Minneapolis: One City, Diverging Realities

The city's most vulnerable residents benefit little from condo development and investment in commuter rail. Photo by Cole Norgaarden

The city’s most vulnerable residents benefit little from condo development and investments in commuter rail. Photo by Cole Norgaarden

In the Cleveland neighborhood of North Minneapolis, a Black child at Lucy Craft Laney Elementary had 388 peers who were also Black and 21 who were White when classes began last fall. By virtue of being both Black and Minnesotan, that child’s family most likely does not own the home they live in; rent for this home is paid for with a household income that is not even half of the state median. When this child goes on to attend her local high school, North Academy, she will be entering a school that was 86.6% Black and only 4.8% White in 2015. 50 years of published research tells us that the segregated nature of her school will depress her academic achievement and limit her access to opportunity. If she is lucky, this child will be part of the 60% of Black and Hispanic students in Minnesota who graduate high school within four years. But even if she does, she is three times more likely to face unemployment than the few White students in her North Academy class who also received a high school diploma. Walking the potholed streets of the city where she grew up, this child who is Black will become aware that she is six times more likely than her White peers to be arrested by the MPD. This is the Minneapolis she knows, the largest city in a state that has been ranked the second worst in the nation for Black Americans to live in.

Less than eight miles to the south, a White child attending Lake Harriet Elementary in the heart of the Linden Hills neighborhood had 444 White peers and only nine who were Black when classes began last fall. For no reason other than being White, it is probable that this child comes home to a house that her family owns and was able to pay for with a household income that exceeds the state median. When she eventually starts at the comparably diverse Southwest High School, the proportion of her fellow students who are also White will diminish to 56.8%, but they will compose a part of the 79% of AP Test takers in Minnesota who are White alongside the only 4% who are Black. This child will likely graduate from Southwest within four years with 85% of her White peers, and when she does it will be her privilege to choose what is next. Riding a bike down Linden Hills’ quiet tree-lined lanes, this child who is White implicitly knows that she will not become one of the 73.8 people who are White for every thousand arrested by the MPD. For her, it is not difficult to understand why Minneapolis was #1 on a 2015 list of “Absolute Best Cities to Live In the USA”.

In 2016, much of how we experience living the Twin Cities is racially determined. Though we find our region topping many lists and receiving a barrage of superlative accolades, such honors only apply to a very specific stratum of residents. For instance, living in the nation’s once most ‘bike-friendly’ city doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to ride a bike. It means even less if you don’t have a job to bike to, don’t feel safe on the street, or cannot physically use one because of age or disability. It’s also nice to live in the fifth-best city for recent college graduates in the US, unless, of course, you are in the category of Minnesota’s 53% of adults ages 25-64 who did not hold any higher education degree in 2012. And an abundance of relatively ‘affordable’ middle-income housing is great if you are not dependent on subsidized housing—in which case you are likely to be relegated to low-opportunity areas of racially concentrated poverty. What is clear is that being the ‘best’ isn’t a notion that resonates with all or even most Minnesotans in the metropolitan area. What we are really being told by all those lists is that the Twin Cities are a great place for the people who are valued most by our society—people who are young, educated, upwardly mobile, and usually White.

It’s time to realize that celebrating Minneapolis, a city that is 64% White and has maintained this majority for its entire history, is implicitly celebrating a city that works for White people. Former St. Paul NAACP president Nathaniel Khaliq expressed his frustration with this pattern at a July 7th press conference in front of the Governor’s Mansion a day after Philando Castile’s murder: “I’m so sick and tired of Minnesota being ranked at the top for all these quality of life issues that affect White folks, giving the appearance of a ‘promised land’ when it hasn’t been a promised land for us” [06:44].

It’s good to be proud of where you are from. But it’s also vitally important to understand that, especially in Twin Cities, not everyone shares equally in the enviable qualities that this region possesses. We’re doing more harm than good by patting ourselves on the back for being on top of one list while choosing to ignore our place at the bottom of another. Minneapolis is not defined by one reality, but many realities, and its time to implement policies and practices that will start to close the incredible gaps that currently exist between them.

