By Daniel Dale of Toronto Star Touch
MILWAUKEE—On weekday afternoons, Gaulien “Gee” Smith, a prominent Milwaukee barber and businessman, walks out of the Gee’s Clippers shop on North Doctor Martin Luther King Dr., steps into his shiny new limited-edition pickup truck, and begins the 20-minute drive to a parallel universe.
He heads north. Past vacant lots and vacant storefronts. Past the boundary of the city’s north side, where almost all of his customers and almost everybody else is black. He crosses into the suburb of Glendale. The stares begin.
Glendale is home to an Apple Store and a Brooks Brothers and a Swarovski. And white people. A whole lot of white people. Smith, a charismatic 45-year-old black man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, doesn’t need the probing eyes as a reminder.
The white people are why he’s there in the first place.
Smith makes the trip across the invisible race border to pick up two of his sons, one from a private school and one from an elite public school. He chose the schools, in part, for their whiteness.
“I refused to ever send my child to an all-black school,” he said. “Because I know this is not a black world.”
He has considerable authority on the subject. He has spent his whole life in Milwaukee, the most segregated place in America.
A city divided
Segregation. The word conjures images of the Deep South, a Jim Crow past of snarling police dogs and whites-only toilets. In fact, it is a national problem that has long outlasted the era of openly racist law. It persists, five decades after the U.S. government passed the anti-discrimination Fair Housing Act. It persists under the country’s first black president. It persists in a place barely farther south than Toronto.
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