Let’s expose the truth about Minnesota’s racial disparities

By Clara Grace James
Guest Commentator

In response to “Working twice as hard to get half as far” (MSR 9/16): The Twin Cities racial employment gap needs to be viewed within the context of a startling number of other racial gaps. We are one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the nation, and have the highest racial achievement gap.

The Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota did studies in 1999 and 2009 that indicate an ongoing pattern of a nearly 70 percent rate of racial disparity in home mortgages between Whites and people of color with similar credit ratings.

Rep. Bobby Joe Champion’s point about enforcing the laws already on the books is critical. Segregated neighborhoods create segregated schools, which results in inherently unequal education, which results in the high dropout rate, the achievement gap and employment gap. It is a systemic domino effect.

The foreclosure crisis hit the North Side of Minneapolis harder than any other neighborhood, draining its wealth. Racial discrimination in mortgages is illegal. School segregation has been illegal since Brown vs. the Board of Education many years ago. Racial discrimination in employment is illegal.

We need to think systemically. A pattern exists of racial and economic segregation through racial discrimination in mortgage, and building what very little affordable rental housing there is in neighborhoods that concentrate the poor and people of color. This segregates the schools, circumventing the fact that school segregation is illegal.

The inherently unequal education system ensures that these children receive a very inferior education. Little wonder the dropout rate is so high.

I am a White retired social worker who heard so many African American middle-school boys tell me they did not expect to see age 21 that I started to research the reason this has gone on for decades. Without hope at such an early age, their prospects of becoming productive citizens are almost nil.

We need to follow the money to see why the Twin Cities is the worst in the nation in category after category of racial disparity, decade after decade.

Until a new law was passed a few weeks ago, large numbers of African American men were sentenced via a hugely disparate legal system to long sentences for small amounts of crack versus much shorter sentences for very large amounts of cocaine.

Judge Pamela Alexander courageously championed the fight against this disparity, which resulted in the new law, but it was not made retroactive.

Therefore, the prisons are still filled with African American men unfairly sentenced to long prison terms. Interestingly, this was the same era of prisons-for-profit, in which private businesses used tax dollars to make money on incarceration.

Prison psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan says violence is not caused by poverty per se, but rather by the gap between the rich and the poor. The wealth difference between Whites and African Americans nationally has quadrupled in recent years. Minnesota ranks seventh in White-Black inequity among the nation’s largest 100 metro areas.

We bring in program after program to end the pattern of African American youth killing each other, but never address the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

How do these systems cooperate to maintain a tapestry of racial disparity that is the worst in the nation? Why are the laws against all these forms of discrimination not enforced? Why do we let it persist?

We need the truth. Gandhi said, “Truth is God.” The truth will set us all free.

Clara Grace James lives in St. Louis Park.