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MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: Is the city of Madison great and/or the "most racist" in the U.S.?
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Madison is a great city.

And it's the most racist city in the country.

Now we have that out of the way.

I'm new to this gig, but my parents were both weekly newspaper columnists. (For you younger readers, a print column is the rotary phone-equivalent of a blog.) They taught me that getting people mad was good, because it meant they were paying attention.

Which brings me to Rebecca Ryan. Her column in Madison Magazine's October issue -- headlined "Tier-Two Tradeoff" -- "raised a few hackles," as she put it in a follow-up column in November. Ryan says Madisonians, "many of whom fall left-of-center politically -- have a hard time hearing anything that doesn't fit neatly into the 'Madison is a great city' storyline."

For me, this statement provoked a lot of soul searching.

But I think she's wrong.

I have no doubt that Madison has drawbacks, especially for a growing population of immigrants and low-income people of color. I'm not as concerned as Ryan is about people looking for "career ladders," a Container Store, or WNBA games. (And I disagree with her lament that we don't have a repertory theater, because I believe we have a thriving scene.) But I do share her concern that the city works better for whites than for nonwhites, better for middle-class folks than poor people.

We've got serious racial disparities in income, education and housing, as a recent report (PDF) by the Race to Equity project has shown.

Socialist Worker used the numbers in the report to ask whether Madison is "the most racist city in the U.S." My ninth-grade sons are studying "hyperbole," so I'm going to show them that article.

But Madison is also full of people trying to make things better. Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings, considered one of the nation's experts on educating black kids, has turned down Ivy League offers, but chose to stick it out in Madison. She told me she had to fight for her daughter to get equal opportunities here. But she stayed. And now she's bringing up a new generation of educators and leaders.

It's also telling that Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire -- someone who's been raising the alarm and busting his butt to fix problems -- believes our new superintendent Jennifer Cheatham is on the right track for addressing some of Madison's educational inequalities.

According to the census figures, Madison has 240,323 residents. Most of us fall somewhere between "Madison is great" and "Madison is the most racist city in the United States." Some people can't wait to get out. A lot of them, like me, will leave at least once or twice and find that Madison has plenty to offer -- if you know where to look.

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