MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the past three weeks, Americans have heard a lot about systemic racism, and how it still exists 155 years after slavery ended.

It’s a topic many have talked about for years, but now others just recognizing the impact it has on almost every aspect of our society.

Dr. Yohuru Williams, dean at the University of St. Thomas, says systemic racism is different from an individual person’s racism or prejudice – but they inform each other.

“We think about systemic racism as being kind of the sum total of all the things that contribute to our society being flawed in that context,” Williams said.

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The myriad factors include disparities in health and housing – the latter from restrictive covenants that blocked Black Minnesotans from buying in certain neighborhoods for decades. Or when Interstate 94 was built through St. Paul’s predominately-Black Rondo neighborhood in 50s and 60s.

“Once those people were displaced, it created all kind of inequalities that went along with that displacement,” Williams said. “That impacted education, that impacted employment.”

The average white Twin Cities family brings in more than $80,000 a year. For Black families, it’s less than half that. About 70% of white Minnesota seniors are considered college-ready, compared to a quarter of Black students.

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“It’s not that students don’t want to learn. It’s that there are a host of other issues that are impacting their ability to learn,” Williams said. “A stable home and community, access to food, feeling safe in the environment in which they learn, having teachers that look like them.”

Polls now show three-quarters of Americans think racial discrimination is a big problem.

“I think this is a unique moment. This has captured our attention,” Williams said. “I think what’s been wonderful about what’s happened here is that it’s leading people to say, ‘Well, it’s not just about police brutality.’ Let’s talk about wealth inequality, let’s talk about housing, let’s talk about education, and let’s talk about policing.”

Some researchers have used the game Monopoly to help explain systemic racism. If you create an unequal playing field for the majority of the game, it is near impossible to catch up quickly with little or no resources.

“The problems are so big, but what I hope is that people don’t think that it’s too big that they can’t make a difference,” Williams said.

Heather Brown

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