COMMUNITY VOICES | Minneapolis cab drivers perpetrate racism as Star Tribune reporters witness blatant bias

After graduating with honors from Grambling State University this past Spring, Brittany Bentley returned to Minnesota to participate in the Teach for America program. Out of ten choices, Minneapolis was her fifth.  We moved to Minneapolis when my daughter was eighteen months old, but she has always believed she’d feel more welcome in other parts of the world. My daughter has grown to accept her placement here after meeting some of the 5th graders she will be teaching in the fall. Her experience this past weekend brings some realities back to the forefront. The race relations issue in this state exists at every level of the spectrum. Here is an account of what she experienced this past weekend while trying to hail a cab in downtown Minneapolis. “Two Caucasian reporters from the Star tribune come up to me and ask how long I’ve been waiting for a cab. I tell them that I’ve been waiting for over an hour. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong 18 Clan Council Conference: Hmong bridal price policy

From October 18-20th, the Hmong 18 Council 1st Annual National Conference was held at the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) building. This effort was organized by the Minnesota Hmong 18 Council (H18C), which consists of Hmong leaders who represent one of the eighteen last names, and was sponsored by a variety of groups and organizations such as Hmong Village and Hmong American Partnership (HAP). The purpose of the conference was to bring “all community members throughout the nation to discuss many topics, including preventing and stopping poverty in the Hmong community by making decisions to standardize two important economic impacts in the Hmong community: Hmong funerals and bridal dowry.”  Although the idea of this conference was to include different leaders in making these important decisions, when it came to the content of the conference, it was nothing but confusing and contradicting.Bo Thao-Urabe, who has extensive experience in community engagement which includes serving as the Executive Director for the Women’s Association of Hmong and Lao in Minnesota and Hmong National Development in Washington, delivered an informative and inspiring presentation about inclusion and the state of the Hmong population in the United States. As a young Hmong American woman myself, it was a relief to see that women were able to present views and perspectives that challenged that old structure that governed entities like the H18C at the conference.But the next session, right after Thao Urabe had spoken, would provide testimony to the sexism and inequality that stills exists in the Hmong 18 Council and in the Hmong community.In the Hmong Bridal Price Policy session, which was chaired by H18C’s Culture Chair of Minnesota, Cha Yeng Cha, a 20 page document of the bylaws of the bridal dowry was passed out with the council saying that they would take suggestions; 20 minutes later, the Culture Chair announced that they would be voting on it that very day. With the majority of the conference participants relatives, friends, and supporters of H18C, it was no surprise that the initial vote for the first dowry price was approved 94 to 5, with many abstaining to even raise their hand to vote. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | 50 years after the March on Washington: It’s time to arise to today’s civil-rights challenges

A version of this article originally appeared in MinnPostOn August 28, 1963, 250,000 Americans bravely descended on our nation’s capital to participate in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The peaceful protesters poured in from all over the country to urge America to make good on her promise of “liberty and justice for all.”The March on Washington occurred during a tumultuous time in American history in which African Americans experienced racial segregation, barriers to education, employment, voting, and housing. They also faced discrimination in many of our nation’s institutions and private establishments. Indeed, just nine years prior to the March on Washington, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that racially segregated schools for blacks and whites were inherently unequal and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.Although the High Court’s decision in 1954 was significant and represented a legal and moral victory for African Americans, the nation continued to struggle with issues of racial justice. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | An open letter to the faith community: A call to action

