Blacks must be invisible to the Minneapolis ‘miracle’

In February of this year The Atlantic magazine published what soon became a widely scrutinized article titled “The Miracle of Minneapolis.” In this essay, author Derek Thompson championed the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area for its high percentage of college educated residents, median household income, affordable housing, low poverty, and high employment, particularly among what is defined today as the millennial generation.

In addition to several laudatory quotes from scholars and analysts, both local and national, as to why the metro area is so successful, the essay goes on to cite the fact that a total of 19 Fortune 500 companies call the Twin Cities home and notes that “no other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.”

At the time this article was published, I was nearly one year into writing this biweekly column for MSR. A handful of my entries had already specifically addressed the persistent and flagrant racial disparities that plagued the Twin Cities and the state, including a January column that discussed Minnesota’s recent classification as the second-worst state in the U.S. for Blacks to live.

Another column appearing in MSR the same week as The Atlantic piece questioned whether the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream actually ever made it to Minnesota. With that in mind, I made the decision to focus on other subjects in subsequent columns.

Still, the public response to “The Miracle of Minneapolis” was immediate and definitive. National finance reporter Jeff Guo penned a retort in The Washington Post asking, “If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African Americans?” Star Tribune columnist Gail Rosenblum also responded quickly, as did local educator and political blogger Mike Spangenberg along with a host of local officials, scholars and activists.

And finally, Sean Kershaw and Juventino Mezo of the St. Paul-based nonpartisan think tank the Citizen’s League offered a guest commentary in the Star Tribune that skillfully “qualified” The Atlantic’s “miracle” and next proposed a number of policy solutions around the issue of higher education as a means to addressing our racial disparities. Of course, Kershaw and Mezo readily admit that a multitude of innovative strategies and practices will be required to even begin cultivating a truly equitable Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger has already begun implementing aggressive policies to address racial disparities in health and told Minnesota Public Radio that one’s health cannot “be dependent your income, your educational status, or your skin color, or your zip code.” Many others have begun to devise proposals, campaigns and initiatives designed to reduce and eliminate the rampant inequality that exists in our local communities.

In spite of these efforts, Minneapolis-St. Paul continues to rank at or near the bottom of all major metropolitan areas when it comes to gaps in Black-White employment, Black-White academic achievement, Black-White homeownership and Black-White poverty, particularly poverty among children.

This is the principle reason that I chose to revisit The Atlantic article and the ensuing reaction. As long as the racial disparities continue to exist in the Twin Cities metro and the State of Minnesota, there is absolutely no way they can be talked about too much. The effort to reduce and ultimately eliminate the disparate living conditions under which people of color suffer must be vigorous and unrelenting.

In going back through the string of articles from last February, something struck me that I am still unable to come to terms with. In The Atlantic article, author Derek Thompson refers to a series of 1970s policies designed to limit inequality in the Twin Cities. According to the author, these “fiscal equalization” policies have been hailed by local, regional and national analysts. Thompson goes on to state that “By spreading the wealth to its poorest neighborhoods, the [Twin Cities] metro area provides more-equal services in low-income places, and keeps the quality of life high just about everywhere.”

As I tried to absorb this statement, it occurred to me that if this is the prevailing notion outside of the Twin Cities and to some degree within, what does such a statement suggest? To me it suggests that people of color, particularly African Americans, must be invisible or at the very least irrelevant to the experts who continue to fawn over the perceived “miracle” in our midst.

Fortunately, Jeff Guo’s commentary in The Washington Post takes a wrecking ball to this notion and declares that these “equitable-growth policies have done little to fix” the extreme racial disparities that exist in the metro area. He also cites a recent MinnPost story that suggests that the Twin Cities has historically demonstrated minimal concern in addressing these issues as have comparable metropolitan areas such as Portland, Seattle or Denver.

It seems for decades now that the Twin Cities has reveled in its status as one of the most livable metro areas in the nation. It’s only in recent years that this reputation has been tarnished as our racial disparities have come to light. As activists, community-based organizations, government agencies, and other strategic partnerships work toward alleviating such disparities, we must also continue to put pressure on policymakers, job creators, educational institutions and others to join the fight.


Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.