Voices for Racial Justice

One Minnesota Cannot Be Colorblind

On January 9, 2019, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 19-01 into law. Executive Order 19-01 establishes the “One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.” With Executive Order 19-01, Gov. Walz affirms his commitment to create a state that works for all Minnesotans.

Executive Order 19-01 begins with the following statement: “Our State must be a leader in ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Disparities in Minnesota, including those based on race, geography, and economic status, keep our entire state from reaching its full potential. As long as inequities impact Minnesotans’ ability to be successful, we have work to do. Our state will recognize its full potential when all Minnesotans are provided the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilled lives. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are therefore essential core values and top priorities to achieve One Minnesota.”

Executive Order 19-01 comes at a crucial moment in history, as Minnesota still has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. WalletHub, a personal finance website based in Washington, D.C., released a recent study entitled “2019’s States with the Most Racial Progress.” In the study, “WalletHub measured the gaps between blacks and whites across 22 key indicators of equality and integration in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The racial integration ranking measures the current integration levels of whites and blacks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. At number 1, New Mexico was the state with the most racial integration. At number 50, Wisconsin was the state with the least racial integration. Minnesota was number 47.

Another ranking is the racial progress ranking which measures the levels of racial progress achieved over time. At number 1, Wyoming was the state with the most racial progress. Iowa was the state with the least racial progress at number 50. Minnesota was number 44. Racial progress rankings considered indicators such as “Highest and Lowest Change in Median Annual Income Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Labor-Force Participation Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Unemployment Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Homeownership Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Poverty Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Gap in % of Adults with at least a High School Diploma,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Gap in % of Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Standardized-Test Scores Gap,” “Best and Worst Change in Voter Turnout Gap (2016 Presidential Election),” and “Highest and Lowest Change in Infant-Mortality Rate Gap.”

“We’re screwing up all over the place,” writes City Pages journalist, Hannah Jones, in response to the WalletHub studies’ findings. “Sure, you may be thinking, Minnesota is struggling to address inequality. But surely we’re putting in the work to make it better, right? Unfortunately, no. There’s a ranked list for that, too – how much these gaps have narrowed over the years – and Minnesota comes in at No. 44.” Jones acknowledges, “It’s not the first time we’ve asked ourselves why we’re like this – why we can succeed by most other progressive measures and still end up letting our black residents down, one metric after another.”

Jones is right. With Executive Order 19-01, Governor Walz is asking the same question. Executive Order 19-01 uses the language of “One Minnesota” to imagine a Minnesota where “…all Minnesotans are provided the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilled lives.” While I understand the intent of such language, it is important to remember that Minnesota in reality is made up of many different identities: racial, cultural, ethnic, religious, and sexual. It is important that Executive Order 19-01 does not attempt to make our differences invisible, or force us to assimilate our differences into a notion of “One Minnesota” that does not reflect who we truly are.

In other words, Executive Order 19-01 cannot be color blind in the effort to advance racial equity in Minnesota. On the contrary, it must embrace the fullness of who we are as human beings, and must try to find ways through public policy to place our differences at the center of all decision-making. At every step, the One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity must ask the following questions:

  • Who is most impacted and how will those specific communities be engaged in the analysis?
  • What disparity is being addressed and name the racial equity purpose of the policy, if any?
  • How would the proposed policy change the situation and explain what the proposal seeks to accomplish and assess whether the policy can achieve any identified equity goals?
  • Are there potential negative impacts and if so, how will the policy be adjusted to achieve a more equitable outcome?
  • How can the policy be sustainably successful and ensure that adequate funding, implementation strategies, and accountability mechanisms are in place?

These questions are core to a racial equity impact assessment — a tool that has been available and that only comes to life through our policy leaders applying it in their decision-making process.

Governor Walz sent a bold message to all of Minnesota that racial equity is a key priority of his administration by making his first Executive Order the creation of a One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. Minnesota has been at the bottom of racial equity for too long. It is time that Minnesota moves from thinking of itself as a “thriving progressive oasis in the middle of the Midwest,” as Hannah Jones writes, to acting like one. With authentic community engagement principles and racial equity at the core of the Governor’s One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, Minnesota might be on the path to do so.