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35 Responses to Minneapolis: One City, Diverging Realities

  1. John July 12, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    What do you mean by that?

  2. Will July 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    White Blindness: The Response.

  3. MKS July 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    “For no reason other than being White, it is probable that this child comes home to a house that her family owns and was able to pay for with a household income that exceeds the state median.”

    You are mistaking causation and correlation. Hold yourself to a higher standard than that.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      I don’t think so. Note the phrase “it is probable.” The sentence says that a white child is statistically probable to fit the listed criteria. There’s nothing about causation there.

      • MKS July 12, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

        “For no other reason” can be written as “for no other cause” which then implies being white is the the cause of the result.

        “For no other cause” or “for no other reason” precludes any other reasons other than the whiteness of the person, thus the sentence’s meaning is “Because they are white, it is probable….”

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

          Right, if you’d like to misread it and ignore “it is probable,” you can mistake the introductory clause for suggesting causation. But that’s your mistake, not the author’s.

          To strip it down, the statement is, “having observed X and only X, Y is probable” where X is whiteness. There’s nothing about causation there.

          • MKS July 12, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

            “Cause” is a synonym for “reason” the way reason is used in the sentence in question.

            Your interpretation is incorrect in the same way Beach Boys messed up with the song “God Only Knows.” The way the song was written, it implies God **ONLY** knows one thing… what Brian Wilson would be without his sweetheart. Unfortunately, that implies that god is not all knowing. To have the meaning the Beach Boys wanted, the lyrics should have been “Only God Knows what I’d be without you” so that it meant Brian’s life without his sweetheart would be unfathomable to any non-supreme-being entity.

            You need to learn how to read left to right, and how to apply meaning to how a sentence is structured. The “it is probable” does not apply to whiteness, it applies to the likelihood of the child’s family owning the home and making above median income.

            I agree with the sentiment of the article, my comment was that it was written poorly and needed more editing before being posted. This article, like a lot of articles blaming white privilege over simplifies a very complex dynamic in our current culture that must be addressed on many different levels if it is to be rectified.

            (On a side note, I really enjoy your ghost signs blogs. There are quite a few in downtown St. Paul that fascinate me and I am assuming you would enjoy)

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

              Thanks re ghost signs, but I assure you my reading is super goodest.

              Anyway, you’re wrong about the sentence in question, but whatever. I agree with you that it could have been more artfully worded, if for no other reason than to avoid this discussion.

              • MKS July 12, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

                Agree to disagree on some things about the article Adam.

                Thanks for a nice distraction while waiting for a client, best of luck to you and yours.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke July 12, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

              Yeah I see both of your points here.

              • Jake July 14, 2016 at 9:36 am #

                While I think we can overlook it, it’s an important point. Because skeptics (you know; “I worked my butt off and nobody handed me a darn thing”) are going to attach themselves to “For no reason other than being White…” and in some settings, it’s important to be careful. I tend to agree with the original criticism that this is not correct.

    • Inebrius July 13, 2016 at 10:53 pm #

      Just curious were either of you born and raised in Minneapolis, white, and living below the poverty line? Did you go to an inner-city High School? If so was it the era of desegregation where you were bused over North for a Tri?

  4. John July 12, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    There’s no contradiction between looking at the causes of societal trends and acknowledging that people still bear responsibility for their own actions. If we address the issues that poor and minority residents in our cities are facing then we can significantly lower the rates of violence in these communities. Clearly what we have been doing for several decades hasn’t been working, as comparable countries have significantly lower rates of violence than we do in America.

    And I have never heard of people being chastised for being “disloyal to their culture” for getting good grades, except in comments on the internet such as yours.

    • robsk July 12, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

      How to solve the ethnically segregated community problem?

      Unfortunately, this post is inherently racist. Blaming “blacks” for the Cleveland neighborhood being black isn’t appropriate. What do you want, a bunch of whites to move in to fill your comfort quota? Attributing the wealth of whites to their “color” is also flawed.

      The problem isn’t color. It is class and culture. We need to look forward. Stop labeling and find solutions.

