Minnesota’s racial disparities require more than rhetoric and outrage

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Minnesota has a rich reputation for being one of the greatest states to live and work unless you are African American or a person of color. And, every few months, a new report surfaces to remind us of this — highlighting looming disparities ranging from economics and criminal justice to education and housing.

The latest, from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, shows the Twin Cities continues to grow and prosper while communities of color are not enjoying the same benefits — and the disparities are only widening.

The 2019 Metro Monitor surveyed economic growth, prosperity, and inclusion in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas in 2017. Minneapolis/St. Paul was among the worst performing, ranking 88th when it came to racial inclusion and 83rd for relative poverty.

“The fact that we continue to grow as a region in every other facet, and are making progress in employment and business growth, while the wage gap widens should deeply concern us all,” said Tawanna Black, founder and CEO of Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI), noting that successful communities of color will boost Minnesota’s overall bottom line.

Submitted photo Tawanna Black

This starts with “demand[ing] transformational change,” Black said. “We must work together to remind our elected officials, business leaders, and nonprofit and philanthropic leaders that we don’t only want program results, we need a growing economy that includes us,” she added. “It’s possible. It’s critical. And the time is now.”

Economic and political leaders across the state have been weighing in much more intentionally over the past year, raising the volume on their calls for change.

“When will we demand a concrete action plan be developed with clear investments with measurable benchmarks and transparent accountability metrics?,” questioned Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of Metropolitan Economic Development Association, in a Facebook thread engaging some of the state’s top leaders. “Where is the regional/state plan to address this? Where is the investment? Who is going to take the lead? It is obvious what we are doing isn’t working.”

Black agreed. “Good intentions, a multitude of siloed programs and initiatives, and millions in investment haven’t been enough to transform our racially segregated economy,” said Black in a recent statement.

Positive growth won’t just come with just one plan or tactic. Instead, Black told the MSR, “this challenge requires system solutions in every sector, with an approach that centers African Americans and other communities of color and the businesses we own, as vital assets in our region’s economic growth.”

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins told the MSR that the disparities speak to both systemic and cultural disconnects.

“I wish that I knew the exact answer,” said Jenkins. “But, I don’t think we need to be looking at new ideas and solutions. We need to be going back to our roots of cooperative economics, which means [looking at] how do we, as a community, buy the land so we’re not displaced from our communities,” she said.

“How do we create [and support] cultural districts that already exist — like 38th Street — that have historically been Black, thriving business community where we had commerce and vitality,” continued Jenkins. “How do we invest in [spaces like] that to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and do long-term patient investing in these businesses so that they can survive? Jenkins said lack of patient capital — investor funding that doesn’t demand an immediate return — is one of the biggest roadblocks for businesses.

“That’s why so many businesses by people of color, women, go under so fast — because they can’t sustain,” she added, noting that less than .05 percent of investment funding goes to Black and Brown companies. “It’s flat out racism.”

Through her work at CEI, a cross-sector organization focused on pushing the needle forward on inclusion, Black called for challenging and disrupting public, private, and civic systems that maintain economic exclusion.

“We challenge and then support leaders to act with accountability for ensuring that people of color achieve parity in jobs, income and wealth with Whites,” she said. It also includes developing “new, more inclusive talent, procurement, and investment policies and practices” alongside metrics to hold players accountable.

Minneapolis City Council VP Andrea Jenkins

Jenkins added that all levels of government, including city, county, and state must be held accountable, as well. But, while reports continue to flood in and leaders rally for litigious and legal change, many question where is the community outrage to ignite and drive such systemic change?

Jenkins noted the disparities often translate into a different kind of trauma.

“Economic violence is just as painful as the physical violence that our community suffers and experiences,” noted Jenkins. “It’s traumatizing. Economic violence puts us in very precarious situations, such as homelessness and not being able to provide educational opportunities for our kids. And so the cycle just keeps perpetuating itself.

“How do we not just make a place for healing — which is important — and reconciliation. We have to really start talking about that and about reparations in a real serious way.”

Mental health expert Resmaa Manekem advised communities searching for solutions to not internalize and blame themselves for the disparities, which he said stems from as far back as slavery.

“We are not broken, there is no defect in us. This happened to us,” said Menakem. “And now we gotta figure out we reclaim ourselves so we can heal from this and not keep passing it down. If you remove the idea that the White body is the supreme standard by which all bodies of humanity shall be measured. If you remove that out of the structure, Black people would be just fine.”

But Black people aren’t and racism, in whatever form, still remains.

“This system has been broken a long time and there is no accountability to address it,” said Cunningham. “We are not going to social service our way out of this. We need real investments. We need measurable results. Who will have the courage to do the right thing?”

The Center for Economic Inclusion will continue this discussion at its 2019 Powering Inclusion Summit convene business, philanthropic, and public executives on April 30 at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot, 225 3rd Ave. S. in Minneapolis. For info, visit, centerforeconomicinclusion.org.