The most insightful concept I’ve heard to explain systemic racism is that there can be racism without racists. It is with that in mind that I was surprised to read Peter Bell and Mitch Pearlstein’s piece (“Change must be sought from within as well,” Opinion Exchange, June 5) about how “cultural and behavioral issues in the African-American community” are to blame for the unequal condition and opportunities for African-Americans in our country (and thus presumably even the death of George Floyd).
Their piece is just another example of problematizing African-American culture, while ignoring the dominant white American culture that we all live in. Emerging research into what is coming to be known as “racially concentrated areas of affluence” reveals the damage to the social fabric, to empathy and to political will to pursue communitywide investments when whites and affluent people segregate themselves.
If Pearlstein and Bell — indeed, any of us — are serious about wanting to rebuild “essential bonds of civil society,” the white community also needs to “do the hard things only it can do” to recognize its role in creating the outcomes we see today.
Cara Letofsky, Minneapolis
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While I agree with the vast majority of what Bell and Pearlstein had to say in their article and certainly do not refute their statistics, I found the underlying tenor a bit disconcerting. They do I what I call “blaming dismissal” — pointing your finger at a problem and then walking away from any real solution. There were some statements that had me shaking my head. That young black people watch too much TV or play too many video games seems quite beside the point; kids of all races spend a great deal of time on their gizmos. We do want them to take school seriously, we prefer that children come from two-parent families, but these are not things that can be legislated. Pointing at them and walking away from the problem is no answer.
I much prefer the direction pointed out by Thomas Friedman in a recent New York Times article. Friedman cited the Northside Achievement Zone, an organization that wants the same things as Bell and Pearlstein but is actually taking constructive action. He states that NAZ is working with parents, students and local partners to drive a culture shift in predominantly black north Minneapolis to end multigenerational poverty through education and building family stability. NAZ has worked to improve access to early childhood education, focusing on skill-building attributes for success in life. The leaders recognize the problems but do not point them out and walk away.
“Blaming dismissal” is not the helpful narrative. It will not lead to any real improvement.
Cheri rolnick, Minneapolis
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The commentary by Bell and Pearlstein does nothing but promote the selfish idea that everyone must do a better job of fitting into the authors’ comfortable world. No data, no facts, no solutions provided, just a shoulder shrug of “determined and prodigiously expensive efforts” that produced limited overall progress with no one happy. It is like an optometrist giving someone a too weak an eyeglass prescription and then saying, “Sorry, I tried. This is now your problem. Squint more.”
I am tired of reading this simplistic, blame-shifting, selfish racism on the Star Tribune’s Opinion Exchange page. The work for Minnesotans right now is to acknowledge that our attitudes, institutions and assumptions are not working for our whole state. Get to it.
Stephanie Braman, Edina
Don’t forget value of volunteer aid
While Minneapolis bean-counts property damage (“Aid sought for Mpls. starts at $55M,” June 4), what should also be considered is the value of community service in response efforts. It is the people who are mobilizing to call for an end to systemic racism and doing the work that elected officials and paid leaders should have been doing all along.
Thousands have taken to the streets for hours every night since May 25 in peaceful protest and to voice narratives that we don’t hear enough of. Then there are neighbors who keep watch over streets and businesses. How about people who organized to buy, collect and distribute food and supplies to communities because businesses were closed and mass transit shut down? And the broom brigades out cleaning up alongside those repairing damage and fortifying against further defacement — what about them? Cheers to artists and thank goodness for the beauty and promise they and painted! How many people, for how many hours, gave their time to keep people safe, fed and hopeful?
This is community aid and assistance. The dollar value for volunteering in Minnesota, cited in the analysis by independentsector.org in 2018, was $28.15 per hour. Do the math and do a better job of reporting the contributions of community service right next to the property damage estimate by the city, for it is the root cause and any damage falls squarely on its shoulders.
Kelley Skumautz, Minneapolis
Set blame aside, and fix this
Regarding the letter “Who’s really to blame for this?” (June 5): Don’t worry, there is plenty of political blame to go around. Rather, I would challenge our Republican friends to propose real, workable solutions. Clearly the Democratic leadership here has blown some real opportunities for change. Clearly we, the voters, have not held their feet to the fire enough to force political courage. But where are the Republican voices with solutions that do not involve blaming the black community for their oppression? We need a robust debate that includes many points of view, but the Republican Party has abandoned credibility. Separate yourselves from the toxic leader of your party and propose compassionate solutions. We are waiting and listening.
And about the charges (“Junior officers must speak up,” Readers Write, June 5), this was the equivalent of a traffic stop. There was no violence except from the police. It was about $20, less than a parking ticket.
Alice Johnson, Minneapolis
We’re in a pandemic, remember?
Shame on the Star Tribune. Throughout the pandemic the paper has consistently reported on the need for social distancing and mask use. So, you can imagine my frustration and, yes, anger over the paper’s June 4 photo of students gathering at the lake to “celebrate the end of the school year.” The photo shows kids shoulder-to-shoulder — no social distancing, no masks. The photo was headlined, “Fun in the summery sun,” but the fun will soon end if or when several students bring home COVID-19 to their parents or grandparents.
Joe Silbert, Minnetonka
One person can’t save us
Tapping Michelle Obama’s tremendous proven competency is tempting (“A democracy in crisis needs Michelle Obama,” June 3). Yes to grace, kindness, awareness, please — but she’s already giving, endlessly!
Do we still want to be saved by a hero to do the hard work of repairing and strengthening our democracy? We just tried that with a no-holds-barred, my-way-or-the-highway CEO.
Apparently capitalism and growth need the understanding of creating common good — for all. COVID-19 and George Floyd are our lessons in world community. It is up to all of us, from the grassroots, to create a world we all want to live in. We are the very saviors we’ve been waiting for.
Barbara Vaile, Minneapolis
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