      Using statistics in this fashion is an abuse of numbers. Just because I’m “Caucasian” on the Census, doesn’t mean you know anything about me. But you’ll stereotype anyway.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

        I don’t think anyone is blaming anyone for anything.

        But there is a lot of evidence that the problem goes beyond class. Even controlling for class, we have significant racial disparities in a host of categories that can’t be resolved by ignoring them.

      • John July 12, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

        I don’t think anyone is attributing the wealth of whites to their color, at least not directly. Because of discrimination, white people were allowed to build wealth in this country for centuries while other races were not, and of course parents pass their wealth to their children. That’s why white people still have more wealth than Asians, even though those of Asian descent in America have lower crime rates and better grades on average compared to white people.

        And no one blamed “blacks” for the Cleveland neighborhood being predominantly black either. Redlining and blockbusting are well documented practices inside and outside of the Twin Cities, so our current segregation problems are not the fault of black people at all. I would never suggest that and I’m not sure where you got it from.

        “What do you want, a bunch of whites to move in to fill your comfort quota?”

        I’m not sure what you mean by “comfort quota,” but no, I don’t want that at all. There are black neighborhoods, both contemporary and historically, that have been very successful (when they aren’t being destroyed by white supremacists, as in Tulsa, or by racist government policies, as in Rondo), and white people clearly are not needed for a successful neighborhood. But laws and policies like the war on drugs and disproportionate policing of minority neighborhoods are clearly doing damage and preventing these neighborhoods from being successful. While we’ve nearly eliminated discrimination (at least openly) in housing and voting eligibility, we’re now incarcerating black people at such high rates that the US now accounts for 25% of the overall prison population of the world. And it’s worse in Minnesota than it is in most other states. We need to address these issues and it is not racist against white people to do so.

        • Rosa July 13, 2016 at 8:01 am #

          I think we can safely lay a lot of blame on housing policy that deliberately and explicitly built wealth for white people in the form of subsidized mortgage loans (only for SFH in white neighborhoods – redlining wasn’t just individual banks, it was policy) and welfare policy that gave less cash to black families than white ones for quite a bit of our wealth disparity. I haven’t studied Minnesota welfare policy history but even if we didn’t have the explicit written charts where race determined benefits (as California and Illinois did) we had systematic bias in how eligibility was determined.

  5. Aaron July 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    I think this piece is written somewhat clumsily, but I can forgive that because the author is young and this is a first piece. I too chafed at the “for no other reason” line – as somebody who has tried talking about white privilege to people who may be uncomfortable with the concept, I have found it makes much more sense to frame white privilege as a freedom of movement, or freedom to define your own identity, than about material belongings (although it *is* true that black families in Minneapolis have not had the same opportunity to own property in desirable neighborhoods due to redlining and racist harassment by their neighbors). But to say “People who send their kids to Lake Harriet School get to do so simply because they’re white” does not reflect the 90% of white Minnesotans who also could not afford homes in that neighborhood. It’s not that anything here is wrong per se, but it oversimplifies the multiple kinds of privileged or disadvantaged identities that people inhabit.

    • MKS July 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

      I like your points. I think I was a little hard on the author for the “for no other reason” section.

      I think that the term “white privilege” is losing its meaning the way calling someone a “racist” has. I genuinely don’t believe that the officer who shot Philando was a racist, but I do believe that he had a racial bias which influenced his actions. “White privilege” has become a term to encompass all disparities between the races which unfortunately doesn’t allow for an inspection of the multiple sources of these disparities.

      • Aaron July 12, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

        I wouldn’t say that white privilege has lost its meaning, maybe that people don’t really understand what it means. It *is* important to acknowledge, though, in part because it is immediately visible and shapes how people react to us. Other than gender, the other sources of privilege or disadvantage take some time to uncover. So race really does wield a power in basic interpersonal communication that other identities don’t approach. The biggest danger of the term is that it puts people on the defensive – they may not feel particularly privileged. But privilege is often about the things that *don’t* happen to us, and therefore go unnoticed, more than the things that do happen to us.

