During television coverage of the recent protests in Minneapolis, the head of the NAACP referred to Minnesota as “Mississippi with snow.” As a proud resident of Minnesota who has long tried to address the racism in our state, that was still difficult to hear. But it is an alarmingly accurate description. Despite the economic success of Minnesota (it’s home to numerous Fortune 500 headquarters) and our widely acclaimed creativity (in music, theater, advertising, graphic arts, culinary arts and more), the primary differences between the two states are that we have a harsher climate, fewer people of color and a different accent.
Once a bastion of Scandinavian-style liberalism and tolerance, Minnesota changed under the leadership of GOP governor Tim Pawlenty. It cut taxes and passed laws that rewarded the wealthiest Minnesotans while punishing the poorest. That punishment was felt most by Minnesotans of color.
In 2008, the population of Minnesota was just 4.6 percent black compared to 12.8 percent for the US as a whole. Similarly, the Latino population in Minnesota was just 4.1 percent versus 15.4 percent for the US. Yet, black people living in Minneapolis (there are precious few outside the Twin Cities) are nearly 6 times more likely to be poor than their white counterparts. A black college graduate in the state, on average, makes less than a white high school dropout.
In 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for black Minnesotans was 22.5 percent compared to 15.5 percent for Latinos and just 7.1 percent for whites. Again, in 2010, Minnesota ranked second in the nation for racial disparity in the jobless rate behind only Mississippi. Even in 2018, before the pandemic, when black unemployment was at a record low of 6.8 percent, black unemployment in Minnesota was nearly double the US average.
Nationally, for every $1.00 of income white households receive, Latino households receive 72 cents, and black households earn just 59 cents. For every $1.00 of wealth held by white families, Latino families have 12 cents, and black families have 10 cents! And one-third of black children live in poverty, compared to 12 percent of white children.
Police in Minnesota and elsewhere kill blacks at an alarming rate compared to whites. Each killing leads to mental health issues for most of the black population. And it’s not just police killing black people. Discrimination is literally killing blacks because they are less likely to be able to afford healthcare. (A fact that has been especially apparent with the impact of the pandemic on people of color.)
Moreover, people of color not only suffer from disparities in employment, income, wealth, healthcare, and opportunity. They suffer from disparities in education, policing, and voting.
In Minnesota schools are some of the most segregated in the US. Why? Because Minnesota was an early adopter of charter schools. And Minnesota law exempts charter schools from desegregation. Public schools are also highly segregated with many predominately black schools underfunded, which has resulted in a large achievement gap between blacks and whites.
Minnesota is not alone. The US spends $23 billion more on schools that serve predominately white students versus schools that serve predominately black and Latino students. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are expelled from schools at a higher rate than whites for the same transgressions. Too often, that leads to participation in the “justice” system and eventually to incarceration. Once they’re in the system, they find it hard to escape.
Per capita, blacks are 2.8 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. And believe it or not, Native Americans fair even worse. They are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. Native Americans make up 0.8 percent of the population. But they experience 1.9 percent of all police killings. Many Native Americans live in poverty with no access to clean water. And many of their children are sent to outdate, mold-infested schools. Moreover, in an age of technology, many Native Americans have none. They not only lack high-speed Internet (a growing requirement for education). Many lack phone service.
And, if you think people of color can create change by voting, think again. A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that black voters stand in lines 45 percent longer than white people. Latinos wait 46 percent longer than whites. And many Native Americans are unable to vote at all because some states require a street address, which most reservations lack. As a result of GOP voter suppression tactics, the situation is getting worse as evidenced in Georgia. Is it any wonder then that there are only 3 US senators who are black?
Now, following the murder of George Floyd, Minnesota has a real opportunity to make systemic change. As it has in many other ways, it can lead the nation. It can create an environment of justice and equal treatment for people of all colors and backgrounds. It can make its immodest slogan “Minnesota Nice” truly mean something.