Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
A compelling narrative is emerging in a Star Tribune editorial series called Growing Minneapolis. First was an exploration of population density, then on growing business opportunities. The third appeared Sunday – on the racial disparities in Minneapolis and the need to close gaps.
The editorial points to the many disparities in income, employment, and education with which we have all become familiar. Poverty rates are three times higher for people of color than for whites. Students of color in Minneapolis schools fare substantially worse on third grade proficiency tests. The high school graduation rate is only 50 percent across Minneapolis students. But for African American, Latino, and American Indian students the rate is below 40 percent and as low as 25 percent.
In many ways, this data is old news. So much has been made of these gaps and of the pockets of success in charter schools like the Hiawatha Academies, that we start to wonder what’s holding up the change. The Star Tribune editorial board holds out more solutions – good ones, like a focus on early childhood education, expanded youth employment opportunities, and job training programs that focus allow unemployed people of color to develop new skills.
Missing from the analysis is the ‘elephant in the room’: racism.
Minnesota has some of the best statistics anywhere on employment, education outcomes, and health. Yet we also have among the worst disparities. Are people of color in our state really less able than elsewhere? I don’t think so.
What we have in Minnesota that must be confronted along with the very real disparities is a culture of racism that is embedded in our structures and institutions. It is, of course, embedded in everyday interactions between individuals as well. Along with – not instead of – the employment, housing, and education programs, must be an acknowledgement of racism and a strategy for undoing it and its effect on our communities.
Job training will help. But if employers continue to overlook people with an “unfamiliar” name, an actual living wage job will remain out of reach. Education reform must include a look at the education institutions that are not working, not just the students who are not performing. Housing opportunities will only become real if realtors, lenders, and rental agents do not practice discriminatory behavior.
We have a fear in our state of Minnesota Nice of the ‘R’ word. The racial justice training that Organizing Apprenticeship Project offers to community organizers and leaders calls it out. Rather than focus on a colorblind approach, which assumes the only racism is individual, interpersonal, and intentional, the training highlights the racial justice strategies to addressing racism. Racial justice strategies recognize that racism is present in all aspects of our society, that it is embedded in institutions, and that it can often be an unintentional result of policies and practices. Knowing the level of racism we are confronting allows for more targeted solutions and can help avoid the unintentional consequences of policies that appear colorblind.
My colleague Salvador Miranda puts it like this:
Individual or Internalized Racism: racism within individuals, through personal attitudes, thoughts, and internalized oppression (feeling inadequate because of your race). Solutions focus on changing individual attitudes through conversation, groups, and other educational opportunities.
Interpersonal Racism: racism between individuals resulting in bigotry and bias. Solutions should include diversity training, building cultural awareness, and developing relationships.
Institutional Racism: racism within and between institutions which results in discriminatory treatment, unequal treatment, and disparate outcomes. Solutions to mitigate institutional racism must focus on change in policies and practices focused on equity, as well as demanding accountability for disparities.
Structural Racism: racism that permeates through society through history, culture, and systemic inequality. Solutions must expose historical roots, assumptions, and biases and lead to racial justice movement building that connects issues and systems that are part of the fabric of structural racism.
Take schools as an example. Are students of color opting out of honors level courses because they believe they can’t succeed? Internalized racism. Are teachers calling on the same students who happen to be white repeatedly, while ignoring the raised hand of a student of color? Interpersonal racism. Do history courses and texts ignore the stories of immigrant communities of color and the contributions of those communities, even as it highlights the stories of European immigrants? Institutional racism. Do students of color who live in a particular low-income area of town also attend a school with fewer resources and opportunities for academic success? Structural racism.
The same analysis can apply to housing, criminal justice, employment, health care, and other opportunities. We can find all of these levels of racism in Minneapolis.
Change that breaks down structures of racism and barriers to opportunities will be uncomfortable, partly because the usual way of doing things will be challenged. Building good programs that open up opportunities for communities of color is part of the solution. But seeing the racism in the room and tackling it head on must also be a part of a movement for racial justice.