Protests in Wisconsin: Where are the Black People? or Is it another White’s People Movement?
Thousands of people have convened at the Wisconsin’s state capital to protest Republican Governor Scott Walker’s unjust actions of sponsoring and roguishly pushing a bill that will destroy collective bargaining in the state of Wisconsin. Mind you, for days on in, I have watched both the online and offline media coverage of the protest. I watched as people held signs and shouted in unison, “Shame . . . Shame . . . Shame.” I sat for hours on in spellbound as people danced and chanted out in the cold when they were barred entrance into the general assembly chamber. I watched as people pushed their way into the state building only to be dragged out by the police. I tell you, I watched. However, as I watched enthralled by people standing against injustice a small voice within me at first murmured then shouted, “Where are the black and brown people at the rally? Seriously, where are they?”
Mind you, I know that Wisconsin has a small community of African-American registering perhaps 7% of the total population and even a smaller percentage of Latinos. However, a part of me still wonders where are the people of color? In particular, where are the black people? Perhaps, I hold to a faulty assumption that there are large numbers of African-Americans that work public jobs as postal workers, DMV workers, social workers, teachers, and police officers.
Meaning, they have stock in protecting collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin, however, their faces are largely absent from the mass demonstrations in Wisconsin. Why is this? Why aren’t black people at the capital waving their flags of discontent? Why aren’t African-Americans from neighboring states driving hours on in to take part in these protests especially if they have the most to lose because they work public jobs? Where are the black faces? Really, I want to know.
And, all I can think of as the answer is “privilege.” Yes, I used the “P-Word” and if you find this offensive, perhaps, I should use the “E” word, “Entitlement.” I tell you, I was talking with my uncle who’s a postal worker about the protest in Wisconsin and asked if he was watching the coverage of it and he said, “No. I have not been watching consistently. I work all day and I am tired when I get home from my route. Why are you bothering me with all these questions?” But, being the petulant niece that I am, I said, “But, this affects you too.” And, he looked at me and said, “Dear, I am tired and plus what I’ve seen is nothing, but a bunch of white people whining about what they are about to lose when I am happy to have my job right now.”
Yes, to say the least he quieted my self-righteousness and made me think about why African-Americans are not present in Wisconsin. And, I do believe what happens in Wisconsin effects us all both black and white, but there is a difference between immediate effects and long-term effects. There is a difference between being able to absorb some of the shock of having to pay higher pension rates than not having a pension rate at all. Honestly, if my Uncle takes off to drive to Wisconsin from Missouri he would lose his job and be yet another percentage point within the 12 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans. So, while many white Americans are equating their protest in Wisconsin to the protest in Egypt, many African-Americans are in situations where their employment is tenuous/precarious at best or non-existent. And this is a problem.
The more that I think about it, for this movement that is gaining force in Wisconsin to have a wider impact . . . a more diverse coalition, it must refocus its agenda around racial and economic politics. It must fight not only to keep the rights of current workers, but that it must reinstate the right for all people irrespective of US citizenship to have the right to work and to have the right to work for a humane living wage.
Perhaps, than the small voice in me will stop yelling, “Where are the Black people?”
What do you think about the protest in Wisconsin? Do you care about racial representation among the protesters?