MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Survey after survey have stated that Minnesota is a great place to live. The data shows that to be true for White people, but it’s a different story for Black Minnesotans.

So, why does Minnesota have some of the largest racial disparities in the country? WCCO spoke with Dr. Samuel Myers, an economist with the University of Minnesota.

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“That’s not because there’s something wrong with Black people. It’s because of the privileges and advantages that Whites have,” Myers said.

In the report “Race in the Heartland 2019,” researchers from the Iowa Policy Project, Policy Matters Ohio, COWS, and the Economic Analysis and Research Network found Minnesota is 46th in homeownership, 48th in eighth-grade math scores and 50th in median household income gaps between Black and White Minnesotans.

Many of the indicators for Black Minnesotans don’t show worse data compared to elsewhere in the United States, but they do show Whites are performing better than average.

Myers has spent years researching what he calls the “Minnesota Paradox.”

“This is a great place to live, but there are racial disparities, and these racial disparities sometimes translate into the view that it’s the worst place for Blacks to live,” Myers said. “It’s a great place to live. Let’s make it a great place for everybody.”

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He says the “Minnesota Paradox” started centuries ago when land that was taken over by the government was often sold White settlers — mostly Germans and Scandinavians — at little cost. In many cases, that produced an intergenerational transmission of wealth.

“It turns out if your parents own their own home, it’s more likely that your parents have sufficient savings in order to lend you money or give you a gift for your home,” Myers said.

He says Minnesota has historically professed a progressive ideology and deep egalitarian sentiment — but that often only went so far. For example, he says the decision in the 1950s to put Interstate 94 Highway through St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood — a vibrant, middle-class Black community — destabilized that community and destroyed billions of dollars in wealth.

“I’m not talking about a group of racists or bigots saying we’re going to burn down the Black community. It was a very seasoned, careful thought about, developing a public good,” Myers said.

Some researchers argue that political decisions in the 1990s to end desegregation programs in Minnesota made the racial disparities even worse. Myron Orfield, director of the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, wrote about this in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times.

“Minneapolis has abandoned its vision of an egalitarian society, stopped enforcing Civil Rights rules and let inequality and division fester,” Orfield said.

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Myers doesn’t agree with housing segregation is the cause of these disparities because the narrowing of racial gaps in earnings happened during that time.

Then, there’s idea of “Minnesota Nice,” a phrase that’s often used to describe how are stereotypical behavior that people in Minnesota are polite and don’t openly confront each other. Myers says it also plays a key role in understanding why it’s hard for Minnesotans to talk about race.

“The racism you see in Minnesota is the type of racism where people say there is no racism. The only race is the human race,” Myers said. “How can we say the only race is the human race when all the people with dark skin are people with higher unemployment rates, dying from COVID, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be beaten by police and murdered? How does that happen when there’s no race?”

Heather Brown

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