        • MKS July 12, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

          You put it better than I could have. Putting people on the defensive is how I see people react when the term is used. I will have to bookmark this article for a reminder on how I view white privilege, especially when I can’t seem to articulate it well.

    • Joe July 12, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      Yes, this could have used an editor. For instance, “White” and “Black” need not be capitalized.

      • Matt Brillhart July 13, 2016 at 8:03 am #

        I’ll take the blame for that. I was the editor on duty yesterday and honestly didn’t know if that was correct or not, but I thought it looked a little fishy. I’m sure someone will argue that capitalization was indeed appropriate.

        As for the other issues with the post, since it was written in an “Editorial” style with a strong argument (and I do not know the author or their writing style at all) I decided not to intervene on any word choices or sentence structure (referring to other comments above). I typically take a fairly heavy hand with my editorial duties, but in this case did not.

        • Matt Brillhart July 13, 2016 at 8:20 am #

          AP stylebook says do not capitalize, but a quick internet search shows that there are differing opinions out there [face_shocked]

        • MKS July 13, 2016 at 8:39 am #

          Really appreciate actually hearing back from an editor and the explanation as to why wording was left the way it was. Your responses make me appreciate the article more than I did yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller July 13, 2016 at 9:26 am #

          I’d argue that you shouldn’t take a heavy hand in editing, as all writers are volunteers writing under their own name, but I’m rather biased in that regard.

          • Matt Brillhart July 13, 2016 at 9:50 am #

            I meant in terms of grammar, sentence structure, composition, fact-checking, making sure links are legitimate, etc. Generally not changing the content or tone, though I have deleted a wayward/non-sequitur clause here or there.

            You’re right, all writers are volunteers, but some of the pieces submitted are in rougher shape than others, and need editing before they are fit for publication. That’s why we’re here!

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller July 13, 2016 at 10:45 am #

              I’m mostly joking around, but yeah, when y’all edit my intentionally non-standard usage, I get a bit riled up.

            • Monte Castleman July 13, 2016 at 10:49 am #

              I know my articles are usually a mess, so yes, editors are appreciated.

        • Matthew Steele July 13, 2016 at 11:17 am #

          Pre-editor Streets.mn #neverforget

  6. Jim July 13, 2016 at 6:43 am #

    This article does a good job of laying out a problem but comes up lacking on solutions.

    • Daniel Choma
      Daniel Choma July 13, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      Jim, if you are looking for solutions, I would very much suggest the book linked below.

      Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism and New Routes to Equity
      by Robert Bullard (Editor), Glenn Johnson (Editor), Angel Torres (Editor)


      The chapter on people of color in Los Angeles access to buses is especially great. It puts a lot of the protests that are currently happening into context. There were years upon years of organizing that allowed for POC to have very basic access to buses and trains.

      There’s also an awesome chapter on Altanta which sheds light on how a mish mash of zoning municipalities can disconnect and fracture metro areas as a whole thus creating inequality.

      It’s a great read! Go read it!

  7. robsk July 13, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification on the article and editing. Good job cleaning up the comments section too. I’m guilty and fell for the bait. While, I stand by opinions, I agree that comments should meet certain standards.

    I’d like to see an post that digs further into demographics and what is deemed a healthy mix of color, class, creed, etc. for urban neighborhoods. Is there anything in the archives that stands out?

  8. joe July 14, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    My son was one of 12 white students in a class of 200 at North side school the last 3 years. He couldn’t be happier moving to be moving on, 3-4 figthts a day, verbal assaults on teachers who have to sit powerless, etc. My wife was a tireless volunteer but her outreach panel was dissolved because they could get no parents of color to attend. Please tell us again how we are supposed to help a community who has no interest in helping themselves.

  9. Madeline July 14, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    I was surprised this article didn’t reference this Washington Post piece from last fall titled “Why Minneapolis and Ferguson are more similar than you think.” I think the arguments posed there would add some weight and framing to this article. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/11/24/why-activists-predicted-months-ago-that-minneapolis-could-become-the-next-ferguson/

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