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.
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.