Minnesota is one of the most racially inequitable states in the country, as pointed out in a recent article in this paper (“Curious Minnesota” feature, July 8). This was a surprising truth for many, but it should have been a shock only in the same way that in the movie “Casablanca,” Captain Renault was shocked that there was “gambling going on here.” The reality is we have known about this segregation for nearly 25 years, but either this reality has been ignored by many or policies have been ineffective in addressing it.
Minnesotans, especially in the Twin Cities, like to think of themselves as progressive and forward-thinking, including when it comes to race. However, public policy does not reflect that. Back in 1996-97, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Race and Poverty, was headed by john powell. I worked there and was the principal writer and project coordinator for a wonderful team that issued a report “Examining the Relationship Between Housing, Education, and Persistent Segregation.” We found that the Twin Cities was among the 10 most segregated metropolitan regions in the country. It was a region where race and income were stratified by geography.
The historical segregation in Minnesota was based on race, caused by zoning and mortgage redlining. There were only a few neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, if not the state, where people of color resided. But during the 1960s and ’70s as the suburbs exploded, racial discrimination combined with income disparities and white flight. The result was a new form of segregation based on race and income.
Our study charted through the 1980s and ’90s that there was a heavy concentration of poor and racial minorities in selected urban and first-ring suburbs. We found that the causes of this segregation were many, including exclusionary zoning and persistent private housing discrimination in terms of racial steering, residential mortgage lending and rental markets. Our research on the Twin Cities paralleled that by national scholars who looked at other regions of the country. In effect, the Twin Cities was not exceptional from trends found elsewhere.
We additionally found that federal, state and local housing policy, school policies, the placement of low-income units, the way school district lines were drawn, political fragmentation and personal preferences — whites not wanting to live near people of color — drove the segregation. Racial and economic segregation worked together to produce housing and educational segregation.
Our report tied education outcomes by race to this segregation. Arguably, other disparities also could be linked to this. In using census track analysis to pinpoint our analysis, we noted how back in the early ’90s Minnesota and Oregon had the highest percentage of their African-American populations attending predominantly minority schools. We looked at rents that priced almost all poor people out of most suburbs and neighborhoods, with the special impact it had on people of color. We documented the concentration of poverty, the disappearance of mixed-income neighborhoods, and a series of failed public policies that did nothing to address discrimination. We pointed to then how the evidence showed that charter schools, open enrollment, and vouchers did little to address school achievement and desegregate. Our report offered several recommendations in terms of changes in state law and other policies to address the segregation.
The point here is that even if 25 years ago no one knew how segregated we were, we documented it then and offered recommendations. Unfortunately, these recommendations were largely ignored by the policymakers. Today the issue, in part, is that Minnesota has horrible disparities, but just as powerful is the conclusion that the evidence has shown this for at least a generation and either it has been denied or the policies adopted to address it have largely done little to remedy the underlying residential and educational segregation that produced them.
David Schultz is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Hamline University.