Minnesotans have become accustomed to the national media’s slobbering praise. We routinely finish atop quality of life lists, portrayed as this quaint outpost where people who talk funny inexplicably do so many things right.
But in the past week, three national magazines ran stories highlighting our inequality between black and white, thought to be the worst in the nation. Minnesota’s reputation began to take a less auspicious hue.
If you’ve followed this story, there’s not a lot new here to explain what we’re doing so wrong – and so differently – to deliver prosperity to one people (white) and little to everyone else.
It began last week with The Atlantic’s “Segregation in Paradise?”
In an attempt to unearth the conditions around the Philando Castile shooting, writer Alana Semuels delved into how our tradition of “inclusiveness and egalitarianism” went awry via public housing policy.
There’s a blizzard of stats, but the basic thesis is this: Through good intentions and lousy foresight, the Twin Cities congregated most of its affordable housing in Minneapolis and St. Paul, segregating people of color from whites in the suburbs beyond.
It’s an interesting read, save for the omission of one glaring factor: human nature.
These days, it’s hard to find anyone under 35 who’s jonesing for a move to Eden Prairie, including whites. Ask a black mom or a Hmong dad about the prospect of distant suburban bliss, and they likely won’t envision cookies with the PTA and riding mowers the size of ore vessels. They’ll see punishing commutes, uprooting kids from friends and schools, exile from a sense of community.
So discovered Susan Du in her recent cover story, “The fight over the Minneapolis housing project that sits on gold.”
Then came Politico’s “Something Is Rotten in the State of Minnesota.”
“In metrics across the board — household income, unemployment rates, poverty rates and education attainment — the gap between white people and people of color is significantly larger in Minnesota than it is most everywhere else,” wrote Taylor Gee.
For the uninitiated, Politico is the Hollywood Reporter of the D.C. elite, the official trade magazine of lobbyists, SuperPAC candy men, and the politicians who supplicate before them. It naturally took a view from 10,000 feet, analyzing the policy mistakes that supposedly brought us to this point.
It too centered on our lack of low-income housing in the suburbs, adding open enrollment that allows white flight, paltry investment in black neighborhoods, traffic stops, historic ties to slavery, and the go-to explanation for all that’s wrong with these fair lands, Minnesota Nice.
None of which is particularly revealing. Or meaningful. Yes, they all play a role in our alarming divide. But aside from open enrollment, which Minnesota does with more vigor than most states, such issues are endemic pretty much everywhere.
Which means they can’t explain why we suck more than everyone else. Especially more than red states, which don’t invest in anyone, and tend to view their pigmented and poor as an invasive species.
But insight would arrive in the form of Nancy LeTourneau, a former group home and chemical dependency counselor turned writer for The Washington Monthly. The Minnesota native spent years working with the downtrodden of St. Paul. This makes her the rare national media figure who actually consorts with regular people.
We already know that a sizable portion of Minnesota’s minority population took flight from countries way worse. If you spent your previous life dodging civil war, tribal genocide, or government assassins, you likely shorted the burnishing of resumes.
Thankfully, Minnesota has a bevy of programs to assist foreign refugees, LeTourneau says. What it doesn’t have is aid for those escaping America’s Third World.
She points to a less traveled fact: that 48 percent of American-born black Minnesotans come from another state. In her experience, that means places like Gary, Chicago, and Detroit, people who fled lands a new economy passed by.
They are refugees like any other, trying to trade battered old lives for shinier models. But we have yet to recognize their unique plight – or extend a welcoming hand.
Conservatives see them as roving tribes of welfare moms, scouring America for the sweetest government largesse. No matter. Republicans can never be counted on to lift another anyway.
The greater problem is liberal whites, who control these parts. But their discomfort with race can be witnessed in the way they twist the subject so It’s All About Me.
“When white liberals try to engage on this topic,” writes LeTourneau, “the goal becomes to convince everyone of how forward-leaning and unracist you are,” not helping another.
Perhaps this is where we start.