There’s more to Minneapolis than its whiteness

Updated 2:15 p.m.

I was watching the local 10 p.m. news on TV last night when a segment aired about The Atlantic’s fawning portrayal of life in Minneapolis (mentioned here yesterday morning) declaring that Minneapolis is a “miracle.”

The reporter was white and every face that appeared in the segment was white.

Few people, it appears, got past the headline when considering The Atlantic article, which was about the use of fiscal disparities program money, a program whose intent is to improving equity in the distribution of fiscal resources between (mostly) suburbs and cities.

But even the mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, acknowledged Tuesday on MPR News that there’s no equitable distribution of the good life that The Atlantic so portrayed in its article.

“Everything he appreciates about Minneapolis and about St. Paul and about our region I think is accurate,” she said. “I think our success is an advantage as we grapple with solving problems that every city is facing. We have some of the biggest racial disparities in the country. Our floor might be higher than others, which is good, but the gap is bigger than others. Having such a strong economy, having it be a place that people feel such an affection for and are staying in is a really great foundation to build on as we make sure that the ‘American Dreaminess’ of the city of Minneapolis is true for everybody.”

Right now, it’s not.

Today, the Washington Post pushes back, asking “If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African-Americans?

In the 1970s, when the equitable growth policies were being passed, the Minneapolis area was 94 percent white and 2 percent black. Few people lived in segregated areas, because few people were minorities to begin with. It’s easy to pass redistributive tax agreements when your neighbors are more or less homogenous. (This is another way that Minneapolis, where many people have Scandinavian ancestry, resembles the welfare nations of northern Europe.)

The city’s successes have the whiff of a chicken-or-egg riddle. Minneapolis has had some success combating urban rot and maintaining a large, healthy middle class. But it’s also never had to seriously struggle with these issues.

The picture is less rosy these days. Since the 1970s, the city’s minority population has swelled, and segregation has worsened, particularly in its schools. About 62 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools, compared with 10 percent of white students.

Beyond Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota has one of the largest gaps in black-white student achievement. Recently, WalletHub analyzed the black-white gap in census indicators such as household income, homeownership and educational attainment. It ranked Minnesota as the worst state for financial inequality.

University of St. Thomas professor and civil-rights activist Nekima Levy-Pounds said the magazine’s headline should have read, “Minnesota Miracle for White Minnesotans.

“I see the propaganda about how wonderful Minnesota is as being detrimental to communities of the color. Our stories are largely invisibile in the media and in the narratives that are put forward about the state of Minnesota,” she said. “When we are invisible in those narratives, that sends a message that we really don’t matter.”

There are some inaccuracies with this article, too. “Today, low-income housing is mostly being built downtown,” it says, “further clustering the poor.” That’ll come as news to people who’ve actually been to Minneapolis.

Writer Jeff Guo acknowledges there’s a lot of good things happening in the more affluent parts of town, “but it is also developing serious problems with racial disparities and segregation, issues that its equitable-growth policies have done little to fix.”

Related: About that “Miracle” (Question The Premise).

MPR News reporter Laura Yuen contributed to this report.