It's been years since someone asked me what life is like in "Mindianapolis," that chilly conclave located in Somewhere Up There, United States.
These days, it's almost more than our modest Minnesota hearts can take to see all the gushing about us in the national press, with our city name spelled correctly.
There's that favorable Vikings Stadium update in the real estate section of the New York Times, and a complimentary feature on the Dayton brothers, Eric and Andrew, in the Wall Street Journal. We have innovative, award-winning chefs. We have Prince and Garrison Keillor and the Guthrie. We don't have grape salad, but that was a fun distraction.
And it sure doesn't hurt to have the Mall of America.
But the clearest proof that we've arrived came in mid-February, wrapped in an unfamiliar package: scathing criticism.
The reason? Racial disparities.
It all started with an upbeat article in the Atlantic, published in mid-February. The title was, "The Miracle of Minneapolis." Economics reporter Derek Thompson noted that Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of only three large metropolitan areas where at least half the homes are within reach for young middle-class families (the other two being Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh).
He referred to census findings that, among residents under 35, the Twin Cities area is in the top 10 for college-graduation rates and median earnings, and among the lowest in poverty rates. He singled us out for good neighborhoods and good schools, and large companies whose taxes "flow" into poorer neighborhoods to give people a pathway to middle-class lives.
"What's wrong with American cities? is a question that demographers and economists have debated for years," Thompson wrote. "But maybe we should be looking to a luminary exception and asking the opposite question: What's right with Minneapolis?"
Responses flowed in, but probably not of the tone Thompson expected.
On Facebook, blogs and Twitter feeds, Thompson's thesis, and Minneapolis, were trounced by residents and by people who've never set foot here.
"If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African Americans?" pondered Jeff Guo in an immediate counterpoint published in the Washington Post.
Minneapolis educator and blogger Mike Spangenberg titled his response, "About That 'Miracle.' "
"The claim that the Twin Cities are, and have been, such dynamic places to live is likely to ring hollow to at least one large category of Twin Cities residents," he wrote. "People of color."
In a way, they're all right.
Thompson is right that the living is good here — for educated, middle-class workers, most of whom are white. (The state remains one of the nation's most homogenous, with more than 85 percent of Minnesota's 5.3 million people identifying as white.)
Spangenberg and Guo are right that segregation and racial disparities continue to fester in appalling ways.
Black Minneapolis residents, for example, are 11 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession, although white people are more likely to deal drugs. The overall arrest rate is six times higher for blacks than whites.
A 2014 Minnesota Compass study, conducted for the Minnesota Department of Education, revealed that 38.2 percent of third-graders of color are achieving reading standards. Among white kids, it's 66.8 percent.
Racial disparities also appear in housing, health and employment opportunities, and not just among blacks, but also among Latinos and indigenous people.
"The Atlantic article missed a pretty important dynamic," said Rowzat M. Shipchandler, racial equity manager for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, "which is a real reluctance to talk about the legacy of racism here. Some don't know and some don't want to know."
Take advantage of resources
So let's not recoil from the national scrutiny. Let's be thankful for it and take advantage of resources in place.
The Racial Equity Minnesota Network (www.racial equitymn.org) offers tools for Minnesotans wanting to talk about race in the workplace, schools and neighborhoods.
The St. Paul Foundation honors Minnesotans each year with its prestigious Facing Race Ambassador Awards (www.facingrace.org). Minnesota Compass (www.mncompass. org) tracks disparities among groups and offers effective solutions.
"Disparities are on people's minds and compelling us to act," Shipchandler said, noting that the city of Minneapolis is talking about racial equity in a post-Ferguson, Mo., world.
Jamie Utt, a Minneapolis-based diversity consultant, also followed the Atlantic flap. He said we need to think beyond making room at the table, and begin to think about stepping away from the table to make room for people of color to lead.
"Someone has to step back and create space for people of color who know what's best for their communities," Utt said. "That's scary, but it's a conversation we have to have."
Cornell Leverette Moore, 75, came to the Twin Cities 50 years ago and had wonderful opportunities for advancement as an attorney and community leader, he said.
"Was it because I was black or because I was good?" said Moore, former chairman of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. "I didn't care. I was both." He laughed. "I may have more confidence in myself than I deserve."
Moore has long put his energy into networking and mentoring young people of color. "I believe you have to do for yourself," he said. "Get educated, become operative. Then work where people allow you to do those things."
Seeing 'both halves'
Deborah Honore, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of St. Thomas, is from Ethiopia, but she grew up in Minnesota.
A journalism and communications student she, too, felt invested in the Atlantic story.
"I can see both halves," she said. "I definitely think that Minnesota offers a good place to live, but there are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.
"We are not, by any means, the poster child for a united community."
She appreciates how hard it is to begin conversations about race. "Even the phrase 'racial issues' is such a hot-button term," she said. "But as a person of color, it's your responsibility to stand up and educate. The problem isn't in talking about it. The problem is in not talking about it.
"If we don't talk, nothing can be changed."