How Culture and Politics Mix into a Recipe for Social Injustice
Last week on a local radio show, an investigative reporter for WCCO-Minneapolis previewed his segment on that evening’s news.
"We are going to show you what people mean when they say, 'systemic racism'," he said.
There have been many such stories in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
He continued, “We’re going to show you the huge gaps—they’re shocking—between black Minnesotans and white Minnesotans when it comes to income.”
He’s right. Minnesota has some of the nation’s largest achievement gaps between blacks and whites—income, education, employment, home ownership.
He then added with energetic certainty, "If you're African American, this is one of the worst places to live [in the U.S.] because of institutional racism..."
Minnesota is home to a high percentage of black people not born here. They move here—mainly from the Chicago area but other cities and states as well. They do because it’s safer (than Chicago), because of better job opportunities (than the South), and because social benefits are more generous than most other places. How does this square with Minnesota being “one of the worst places” for black people to live? And how can it all be attributed to one factor—institutional racism? Asian Minnesotans, on average, make more money than whites do. And about a quarter of black Minnesotans live in one city—Minneapolis—that has been exclusively run by Progressive, “anti-racist” politicians for decades.
Something isn’t adding up.
Given the recent trauma Minneapolis has felt, it’s understandable that an examination of interracial strife would result—and that it would be boiled down to: blacks and whites and institutional racism. But this reduction misses a lot. More than that, it causes misunderstanding that perpetuates the very problems addressed.
A more comprehensive understanding starts with the attached three images.
In a 2013 paper titled "Divided We Stand,” professors at the University of Cambridge in England measured residents of each U.S. state along aspects of personality such as openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Residents of Minnesota came in 6th from the bottom when measuring for openness. Minnesota scored 6th from the top on the trait of agreeableness.
Then researchers took it one step further.
They reconfigured the data to discover three general personality categories (“clusters”) within the U.S. These are what are shown in the photos. And look at the extremes of Minnesota. For Cluster 1 “Friendly and Conventional”, Minnesota scored in the top three. For Cluster 2: “Relaxed and Creative”, Minnesota was in the bottom three. (Cluster 3 shows Minnesota toward the bottom of “Temperamental and Uninhibited” as well.)
First—and this was the biggest takeaway from this study—we see how Minnesota isn’t alone. These personalities are clustered into geographical regions, with the Midwest a character of its own. And wouldn’t you know it: If you look at the states in the U.S. with the largest racial achievement gaps, you find several bordering Minnesota. One ranking last year showed Wisconsin having the country’s highest academic achievement gap according to white and black students’ test scores. Another 2019 ranking measuring the overall achievement gap (economic, academic) had Minnesota at 47th and Iowa at 48th. And according to this same ranking, North Dakota has the largest-in-the-nation home ownership gap. Finally, circling back to the original personality trait measurement of this Cambridge study, it showed that while Minnesota ranked sixth from the bottom for openness, the five below us: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and North Dakota.
This is a cultural thing—which is broader than about race.
This study reinforces that which we’ve known popularly for some time: Minnesota has this reserved, passive-aggressive, "clique-y" social culture. In-group bonds are tight, which is great. But intergroup activity—reaching out and connecting to new/different people—is notoriously difficult. Ask transplants here about that. We’re friendly on the surface. We’re also socially closed and tense with outsiders when it comes to deeper, more intimate connections. This intergroup difficulty extends beyond racial groups, but it certainly includes interracial relations as well.
And then we have another factor magnifying the interracial problems: Minnesota’s unique-in-the-Midwest Progressive politics. Political leaders lean on strong words and expenditures toward social justice to compensate for strong connections and comprehensive solutions. Then, any ideas for solutions are almost exclusively tinted through a left-leaning political lens, which results in a one-sided approach. Thus, the racial gaps persist/widen—as do other social issues such as crime and homelessness. These issues, then, feed right back into the original problem, because the difficulty of intergroup interaction is naturally enhanced when such an interaction is confrontational—like, say, a white policeman arresting a black man. Or, as we’re seeing right now, the difficulty addressing the homeless community.
All of this has been colliding these past few weeks.
Minnesota’s population is just under that of Wisconsin’s.
According to recent estimates, Minnesota’s homeless population is double that of Wisconsin’s.
Earlier this spring, several of these individuals had been residing at a newly-legalized homeless camp south of downtown Minneapolis—dubbed “Camp Quarantine”—until the riots began.
To help these individuals seek safer shelter, volunteers raised money to pay for rooms at the Sheraton Midtown off Lake Street. They had enough for 14 rooms. But when additional folks without a home kept arriving, the owner of the hotel couldn't turn them away. Almost overnight, the whole building (136 rooms) was converted into a shelter.
Almost as quickly, volunteers lost control.
