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What ‘Minnesota Nice’ Sweeps Under the Rug

Rogue Valley

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4/16/21
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota has always imagined itself as someplace special, a place apart. This attitude has irked our neighbors in the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin, and they have never suffered our swagger and hubris gladly. But even though its geography intimately connects Minnesota to the rest of the country, the Cool Blue North also can feel isolated from the rest of the country. So, whatever hot-button issues may be raging in the rest of America, there’s sometimes a false notion here of being above the fray, somehow. The home of “Minnesota nice” — that deeply rooted stereotype about our state’s cult of politeness — would love to believe that there’s no substantial toehold for white supremacy here. But the stereotype has always been about the maintenance of a superficial kind of civic politeness, about preserving the appearance of peace and only the best of intentions. It’s a culture bent toward sweeping nagging, uncomfortable issues under the rug. This, paired with the blind spots that encourage us to think we’re doing better than we are, has lulled many Minnesotans to sleep, the resulting complacency having helped lead to some of the worst racial disparities in the nation.

The needless death of Philando Castile in 2016, followed by George Floyd’s death last year and the trial for his killing now underway (and now, incredibly, in the midst of the trial, the tragic, senseless death of Daunte Wright during yet another traffic stop) have made Minnesota a major national focus of our collective challenge to deal meaningfully with this issue — and all the issues of systemic racial inequity, policing and justice. Minnesota has had a rude awakening to the fact that it is not above the fray. It sits in the middle of the country and very much in the middle of the fray. We’re right to be deeply concerned about the havoc and lost trust that the actions of an overtly racist officer can cause, and police reform must mean much more than watch-dogging the decisions of individual officers. But that’s precisely how law enforcement suddenly shows up in an average citizen’s life: an officer decides to pull you over. And through a thousand battles, large and small, we need to be about the business of dismantling this bulwark. Now is as good a time as any to begin — and Minnesota is as good a place. Ready or not, the camera has pulled in tight for our close-up, and the picture doesn’t look very nice. But the whole world is watching.


I myself used to consider Minnesota as somewhat idyllic and perhaps above the fray of systemic racism. But I have been disabused of this notion via a series of brutal murders by the police on black Minnesotans.
 
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