I have noticed certain patterns in the way many folks in Minneapolis approach the topic of affordable housing and concentrated poverty in our city and region. One tendency is to think that, in the pursuit of justice, you need only to engage with empirical facts, leaving people (and their desires, experiences and knowledge) or deeper questions of justice, rights and political morality on the sidelines.
When it comes to issues of housing, this leads to narrowly focusing on the pursuit of integration, positing proximity to whiteness as the solution to our persistent racial inequalities. Rather than solve for the root causes of racial injustice and white supremacy, the solution becomes moving people of color to predominantly white neighborhoods, trusting that more affluent whites will open their neighborhoods, schools and social networks to the benefit of their new neighbors of color.
Side note(s): Relying on the moral conscience of white people hardly seems like the best remedy for centuries of historic injustices. It’s also worth noting that the white tolerance for diversity is only 20 percent to 30 percent, so most people promoting integration only want to see integration to a certain point, mindful of not crossing that threshold (in neighborhoods and schools) for fear of activating white fear and white flight.
I hope that our new mayor and City Council see that pursuing residential diversity is not enough when it comes to ensuring that low-wealth communities, communities of color and indigenous communities are able to live and thrive in our city. I hope that they are committed to pursuing strategies to advance racial justice that make sure that communities of color are not redlined, discriminated against or disinvested from simply because they choose to live together, be that for reasons of cultural solidarity, political power, proximity to businesses that cater to them or a desire to avoid racial hostility (or any of the other 101 reasons people may choose to live where they live). I hope our elected officials have the energy to pursue real justice and do more than simply pursuing integration as the solution to all of our problems.
Side note: The problems we face as a city are about more than addressing residential spatial segregation, and instead require us to address head-on issues of cultural imperialism, violence and serial forced displacement, all of which are in the DNA of our city and country.
Rents and home values are rising in Minneapolis. Wages are stagnant. Displacement pressures are real. Who gets to live in Minneapolis in 2020 is a question every one of our elected officials should be focused on this year. Our new mayor and City Council should pursue policies that expand quality and affordable housing opportunity everywhere, but especially in the places that communities of color already call home. For people of color and indigenous communities to have equal life prospects in Minneapolis, we should not require that they live in majority white neighborhoods, work their way into white social networks or endure increased racial hostility in the schools their children attend. Our policies should be about more than simply promoting greater residential diversity, and instead be focused on addressing the basic unjust structures of disadvantage that exist in our city and society.
Neeraj Mehta lives in north Minneapolis and works at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.