Policy and a Pint®: Minnesota and Race in the 21st Century

Policy and a Pint
Chris Stewart, Nekima Levy-Pounds and Antonio Cardona (Todd Butcher for MPR)
Policy and a Pint: Minnesotans and Race
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On a special Martin Luther King Day edition of Policy and a Pint, a conversation about race in Minnesota and in America at large — where we've been, and where we're going. We've made progress since the civil rights struggles the 1960s, but where do we want to be in the 21st century?

The conversation went beyond racial disparities and the achievement gap to dive into real-world questions about how to bring about King's dream of economic justice, and how we want today's more diverse Minnesota to evolve and thrive.

Here are some choice quotes from our guests for the evening, but as usual, it's best to hear the entire conversation. Stream it above, or download an MP3 of the discussion.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, Director of the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law:

I think we had an excellent PR person, who sort of sold us a bill of goods about what it means to be a Minnesotan: you know, land of 10,000 lakes, land of a number of Fortune 500 companies. Not only can you have a main residence, but you can go buy a cabin. And that is sort of the paradigm that we've been taught about our state. But when you peel back the layers, you look at how Native Americans have been treated, you look at African-Americans who have been here for a hundred years and the fact that many of them have remained on the fringes of society, you look at how we treat newcomers, you look at the fact that Minneapolis was seen at one point as the most anti-Semetic city in the country, you look at the fact we had the Ku Klux Klan running rampant in our state. Those are truths that we rarely talk about, and I think that those truths, even though they are uncomfortable truths, they're difficult truths, need to be incorporated into a new narrative about who we are. This isn't about being guilty. This is about moving beyond guilt, and focus on action and solutions to actually shift what's happening right now.

Antonio Cardona, Director of the Urban Institute for Service and Learning:

I think it's foolish to ever think you can be color-blind. Because if you look at how cognitively humans behave, first you recognize gender, then the second piece you recognize is somebody's race, or how they look. If you attempt to say that you're color-blind, you're really doing is lying to yourself because you automatically recognize it. And then if you talk about color blindness in the context of policies or how things are constructed, if you don't recognize and validate and celebrate people's individualism and the culture that they come from, you're absolutely doing them a disservice because you're saying, 'you need to show up as a default, or some kind of agreeable way of being, so that what you are is palatable to me.'
As far as affirmative action, some people will say we don't need these sorts of things any more if we're trying to be colorblind, shouldn't we not look at race? ... My answer to that is, those things can go away if you can look at all those statistics across the board - educational attainment, housing gaps, all of these disparities that we have. As soon as you can show me all of those statistics and they're flat, or there is no disparity, then yeah, maybe we can have a conversation that affirmative action and things like that need to go away, but until then they're absolutely essential.

Chris Stewart, Executive Director at the African American Leadership Forum:

There's a place at which ['Minnesota Nice'] stops progress, too. That's when you want to talk about the tough issues. When we want to talk about our public education system, we get to this point where people almost think you're being too indelicate and they don't like your manners about what you're saying, and if you go too far they want to marginalize you, 'well, that's just not the way that we say things.' And the problem with that is, there are really people suffering every day in those schools who are on trajectory to have really bad lives and we can predict it with very clear accuracy. So if we can't talk about because we're being too nice, that's when the nice will kill you, right? 'Minnesota Nice' loves you up on one hand, and on another hand it will kill you.

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  • Steve Seel fields a question
    Steve Seel helps an audience member ask a question of the panelists. (Todd Butcher for MPR)

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