Opinion | ‘Woe Is You,’ White People Keep Telling Us


Today the Northside is about half black, a quarter Hmong and a quarter everything else. It’s a neighborhood challenged by low wealth and some violence, but we’re not defined by that.


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The Northside is where Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis created the Minneapolis Sound that Prince would later make famous. The Northside was the home of the underappreciated but behemoth civil rights figure and union organizer Nellie Stone Johnson. It’s the place my parents were told was “the hood” when they arrived, but coming from Detroit, it was the only place in the city where they felt comfortable raising us.

In 2015, an Atlantic article called “The Miracle of Minneapolis” said that “no other place” in America “mixes affordability, opportunity and wealth so well.” But that wealth has always eluded Northsiders. And by eluded, I, of course, mean, it has been denied.

Minneapolis is not unique in its use of redlining and restrictive covenants that kept blacks from owning property. Minneapolis is not unique in using the construction of highways to annihilate black neighborhoods. Minneapolis is not unique in placing its worst polluters in and near its black and brown neighborhoods. And unfortunately, we are also not unique in our failure to seriously seek a remedy to these harms.

Minneapolis hosts some of the worst disparities between black and white success in America. Educational outcomes, wealth and wages and homeownership gaps shouldn’t be this wide, much less in a place so prosperous for white people. It should be noted that disparities between whites and Latinos, and whites and Southeast Asians, are also incredibly pronounced here. And it should be doubly noted that Native Americans are the poorest residents in the city. Black people are not the only ones left behind in the “miracle of Minneapolis.”

During every crisis, well-meaning white people here make a ritual of acknowledging the city’s steep inequities, but we’ve been hearing the same “woe is you” sentiment for a long time. It’s as if people think the mere acknowledgment is the work. But as North Minneapolis prepares to brace ourselves for the grim future Detroit and Milwaukee have shown us, the death tolls suggest that acknowledgments don’t mean a thing. I want to take us back to this notion of remedy.

When I joined the City Council two years ago, I focused on housing stability and environmental justice. Last year we became the first city in the country to end single-family zoning, making more housing units possible. We passed inclusionary zoning, which requires a percentage of affordable housing on every project. The Council president and I rewrote our housing-inspections approach to focus more on creating livable conditions, not just issuing citations. This allowed us to keep renters in place while holding their landlords accountable for safe, dignified conditions — a proposition that had previously been an either-or deal.



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