Over at Manboobz, there has been a pretty active series of discussions ongoing about the asshole who shot a bunch of kids in Norway, his convergent ideologies with the Mens’ Rghts Assholes and eventually right wing fucknozzle ideologies in general. And as these things do, it finally boiled down to a couple of unrepentant, pretend-ignorant assholes spouting fake-intellectual racist apologetica and a stubborn zombie. Oh, and discussions of dog rape.
But I am not here to talk about dog rape. I’m here to talk about the draft. Wait. Let me refresh my drink. OK, I am here to tlk about racism.
Look, let’s not pretend. I am a white guy in one of the whitest states in the country. First time I had any real interaction with a black guy, was one guy in my high school. How much did that suck for him? absolutely no chance of dating anybody in the school, and constantly being hit up as a source for drugs. At least the town was adjacent to Madison.
And I confess my parents made me too paranoid to go into Madison while I was in high school. Cities were BAD, you see, suburbs were good. The racial subtexts did not have to be spoken. Regardless of the fact that many of the people in our suburb were hateful, and violent , and ignorant. Even as a teen, this started to seem a bit weird to me; and also, the suburb started to seem…tight. Restrictive. ….Stupid.
During the last real year I spent there, I started to find some outlets in different music. Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Cars, The Boomtown Rats. Oh, exciting. Except….none of my friends seemed to like them like I did. As kids do, we drifted apart.
And then I went to college, albeit in an even whiter part of the State. But there were new friends, new opportunities, new growth…I quickly became known as Punk B**** and would play all kinds of weird shit. There were two houses in town, two blocks away from each other, that became known as the “assholes” and we played all kinds of new music. Thompson Twins, The Jam, Reggae, that first REM album…..
But the lesson here was that being different and looking out for new ideas, alternative cultures, other people was worthwhile.
And then I moved to Milwaukee, and Holy. Hell. I mean, it’s still a pretty white city, but compared to what I had experienced before? AWESOME. in so many ways. Fuck, i dived into the local punk scene, and barely pulled back in order to finish school. One of my good friends from that time did sound for almost every local band of any prominence, and was courted by the Melvins; he still manages a stage every year at Summerfest. Good god, at one point we would go the Jazz Oasis, a mostly black club, on Sunday nights for their open jam, because they had excellent drink specials. Fuck, what a good time that was.
As these things do, time moved on. I got my shit together, at least from the standpoint of college, and graduated; even got a Master’s degree, which is worth less than a dog rape these days. But got a job, and actually did some really cool things while there. Actually, even though it is worth shit at this point, I am very proud of the work I’ve done all the way through.
OK, here. This is the kind of thing that made me start to really need to move on. The firm I worked for did Tenant Improvement projects for a number of downtown buildings; this was admittedly a shrewd marketing move by my boss. However, when one of these buildings had Chinese Restaurateurs interested in a space, a significant project in terms of not only TI, but also potential Interior Design, I sat in a meeting with my boss, one of our project managers, and the 2 Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs (who had already opened three successful restaurant in Chicago, it may be noted). And after about fifteen minutes sitting there when Boss could not actually say a word, he stood up an left the meeting room-again without a word.
Look, I knew he was an asshole, and we knew he was a bit of racist. But he was also a conservative, and so it was a bit surprising that he couldn’t get beyond all of that because these guys would be good, lucrative clients.
And they were. Boss abdicated the entire project, and Allyson and I did an exemplary job of design; some of my design inputs involved wood screens with laser cutouts in a chinese ideogram that meant ‘healthy food” that we lifted from a plate pattern. In fact, they loved our work so much that they took Allyson to China after the project was done. Brought her back, too. After that, we knew that we really couldn’t work for Boss for much longer, and eventually Allyson and I started a firm of our own, which is an entirely different story.
But in time, I wound up with an individual practice; a lot of focus on adaptive reuse, but I also like new construction, and have also become very very good at urban infill projects (and I am drinking so I will be obnoxiously pushy about my skills) By their nature, historic Preservation and Adaptive Reuse projects tend to be in urban locales (although I have a couple of interesting barn reuses) and after a couple of notable efforts in those realms, have developed a couple of client bases in the African American neighborhoods.
Long lead up to this; look, I was raised as whitebread kid in a whitebread suburb. My experiences with minorities of any kind were limited. And I am not proud, but have to admit that in the initial days, is was a bit disconcerting to drive into the AA neighborhoods, and sit in meetings with mostly black people. It was also the first time I ever had a professional meeting start with a prayer. At one point, I had one board member misnterpret my inability to remember his name as “you white folks think we all look the same”
But hell. Look, I am here to build some fucking buildings. I have had people dislike me at every leve of the process for all kinds of reasons, and if one black guy wants to dislike me cuz I am a white guy, I have dealt with worse. And on the reverse side, I have no doubt that they have also.
In fact, I did a jazz club for a guy, dammit i have to say he was a friend; who grew up in DC and once, after we got his club going and we were drinking in private, he talked to me a bit about the times he had been busted for DWB, and also that he got hassled much more in Milwaukee than DC.
Over the course of years working within that community, however, work is work; I say hi to the neighbors; they yell “hey white boy, watchoo doin here” and I say” just working” and they laugh; half of my clients are African Americans, and in my city, African American citizens are the ones whose lives I have most impacted. At the dedication of King Drive Commons Phase 3, a woman who moved into KDC Phase 2 spoke of what it meant to her, as a single working mother, to move into a lovely, clean and safe townhouse with her two children, and the difference it made to her life. And it made me cry, and she had no idea that I was the designer of her house; why should she and what real difference would it make if she did? I had already made the most important impact on her life that any architect ever could.
but here’s the thing. I have lived in this city now for nearly 30 years, and my work has been part of the lives of all kinds of different people; my son has gone to school and learned spanish as a primary language, has had friends of many races; and as a family we love it at every level. Other than Summerfest, every weekend is an ethnic festival at the lakefront; this weekend is Germanfest.
I love my African American clients, as I do all my clients. In fact, I have to say that I think I love them a little bit more; I have done lots of projects in the artsy rehab neighborhoods for people who can pay for condos; but when I think of the impact I make on the city I live in? It’s the moderate income projects in the African American neighborhoods I think of.
And people who are concerned about ‘demographic winter’ and crap like that can bite me, because that’s a concept that says those people, in those projects I designed not to mention the surrounding neighborhoods, are less than white folks.
And I will fuck you up if you try to tell me that.