Closing the racial disparities gap in Minnesota
The issue of racial disparities is emerging as one of the most pressing social and economic concerns facing Minnesota today. It was the dominant theme in the last two seasons of Minnesota Meeting, as we focused on K-12 education (2004) and immigration (2005), and is a contributing factor to the challenges the state faces in health care, housing, and economic competitiveness.
While Minnesota continues to lead the nation on many quality of life indicators, not everyone in Minnesota is participating in our state’s growing health and prosperity. African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Latinos, and members of other communities of color are not always included in Minnesota’s success story.
|Minding the Gap:
Opportunity for All as a Strategy for Economic Success
May 24, 2006
This meeting focused on why closing gaps in achievement, wealth, and job preparedness for communities of color is critical to Minnesota’s economic competitiveness.
Bruce Katz, chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s, is the lead author of Mind the Gap, the Itasca Project study which compares the Twin Cities and Minnesota with our economic competitors nationwide. He points to communities like Denver, Boston, and Seattle which are doing a better job preparing their diverse workforces for the jobs of the future, while we in Minnesota depend on successes of the past.
Katz compared the Twin Cities and Minnesota to our economic competitors across the nation and discussed strategies for narrowing economic disparities between whites and communities of color.
Moderator: Kit Hadley, Director, Minneapolis Public Library Panelists: Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; State Representative Carlos Mariani; Dr. Samuel L. Myers, Jr. , Professor and Director, Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations & Social Justice, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Read Katz’s speech
|Building an Integrated Society:
A Community Conversation
September 26, 2006
Author and Professor of Law Georgetown University
|Event summary reproduced from The Minneapolis Foundation’s Catalyst newsletter (Winter 2007 issue). Where you live determines whether you are going to be exposed to a host of models of success, what kind of schools you will go to, and whether you’re going to have employment opportunities,” stated Sheryll Cashin, keynote speaker at the September Minnesota Meeting. “And in America, in 2006, where a person lives is heavily influenced by race and class.”
That wasn’t always the case, Cashin reminded the audience, describing the heterogeneity of early 20th century American cities, when people of different races, ethnicities, and incomes lived in close proximity to one another. “It was only after seven decades of very intentional public policies that we got to the point where separation by race and class seems like what is natural.”
Unfortunately, she asserts, we continue to promote that segregation through contemporary policy choices.
Building an integrated society was the focus of the September Minnesota Meeting, which capped a three-part series on racial disparities in Minnesota. Keynote speaker Sheryll Cashin is author of The Failure of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream, as well as a professor of Law at Georgetown University.
She introduced the topic with some explanation as to how we got to where we are today. That public and private policies value homogeneity over inclusion was one of three main factors Cashin identified as contributing to racial segregation in America. Major racially segregating policies have included:
Local autonomy. Zoning laws, introduced in the 1930s, perpetuate homogenous communities.
Redlining. The FHA underwrote mortgages only in predominantly white neighborhoods, excluding blacks from the “largest wealth-building program in the history of our country.”
Interstate highways. This federal public works program divided thriving black, latino, and ethnic white neighborhoods, the effects of which remain today.
Urban renewal. In moving people from homes to public housing projects, the government created the modern black ghetto, in which people live in poverty-saturated neighborhoods “where a range of destructive behaviors are incubated.” Although uncommon, these behaviors “loom large” in American race relations, rationalizing fear and making integration more difficult to achieve.
Private actors. Many realtors continue to steer people to different neighborhoods according to their race; a national database rating ZIP codes informs developers and retailers where and how to invest.
Other major contributors to our segregated society include:
The pull of personal preference. While Americans say in the abstract that they want to live in integrated neighborhoods, in practice they choose to live near people who look like them.
Research shows members of all racial/ethnic groups would prefer 50-50 integration with whites over a neighborhood in which their group overwhelmingly dominates. Yet for blacks especially that 50-50 ideal is a “rare, elusive option.” African Americans generally have to choose between living in a virtually all black neighborhood or one in which blacks are few. And many Black Americans have simply grown “integration weary,” she says.
The push of discrimination. Despite the Fair Housing Act and other laws designed to eradicate discrimination in housing, “there is still a lot of garden-variety, rank discrimination,” Cashin said. She cited a study showing people of color facing discrimination in housing, with Latino renters facing the greatest amount of discrimination.
However, although race relations are no longer viewed through the “binary” dynamic of black and white, Cashin noted, African-Americans still shoulder the heaviest burden. “In brutal terms,” she said, Americans have “not yet come to terms with black people in large numbers – especially when they are poor.”
Still, Cashin states, “individuals acting on personal preferences couldn’t create the systemic segregation that we have in American society.”
Why it matters
Cashin said she set out to write a book about opportunity, but she could not identify one advance towards equity that didn’t require integration. Segregation sets up a society with winner and loser tracks in communities, schools – even within schools – until everybody is competing for a shot at the winner’s column. Meanwhile the country loses an opportunity to educate children of color, whom Cashin called the “fastest growing resource in American society.”
She believes we should strive towards “cultural dexterity” In contrast to assimilation as the path to integration. Dexterity means that everyone contributes to our shared culture, that white people have to make some accommodations, as well, rather than always expecting people of color to make concessions in order to “fit in.” Cultural dexterity means a person can walk into a room in which everyone else is of a different race and he or she can feel absolutely comfortable.
Dr. Cashin began her address by acknowledging the greatest success of the civil rights movement: that today the vast majority of Americans say they believe no one should be discriminated in any way based upon race. However, she observed, “we have not yet made that vision true for people in their daily lives.” •