Open drug use was as rampant as the vandalism. Then a person died from an overdose. By the time the management company filed eviction notices days later, the building was trashed.
Many from the Sheraton moved to nearby Powderhorn Park, where about 200 individuals now stay in tents. Soon after setting up camp, the Minneapolis Park Board granted these individuals permission to stay.
At any one point along this timeline, it’s understandable why each decision was made. How can the Park Board kick out people who have nowhere to go? How could the owner of that Sheraton not open his doors to those without shelter? How could the city crack down the original camp earlier this spring, when to do so may mean spreading COVID?
Taken together, though, we see a pattern of leniency and unaccountability enabling and nurturing the situation to worsen.
We can keep going back. In 2018, after residents of “The Wall” homeless camp were moved to a temporary shelter, how could management there not allow residents to openly use heroin and meth, despite the mayor’s promise stating the opposite? Not allowing the drug use would force these individuals out on the street. As a result, two more people died of overdoses inside the shelter.
There are many other key factors contributing to rising homelessness across the country since the 1970s—the Drug War, outsourcing of jobs, stagnant wages for hourly workers, and the closing of state mental hospitals. But there’s also a reason why Minnesota’s homeless population is double that of Wisconsin’s, why Minnesota’s homeless population has tripled since the early 90s. Just yesterday, in an unprecedented ruling, the Minneapolis Park Board declared that all city parks this summer are open for homeless camps.
This isn’t just about homelessness. The social factors starting in the 70s, Minnesota’s political leanings, and our cultural personality traits has, over the past 50 years, contributed to sharp increases in urban violence, broken homes, poverty, drug abuse, crime, and unemployment. These upturns for the worse are recent phenomena. But you wouldn’t know this by listening to all the recent coverage and investigative pieces following the death of George Floyd.
In that news segment on WCCO about structural racism, history was prominently featured. The historic racism in Minneapolis is indeed right there in black and white: documents restricting black homeownership and photographs of I94 being built right through a black neighborhood in St. Paul. A basic understanding of history reveals that racist, right-leaning policy—beginning with slavery and Manifest Destiny—started all these racial disparities in America and Minnesota today.
The recent interracial trauma upon our state encourages this history to be reviewed and referenced as the causal link to today’s problems. But this is the misunderstanding. Right-leaning inspired actions did lay the groundwork for racial disparity in America. The striking disparities and dysfunction we see today, though, are mostly a product of the last 50 years—fueled by the other side of political thought. This is crucial to point out because in missing this, people are requesting/demanding political remedies to these problems that have been their cause.
An acquaintance of mine living near that Sheraton Hotel, upon hearing the destruction within, visited the building soon after the evictions. After visiting what he called the “horror hotel” that “smelled like raw sewage”, Thisaphone (“Teace”) Sothiphakhak commented: “Are white people who are actively trying to dismantle systematic oppression failing the same as those who are upholding it…?”
He continued, “The sanctuary hotel… has killed more [people of color] than white nationalists here. So really, what’s the real threat?”
If you look around at most large cities across the country, you’ll see the same kind of deterioration caused by similar factors. Minnesota, though, has the double-whammy of also having the outsider-unfriendly cultural personality trait.
So, our solution is two-fold.
First, recognize our friendly but tense culture. If you're one to carry this common Minnesotan personality, feel within yourself that enhanced hesitancy to engage another. Put your finger on it when in a triggering situation, and then decide to overcome it. We address this as individuals, from the bottom up. It's not fast, but it is a foundation.
Then, this will help prevent the desire we have in the Twin Cities to unconsciously compensate for it via superficial political efforts. Lip service and tax dollars aren't as helpful as real connections. And minus this political slant, we can then address social issues in a more productive way, which is likely a mixture of typically conservative and Progressive angles.
Don’t want the police? Then for the sake of the communities you claim to speak for, we better get some disciplinary force in there. The long-term solution is indeed prevention, but right now the decades-long one-sided political approach has nurtured hurting communities and individuals. And without protection, the residents of these areas will be subject to these hurt people’s aggression.
This won’t take long.
In fact, it’s already here.
In Minneapolis alone…
June 3: two people shot; one dead. He was 18 and named Mohamedwelid Mohamud Muse.
June 4: two more men murdered by gunshot; one was identified as Brandon Jerome Salter, 27.
This past Sunday: seven people were shot; one was hit in the head. His name was Marcus Lashaun Banks, Jr., 22.
Then just three nights ago: Eight more people were shot in four separate incidents, the final two occurring near 38th and Chicago—the location of the George Floyd Memorial.
We’re in the midst of a uniquely ugly cycle here in Minnesota, having culture and politics playing off of each other. Solutions ought to recognize this trend and need to enact countermeasures.
If you’re interested in helping with action, let me know. I'm starting a nonprofit for this purpose.