A Hard Conversation
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
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 email@example.com.