Minneapolis-St. Paul likes to think of itself as a pretty progressive place. Implicit racial biases? No way, not us! Most of us voted for Obama over that Mormon honky.
But according to a new study, life in the Twin Cities is hardly equitable among black and white residents. This week financial news site 24/7 Wall St. published a list of the country’s 10 worst cities for black Americans and Minneapolis-St. Paul landed at No. 3.
“I wasn’t surprised,” says Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter. “I knew that we were one of the worst places for African Americans to live, based on key indicators of quality of life. We’ve been saying that for a very long period of time.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, every city on the list is in the Midwest, including No. 4 Chicago and absolute worst Milwaukee (at least we beat Wisconsin?). Rockford, Illinois sits in the two hole while Des Moines, Iowa finished ninth. The study looked at a variety of socioeconomic metrics — household income, unemployment and incarceration rates, home ownership, and the number of people with health insurance, among others.
Part of the reason for the Midwest’s disparity dominance, Levy-Pounds suggests, is that Northerners tend to put oppression and racial injustice on events the South without looking in the mirror. Sometimes the progressive talk doesn’t match the walk.
“A lot of Midwestern cities tend to pride themselves on being progressive,” she says. “I don’t think we’ve asked the question of what that means in terms of public policy and social justice. It’s not enough for individuals and communities to hold themselves out as being progressive if they’re unwilling to demonstrate that in terms of their policy decisions and how they expend resources to help level the playing field.”
According to the study, the Twin Cities scored particularly badly in its unemployment and income gap. The jobless rate among black residents is four times higher than the metro as a whole. Income wise, the typical black household pulls nearly $28,000 a year, compared to white households which earn roughly $73,700.
Among the cities on the list, the Twin Cities has one of the lowest percentages of black residents — 7.8 percent compared to Chicago and Milwaukee which are more than twice that. Being that deep in the minority makes it easier for the mostly white powers that be to overlook issues black Minnesotans face, Levy-Pounds says.
“Many of the institutions in the state of Minnesota are controlled by white people,” she says. “Public education, the criminal justice system, the business community — all controlled by white Minnesotans. As people of color, either working in or being subjected to those systems, we know that we’re going to face some type of disadvantage.”
So what’s the answer? While Levy-Pounds would like to see hiring managers trained on implicit biases and government leading by example in hiring people of color, she says it’s important to consider how various issues low-income black families deal with — affordable housing, education and income disparities — are interconnected. Until then do Minnie and Paul lose their progressive cards?
“It’s hypocritical for places like Minnesota to say it’s progressive and yet we have the worst racial disparities in the nation,” Levy-Pounds says.