On Thursday, April 21, 2016, Minnesota lost one of the greatest performers, artists, and down-to-Earth individuals the world has ever known. Prince Rogers Nelson was a legend who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sold more than 100 million records, and won seven Grammys.
At the 2015 Grammys, Prince was provided the opportunity to present the Grammy for album of the year and made one unscripted comment that indirectly shook the world. He stated, “Albums — remember those? Albums still matter. Albums, like books and Black lives, still matter.”
In light of the #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUpDontShoot tributes made by Prince and many other celebrities that night, if Prince were alive today, he may say that he is somewhat happy with the progress his home state has made to address the systematic and unjust inequities in Minnesota.
Specifically, the Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) was critical and eye-opening when it was released two years ago, as it was one of the first reports to ever explicitly discuss and provide evidence demonstrating the relationship between race, health disparities, and structural racism.
In the preface of the report, MDH stated, “Structural racism is the normalization of an array of dynamics — historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal — that routinely advantage White people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color and American Indians.”
It was a big deal for the central message of this report from MDH — a government agency — to focus on structural racism and race as these are very sensitive areas where many members of society do not want to push the envelope to really create change in America. This sour reality is even more obvious as we reflect on the recent unjust slaughter of Philando Castile.
Yes, Minnesota continues to be in the top 10 for the healthiest states in America and was recently coined as the number-one best place to raise a kid, but it also has seriously unacceptable disparities in health and socioeconomic status that stem from the structural racism intensely entrenched in Minnesota (and America as a whole), as MDH highlighted.
For instance, this past fall, the front page banner headline article in the Star Tribune read, “Black household income plunges in one year in Minnesota.” According to U.S. Census Bureau survey data, the household income for Blacks in Minnesota plummeted dramatically in just one year — specifically, 14 percent or $4,500. The article pointed out how the poverty rate for Black Minnesotans rose from 33 percent to 38 percent compared to our overall state poverty rate of 11 percent. Poverty alone also has numerous “costly” (to the state) psychological and behavioral consequences that should not be taken lightly.
Yet, if we had $900 million to $2 billion in surplus available prior to our last legislative session, why wasn’t there more discussion to use some of it to address our state’s income disparities? Structural racism is my answer to this question.
Since the plunge in Black household incomes was not caused by higher unemployment rates among the Black community compared to Whites, conventional wisdom should indicate the power of this unfortunate reality to motivate the political will to advance policy action that advances health equity and target policies to the social determinants of health.
For instance, strategic decisions could have been made to improve access to quality education and healthcare, which are powerful feats worth considering among individuals facing poverty (e.g., a number of Black households in Minnesota). Our government (state and national) has a duty to address this public health emergency.
If we consider how much progress we have made since the beginning of the recession in 2007, it appears that Minnesota is on the incline in regards to improving America’s financial health. According to WalletHub, for 2015 Minnesota ranked seventh in regards to employment and earning opportunities. Our Twin Cities had the highest decrease in unemployment rates, St. Paul at third and Minneapolis at fourth.
Yet, again, behind the scenes — according to MDH and the Council on Black Minnesotans — our state is actually costing the U.S. a lot of money due to our well-documented inequities in health, housing, employment, police brutality, and incarceration, among other issues, which ultimately put our communities and children in a state of unacceptable crisis.
When will we, Minnesota, do better with our funds and act responsibly and ethically? Will we ever really take a stand to address the structural racism rampant throughout Prince’s home state, or only sweep what we see daily under the rug, only contributing to our land of 10,000 disparities?
Dr. Charles R. Rogers, Ph.D., CHES is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.