I am the American Dream.

When I was a little girl I always thought that All-American or the Girl Next Door equaled White.  It never occurred to me that it could be me.  Growing up in the 70s, there were very few Black images that represented American culture.  There were Black images that I didn’t relate to and that the media wouldn’t categorize as living the American dream.

Good Times

I saw images of Good Times, a family living in the projects, and struggling financially.  I happened to have loved the show, because the family had two Black parents, just like I did.  But because they were depicted as over-exaggerated characters, it was just entertainment to me.  I never equated those images with the American dream.  James and Florida, working together doing the best that they could to provide for their children, just like my parents, wasn’t what I perceived the American dream to be. To be fair, I was a child, and I thought like a child.  My rationale, at the time was colored by a White lens.  I lived in a little country town in Minnesota.  All my friends were White.  All my neighbors were White.  Most of T.V. was White.  White perspectives were superimposed into my brain.  American meant White.  So, the dream was also White.

Baby CassNow let me be clear, I never, ever wanted to be White. I liked my skin. I always liked being different. I remember in the 3rd grade wearing a big puffy pink skirt to school, just on a random non-important day.  This little chocolate girl, who stood out anyway, was the focus of so many more comments that day.  My mother gave me that confidence, she always made sure I wore the best outfits.  They weren’t expensive but they looked good.  AND, she would let me wear whatever I wanted.  She told me “you are going to be different anyway, might as well look good!”  I loved expressing myself with clothes.  This is because my hair wasn’t like their hair.  My nose wasn’t like their noses. My lips weren’t like their lips. My clothes could be like theirs, but I didn’t want them to be.  Since I couldn’t be All-American or the Girl Next Door, I was going to be me, to the 10th power.

The Mary Tyler Moore ShowAt some point, I started watching Mary Tyler Moore, and I started thinking differently.  Mary Tyler Moore was classified as an All-American girl next door, that broke barriers by staying single, living on her own in an apartment, and working full-time.  She spoke her mind.  At times she put her boss in his place.  I wanted to be like that.  I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore.  Ironically, I desperately wanted to live an apartment, (something that I still have never done).  I wanted the American dream that I saw on screen, created by a White woman.  She wasn’t a housewife.  She didn’t bake cookies.  She didn’t have a husband.  She had a career.

CDB UpcloseNow, 30 years later, with a much clearer lens.  Living in Milwaukee, with Black people making up more than 42% of the population, I see the American dream differently. While, it may have taken a White woman to get me to see that I could be apart of the American dream, it was my Black parents that brought me back to Milwaukee for it to be fulfilled. I now see that James and Florida were the epitome of the American dream as well.  The American dream isn’t about color.  Or circumstance.  The American dream simply is the freedom to create a life for yourself and your children, even if it is already good.  James and Florida did that.

There wasn’t anything extravagant about Mary Tyler Moore’s life either.  It wasn’t about that.  It was about freedom.  It was about living outside of barriers.  I am not a journalist working in Minneapolis.  I don’t live in an apartment. But I am the girl next door.  A brown girl, in Milwaukee.  Living with her kids, and her grand kids.  Working on finding her next career move.  Freely, expressing herself.  Living beyond the barriers.  I am the American dream.

 

My Brown Face in the Place – Introduction

I love Milwaukee. I always have.  I was born in Milwaukee but when I was in 1st grade my family moved to Rochester, MN. I was young but I never really connected with Rochester. I do have fond memories of my life there and I met my very first best friend in Rochester, but mostly I think of it abstractly as a place I lived outside of my body.

Each summer while in Rochester my family would make the five-hour drive to Milwaukee whereby my brothers and I would sleep most of the way. However, as soon as I got the whiff of the breweries I knew I was home and in a way it would awaken my heart. That sounds a bit dramatic, but really it isn’t because Milwaukee was truly home. Home to my many cousins, that were my best friends. Home to my grandparents love, care and complete spoiling by giving me the sugar that my parents were completely against their children consuming. Home to a city where I was not the only Black Face in the Place (http://1lesscorpgirl.com/2013/06/19/the-only-black-face-in-the-place/).

When I was thirteen my family moved back to Milwaukee. The transition for me at first was very traumatic because coming back into middle school and not sounding like everyone else made me stand out. Middle school is not about standing out, not at all. But the beauty in sounding different and therefore being different is that it eventually would give me the strength to be confident in my skin no matter what the people around me looked like, sounded like or even were like.

So I would say my deep-rooted love of Milwaukee began in those summer visits and that my love was only heighten when we finally moved back.  Don’t get me wrong Milwaukee is far from perfect. There are many issues. But just like you don’t give up on your child for misbehaving I will not give up on my city.

Perhaps the thing I hear the most is that Milwaukee is segregated. It is true, it is. I won’t deny it.  But I am not. I have many friends, from many cultures. Of all races, religious backgrounds and living in various locations around the city.

Some of the places I go to are diverse, many are not. Sometimes I don’t look at all like anyone in the room, sometimes I look like everyone in the room. Sometimes there is a mixture.

In this blog, I want to explore Milwaukee with the perspective of being a Brown Girl. My Brown Face in the Place will be a series about the places around the city that I visit. In any place, no matter the intended demographic, I visit. Like I always have, but now I will write about my experiences.

So join me here to discover or re-discover my city, my love, Milwaukee.