Transplanted Richmonder Vince Kane misses the days when people had never heard of his hometown, Kenosha. But he also knows that the same problems plaguing his hometown exist all over America — including right here in Richmond.
I’m a Richmonder who grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It’s funny — you never think that your small town will show up on national news or in pop culture. For Kenosha, it was always the innocuous mention in a Weezer Video, or as the home town of the polka band in the movie Home Alone, or maybe as Orson Welles’ birthplace. But sadly, for me, that reality is no more.
I moved to Richmond from Kenosha in 2008, at the end of high school, because my father got a job at Capital One. I didn’t want to move. I loved Kenosha. I love Wisconsin. I wanted to stay. After getting to Richmond, kids thought it was all corn fields and milk (one even thought it was Canada), and although it’s a lot of that — it’s also a place with diversity and wonderful people. But it has terrible people all the same. I remember my neighbor in Kenosha “jokingly” calling our black lab a “n***er dog,” and that being my formal introduction to that word.
Ask any student who attended Kenosha’s Bradford High School (located blocks from Blake’s shooting) in the late 2000s why the area under the stairs was called “Little Africa” — because “that’s where the Black kids hung out” — and you’ll understand that racism in all its forms was as pervasive there as anywhere else in the recovering antebellum south.
Some people in the north love to think they’re immune to racism since “their people” didn’t have slaves — and because they fought against slavery in the Civil War. Well, as we all know, they are wrong. George Floyd and Jacob Blake alone prove that wrong. They think that that the side their ancestors took in the Civil War offers them racist immunity. But in fact, that exact ideal often leads to a racist hubris that makes things just as bad (or worse) as anywhere else in America. No state, no city, no town is immune, from coast to coast. From sea to fucking shining sea.
I cried tonight. I cried because my hometown is now world-famous for the worst reason imaginable.
When I first came to Richmond, it made me a little sad that I had to describe the place I grew up as “40 minutes south of Milwaukee” or “about an hour north of Chicago.” I was proud of my town, even if maybe I shouldn’t have been. Now I know that people will probably know my hometown. But it will be known as yet another in a string of horrific tragedies, signifying just how far we still are from equality for the people of this country.
Now, I don’t want people to know my hometown. I don’t even want them to know my home country. We are a disgrace. Change cannot come soon enough, and I hope it does. I pray for Jacob Blake’s recovery and for this country’s reformation. If one silver lining is to come from this tragedy, I hope it is another fire on the flame that fuels systemic change. It’s long overdue.
It’s surreal to see politicians and movements so far from where I grew up reference a place that felt so insignificant, so forgotten and sleepy that the local kids called it “Ke-nowhere.” Now I just want to go back to that. Make me pull out a map again to show my hometown, please. Anything but the cost of another Black life.
Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect editorial policy.
Top Photo via Omar Jimenez/Twitter