University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Editor's Note

A Hard Conversation

Photo Credit: Scott Streble

In late May, as 46-year-old George Floyd died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer as three others stood by, our state began a seismic shift that continues to rumble beneath us.

The viral footage of Floyd’s killing, and the explosive protests that began soon after, laid bare a truth that many might rather not face: When a Black man was stopped for the minor offense of allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood Minneapolis store, he was killed for it.

Over the last three months, those images and that reality have continued to haunt us. Many white people, some for the first time, have asked themselves, “If the same exact situation had happened to me, would I be dead?”

And the answer to that question is very probably, no. But as many Black and other people of color have said over and over and over again, their answer to that question could definitely be yes.

Research from scholars at the U of M and others lay out some bitter facts both about the Twin Cities and our wider society: Nonwhite people face a deeply unequal playing field here and elsewhere when compared to the advantages white people enjoy. They die at the hands of police at a higher rate than do whites. They face higher poverty rates and worse health outcomes as compared to whites. They also face significant disparities in educational opportunities when compared to whites.

These deep-seated inequities and disparities go by different names, including ‘white privilege’ or ‘structural racism,’ terms that are difficult for some white Americans to accept or discuss, and also words that elicit denial and rage in others. And at a time when our nation faces deep schisms exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as by the racial injustices that Floyd’s killing brought to the forefront, trying to find a better, more just path forward in simply acknowledging that our country is different for whites and those who aren’t white can seem daunting.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

The fact that I’m a middle-aged white woman trying to acknowledge the intricacies of the complex topic of racism certainly doesn’t escape me. The experiences of nonwhite people aren’t mine, but I can work to listen and read and learn and reflect on the stories of those who live those truths daily.

Inside this issue, we asked a number of alumni of color to reflect on this moment in time, and to share their insights with their fellow alumni. We also report on research from the U of M to help add context and explanation to the issue of structural racism, and to explore where we might go from here.

It is my profound hope that we can use these insights in a way that makes a better Minnesota and country for us all. I’d welcome hearing your thoughts on the subject.

P.S. Inside this issue, you’ll notice that Minnesota Alumni capitalizes the word “Black,” but not the word “white” when speaking of race. We follow the lead of numerous journalism outlets in this choice. The Columbia Journalism Review, a noted arbiter of journalistic vernacular, explains their decision this way: “For many people, Black reflects a shared sense of identity and community. White carries a different set of meanings; capitalizing the word in this context risks following the lead of white supremacists” who have appropriated the capitalized term to speak of the superiority of the white race.

Kelly O’Hara Dyer can be reached at

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