was born and raised on the East side of Green Bay. During a time when the only other black people in town were Packer players and their families. I first experienced racism at an age I was too young to understand why I was being treated differently. 

Day Care. I remember crying to my mom to just keep me at home because I was constantly  picked on. Both by the kids at the center and the caretakers. The same thing continued through elementary school. It's not being invited to birthday parties. Not having many friends. Not being included in games during gym class or during recess. Kids not inviting you to sit with them during lunch or not making room for you if you have no where else to sit. Teachers treating you like you're a nuisance when you're actually one of the brightest kids in class. Kids who you thought were your friends avoiding you at child-parent events because they don't want their parents to know they get along with someone "different". Your neighbor friend apologizing because their family was uncomfortable being around black people at a birthday party. I was the 2nd kid from a black background to go to my elementary school. I know for a fact, not many people at that time had ever experienced a culture other than the white-beer drinking-borderline redneck-football town that was Green Bay. 

It's listening to kids mock the fact that an entire month is taken to teach about black history. Only because our stories are excluded from "regular" history classes. It's learning from a very wise AP History teacher that history is told by the victors. Victors who colonize and wipe out any trace of stories that show how evil humans can be. It's people not wanting to educate themselves on any other culture than the one they grew up with. 

And that's the problem. The racism here is ignorance more than anything. When people travel, it's rarely to big cities where diversity is the norm. They'd rather head "Up North" to isolation in a cabin, tent, or lakehouse. That's the culture I grew up with. It's being asked to "feel" your hair, because straight hair is the only hair texture people around here had seen. And begging your mom to straighten yours so you can attempt to look like everyone else. It's being asked stereotypical questions because no one had ever been around people who "looked different" from them, so we were treated like aliens from another planet. Everything different about you and your looks, taste in music, taste in clothing, every thing being pointed out at every opportunity so you become hyper-aware of your self.

It's being provoked to the point that when you finally retaliate, the victim card gets played so the person can prove how "violent" or "out of control" you are. It's being called "coloured" because the person doesn't understand that calling someone that is not OK. It's not being able to sustain meaningful and long-lasting friendships and relationships. Even in my late 20s, finding a relationship with someone who DOESN'T have "old school" or "judgey" parents/family is pretty rare. It's hearing your friends' parents gossip and laugh at people they interact with who come from a different background from them. Or, parents not being friendly to you at all and watching you like a hawk because they're concerned you might take something. It's being blatantly followed in stores because they're taught people of color are prone to theft. It's people not taking the time to pronounce your name correctly and obviously ignoring you when you correct them. 

It's driving hours out of town to get "ethnic" food. Or to get your hair done because no one in town specialized in "kinky" hair. Or to find "hip" clothing. It's self-segregating yourself on field trips, because our people - as few of us as there were - "Get it". Standing up for one another because no one else would speak up but us. It's feeling relief when you see another person of a darker skin tone because you remember that you, by far, are not alone. 

It's locals who rant and rip apart the Native American tribe that neighbors Green Bay. It's people who laugh when organizations like ICE raid local Mexican communities. It's people who think every Asian person is Chinese, not knowing how many people are actually Hmong and Laotian in this region. 

It's having your father and uncles harassed by police for driving while black. Or because they "fit the description". It's having your mom and dad go through an entire court process because they want to blame the wrong guy, and them fighting to prove his innocence. It's having your son's father tazed and swarmed by police with their guns drawn because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's family and friends who plead guilty because they know the system will not fight for them if they argue their innocence. 

It's getting anxiety any and every time you have to interact with police because you are well aware they need to make their "monthly quota" so they are looking for any opportunity to issue a ticket. It's knowing that you can't congregate or get too loud in a public area because someone will send the police after you, even if you're doing nothing wrong or illegal. It's learning that you and anyone who is of a darker complexion is taught to be a target because of skewed "statistics". 

It's being on edge as soon as you see someone with a Confederate flag and hoping they don't want to start any trouble. 

It's being called a Nigger on the corner of Main and Baird while advertising for a high school fund-raising car wash. It's being called a Nigger unprovoked while looking for love on a dating app. 

It's having to explain why Black Lives Matter. Why being Pro-Black is NOT being Anti-White. It's people who want justify death by cop because "you shouldn't have been doing anything illegal". Even though, that is up to the courts to decide punishment. It's people using any distraction from the topic of racism at hand so they can avoid these uncomfortable conversations. 

It's one day knowing, that if things don't improve - and fast, you'll have to sit your 6 year old child down to have "The Talk" about what it means to be a black boy in the U.S. and how you won't always be there to protect them. That because of systemic-racism, he will be seen as a threat. So you try to teach them the best you can what it means to comply, and be on their absolute best behavior. If not, they could lose their life. 

With the Black Lives Matter movement becoming one of the largest Civil Rights movements in the world, I have hope that EVERYONE will have basic human rights. Segregation was not that long ago. This was a time my grandparents grew up in, had their kids in. Only a couple generations ago. Racism is not going to disappear over night. 

But from what I've seen after the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery - the American people are fed up. Unfortunately, it took some very traumatizing, but clear evidence that people of color get treated as if our lives are worthless. That being arrested for an alleged misdemeanor office should be expected to be met with death, even if we comply. We don't get the chance to plead our case in front of a judge. And if we make it that far, the system is used to keep us locked up with unreasonably long sentences. Time and time again, we are taught very hard and extremely unfair lessons such as these. 

The sense of Unity throughout this movement is something I personally NEVER EVER thought I would see in my lifetime. But we have people from all backgrounds and upbringings standing behind us. Protecting us. Being there for us. Fighting for us. Taking the time to understand us and most importantly. LISTEN to us. 

These conversations are tough to have, but being murdered by cop during a Global Pandemic really shows that we can't brush this under the rug any longer. We need to stand up together. I am so glad to see how many people are on the same side, and that's the side against the oppressor. Through these record breaking protests (all 50 states and at least 18 counties), we are finally being heard. Our voices and businesses are being amplified. Companies are starting to be more inclusive (if they weren't already). The organizations that have the power to make a difference are backing the movement. I believe between Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z - we can change the world for the better. And what's amazing about that, is that we'll do it together. And not just by talking about racism, or having these discussions. But by action. By voting. Running for office. Proposing viable, realistic laws for change. By donating. By educating. 

Growing up in Green Bay, dealing with the not-so-obvious forms of racism was tough. I won't pretend it wasn't. The racism in Green Bay is uncomfortably prevalent here today still. I will say, as more and more people of diverse backgrounds moved here throughout the years - the feel of racism has lessened. A lot. But there is still work to do. Just take a look at the comments of WBAY or WLUK's Facebook comment section if you want real-time evidence of how close-minded and ignorant some of the community is around here. 

One day though, I hope. I PRAY, that what I'm typing right now will be irrelevant. That my son can grow up in a world better than what I experienced as a kid. That people are treated based on their character, not the color of their skin. "I have a dream" and all that.  


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