Thursday, October 24, 2019

Letter: We Need to Take a Lesson from Our Adult Kids

That was a horrible Letter to the Editor a few weeks ago from Barron County resident Ms. Schroeder, accusing us Democrats of being racists. As a lifelong Democrat I whole-heartedly disagree with her mischaracterization of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but there is a bigger problem: she wrongly associates minorities with “welfare” that is, as she puts it, “making minorities enslaved”.

We need to stop associating welfare benefits with minorities and minorities with welfare benefits. There never was a one-to-one relationship, and even less so now as benefit help becomes more essential in rural Wisconsin, affected by the struggles of dairy farming and the meth epidemic. On the minority side, hardworking, talented African American and other minorities have taken their rightful place in professions and middleclass jobs.

The change is most evident in big cities. We need to take a lesson from our adult kids who move away to enjoy opportunities in cities where diversity is a part of everyday life. They rub shoulders daily with people of many races, equal partners in society. They learn to appreciate people of different cultures. They come back on visits and find our racial biases outdated and uncomfortable.

The cultural strength of minority families should be evident too in rural Wisconsin. We have many non-white professionals, especially doctors. Latino families have put down family roots here for decades. In Barron, our newest and largest group of African-Americans, Somalians, are working hard, going to church, raising families, and enjoying middle class incomes. That’s surprising to many, yet easy enough when two wage-earner families work jobs at the Turkey Store that can start at $15. But non-white people are often treated around here like they are “on welfare”, as Ms. Schroeder implies, and as a lot of white people mistakenly suspect.

If our small towns in Wisconsin are going to prosper, we need to appreciate the strength that a community gets from diversity. As described by promoters of economic development and “placemaking”, vibrant, interesting communities that thrive on cultural and racial diversity are attractive places to live.

Finally, Ms Schroeder’s letter attacks 60’s-era civil rights laws. Contrary to her claim, these laws have nothing to do with welfare and certainly didn’t “enslave” anyone. These laws prohibited bias in voting, employment and housing. They provided legal support for the deeply American value that anyone with talent, a strong work ethic, and maybe a little luck ought to be able to try to get ahead in this country, unimpeded by racial, gender or disability bias. Those laws are the reason why the larger society is now more diverse and egalitarian.

And that is something we Democrats celebrate!

Gerry Lisi, Rice Lake
Chair, Barron County Democrats

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