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40We are a nation divided.Nothing illustrates that more than the cascading protests, rallies, and ardent cries for justice in the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Those outcries and the concurrent spirit of indifference on the part of many privileged Americans tell us all we need to know about how far we still have to go before we see each other the way God would expect.Indeed, the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, painfully reminds African Americans as a community that in spite of possessing the unsurpassable worth granted by Christ, black life is without value to the broader society.While many of us expected to hear words of comfort, hope, and a renewed call for love and justice in our respective houses of worship, instead most of us encountered a resounding immoral silence. Although this silence has been most pronounced and identifiable recently, it is not new. It has been a hallmark of our hasty acceptance of a supposedly post-racial nation, and has contributed to the suffering of the most vulnerable, and “the least of these” within our society.Poor people in general suffer from limited opportunity and access to basic necessities. However, poor boys and men of color – especially African Americans – not only suffer in ways that degrade their humanity, but they are systematically excluded from equitable participation within our society, are denied access to equal opportunity, and are blamed for conditions that have been constructed to disadvantage them.These young men are often feared, viewed with suspicion, criminalized, harassed, and treated with contempt. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Public reaction to Rachel Jeantel: Evidence that race still matters

Last week, while watching the George Zimmerman murder trial, I was struck by the ways in which race, racism, and socio-economic status continue to play a key role in determining who lives and who dies and who has value and who is perceived as having little value in our society. The fact that in this day and age an African American boy could be targeted for “walking while Black” speaks volumes about the undercurrent of hazardous race relations that are ever-present, yet hidden, until an explosive situation occurs that reminds us of its clandestine and shameful existence. If anyone is under the illusion that race is no longer an issue, then one should look no further than Rachel Jeantel, and America’s response to her appearance in the George Zimmerman murder trial. Indeed, Rachel Jeantel is a 19 year old high school student, a friend of Trayvon Martin who happened to be the last person he spoke to before he was killed, and the star witness for the prosecution in this case. As a teenager, thrust into the middle of arguably one of the greatest controversies of this decade, it is not hard to imagine why Rachel Jeantel would be reluctant to come forward as a witness. Continue Reading

Report documents mortgage discrimination in Twin Cities

Lenders discriminate. Housing is segregated. Communities of color are hit harder by the foreclosure crisis than anyone else. That’s the ugly face of racial discrimination in the Twin Cities revealed in a 54-page report released by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School. People of color “continue to receive home loans on worse terms and at a higher cost than similarly situated white borrowers, according to “Communities in Crisis: Race and Mortgage Lending in the Twin Cities”. Continue Reading

Report: Fewer minorities employed by state compared with a decade ago

Minnesota state agencies barely employ more minorities now than they did in 1997 and a number of departments are showing a decline despite the steady growth of populations of color statewide, according to a new report by the Minnesota State Affirmative Action Association (MSAAA). Further, it appears that the bulk of that slippage has occurred since Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office in early 2003 for reasons that are unclear, according to the 25-page report.Some affirmative action advocates argue that the state of affairs is the result of lackadaisical attitudes toward the related laws, coupled with an unwieldy computerized hiring system — assertions that some state officials deny. Many of the state’s affirmative mandates simply aren’t followed or have makeshift solutions while some statutes are crafted in such a way that they’re impossible to fulfill, the MSAAA report explains. It points out shortcomings such as the absence of a full-time diversity director to oversee affirmative action and equal opportunity efforts, a required position that was cut early in the Pawlenty Administration, with some of those duties being heaped onto an employee relations staffer. Additionally, each of the 1,000-plus departments are supposed to have a diversity point-person, but a good chunk of them don’t and in many cases that role has been reduced. Continue Reading

St. Cloud State dean is determined to do the right thing

“I think leadership at the top is very important,” says Williams, who has been at SCSU since 1999, of the university’s past diversity efforts that fell short. She adds of new school president Earl Potter, “I like the way the new leadership is recognizing and acknowledging racism.”
Williams is among 20 faculty members from the Colleges of Education and Social Sciences who make up the Racial Issues Colloquium, which meets regularly and provides courses for students to critically analyze the effects of racism, discrimination and oppression on people of color in the U.S. Eleven courses are now available in community studies (two), history (one), sociology (one), ethnic studies (five), human relations and multicultural education (two). It was a “cumbersome” process getting the curriculum approved, Williams admits. “We still are having problems because some people still are leery about this requirement. [But] this is one of the best things for our students.”
Now that SCSU students are required to take these courses, they are making themselves “highly marketable” for future employment, says Williams. Many top corporations today have mandated that their employees take regular diversity training. Continue Reading