The Minneapolis Foundation generously supports MinnPost's Community Sketchbook coverage. Learn why.

A new effort to have the DFL address an old issue: reparations

Photo courtesy of NOC
First-time caucus-goers meeting at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change headquarters before introducing the reparations resolution at their precincts.

Some Minnesota voters hope to make reparations — the idea of compensating African Americans for the legacy of slavery — a main agenda item for the DFL.

It didn’t get much attention at the time, but voters throughout the state voted at the state’s March 1 DFL caucuses to pass a reparations resolution, a proposal brought forth by members of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC).

Passed resolutions don’t necessarily make it into official party platforms, but NOC organizers said they’re hoping to start a serious discussion on a topic they say is more viable than people may think.

“There’s always been this myth that reparations is unpopular… we really proved that that’s just not true,” said NOC organizer Wintana Melekin. “Thousands of people voted to start a conversation on reparations.”

NOC leaders put the resolution together — which can be read in full here — with input from community members, Melekin said. Out of the ten resolutions community members listed as a priority, reparations was one of the most popular.

Minneapolis resident Faith Bickner said the reparations resolution she introduced to her Phillips neighborhood precinct on Tuesday passed without a single objection. She said she sees reparations as a guide for taxpayers and policy makers to funnel money away from institutions that have been mainly benefiting the status quo, and putting that money toward programs and establishments that actively work towards racial equity.

“A pretty easy example is charter schools,” Bickner said. “Spending all this money on charter schools has, in a way, been better for white Minnesotan kids than it has been for black Minnesotan kids.”

Bickner said starting the conversation is the first step, and that she trusts organizations like NOC and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis to lead that conversation in a constructive way, she said.

Black Lives Matter organizer Lena Gardner agreed, saying if Minnesota policy makers kept reparations in mind while making their decisions, they might put more of the state’s funding into things that directly benefit the black community, like early childhood education or criminal justice reform.

“When it comes to the education crisis in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools there is no money, there is no funding, nobody can come up with any solutions,” she said. “But then on less than two months’ notice [Minneapolis] can magically find $600,000 to fortify the Fourth Precinct [police station].”

Melekin said too many people think it means just cutting a check for descendants of slavery. Rather, she said, people should see that the issue is far more nuanced. “It can also be investing in educational programs, it can also be investing in community infrastructure, it can be anything,” she said. “We just want to make sure the conversation is being had and that reparations is not being pushed off the table as some wacky ideology.”

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/19/2016 - 07:46 am.

    Reparations

    Why are we so lucky? Why aren’t people putting this resolution forward at the Republican caucuses as well. As Republicans have frequently explained to us, they are the true civil rights party.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/21/2016 - 01:15 pm.

      Possibly

      because the Republicans of the North understand the cause for reparations seems to originate with the history of Democrats of the South. Who better to address redress?

  2. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 03/19/2016 - 08:44 am.

    Reparations

    I don’t have a problem with discussing ways that we can solve the educational problems in our minority communities. I’m skeptical that money is the answer, but I’m willing to discuss it.

    However, when you start labeling this as “Reparations”, it’s a complete show stopper for me. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like I personally have any responsibility for things that were done 100 years ago by people to whom I am not even remotely related. There are a lot of people in this country who had nothing to do with slavery, and even actively opposed it. Why would anyone think that these people should be responsible for paying “Reparations”.

    I never cease to be amazed on how the minority community can take an issue for which there is a lot of sympathy and package it with rhetoric that totally turns off a bit chunk of the electorate. Is anyone paying attention to why Trump is so popular?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/23/2016 - 11:24 am.

      Well…

      “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like I personally have any responsibility for things that were done 100 years ago by people to whom I am not even remotely related.”

      This isn’t actually about YOU. It’s about something your government did historically, remember slavery was enshrined in the US Constitution.

      YOU are making it about YOU, don’t blame that on the advocates of reparations, they are not responsible for your egocentricity.

      Reparations are a real thing, they exist and they’be paid before, it’s one way of holding governments responsible and accountable for systemic injustice. And beyond slavery we have to remember the Feds stood by and watched Jim Crow emerge and rule the south for until the early 1960s, so this isn’t just about the olden days.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 03/19/2016 - 09:50 am.

    It is hard to move forward when you hold on to things that happened 200 years ago. The “no money” for education is not true. Students in the MPS system are getting over $20,000 per student per year with a large percentage of the students being minorities. The solution is changing MSP into smaller districts with their own school boards made up of concerned parents not career community organizers. Get some competition going inside the a relatively small area where students can use the power of their $80,000 for grades 9-12 to force changes that the MSP refuses to make. Money talks and BS walks, a group of 12 kids has a million dollars to spend on grades 9-12, use it to make changes.

    I won’t even get into minority funding for businesses or the many other programs already set up to help. At some point you have to take responsibility for your life and made changes that help you not just complain about the past.

  4. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/20/2016 - 11:32 am.

    Really

    I agree with Joe, what are these folks thinking and what world do they live in? Saying this about the 2 most expensive districts in the state. And criticizing the charters who get ~50% of that funding. It is amazing.

    “When it comes to the education crisis in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools there is no money, there is no funding, nobody can come up with any solutions,”

    As for causation and reparations: Now it is terrible that African Americans were brought here against their will, abused, worked, violated and killed. And thankfully the USA ended this deplorable practice before 1870.

    Now my ancestors came here broke and speaking Norwegian sometime about then. They learned English, worked hard, made good choices and were pretty successful. My point is that blaming an event that occurred over 150 years ago for ones current state has got to be the most foolish thing I have heard of.

    70 years ago Germany and Japan were totally destroyed and now they are 2 of the most successful countries in the world. I think these folks should be looking inward instead of outward.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/21/2016 - 07:09 am.

      Silly logic

      I think reparations, if called such, are a nonstarter, but not for the reasons you cite. Mainly, I feel they’d simply reinforce the cycle of racism for an entirely new generation, and we certainly don’t need any further assistance with that. That said, the commonly used rhetoric, stated in full here “My ancestors weren’t even here, it was 200 years ago, not EVERYONE owned slaves et. al” is no less bunk for it. Citizenship includes the whole package, good and bad, one doesn’t get to choose which parts of our nation’s history to include as a feature of ones national identity. You enjoy all of the benefits being a citizen of this great nation provides, its ONLY natural that you are also on the hook for all the harm our nation has caused as well. (Note this applies not just to African Americans but to ALL the ethnic minorities our nation has foolishly trampled over the centuries). I certainly think our Scandinavian ancestors would view that as a fair trade off. Aid should be rendered, how we do that without inciting rage in those folks prone to such emotions is an open question.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/21/2016 - 10:44 am.

        Sins of the Past

        I am fine acknowledging the sins of our past, however at some point the victims need to accept that it is in the past, start planning for the future and living in the present.

        The recipe for success in America is pretty simple if you have the self discipline:
        – Work hard in K-12 and treat people with respect.
        – Graduate High School with good grades.
        – Work hard, learn and treat people with respect. Either at a job, tech school or college.
        – Live below your means, save and invest.
        – Do not have kids until you are married, stable and mature.
        – Only have as many children as you can afford.

        Now doing this is a lot harder than it sounds given all the temptations in our modern society and that during many of the stages the person is usually pretty immature… And that is when a strong consistent Parent(s) are so important.

        ““Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”” Leo Tolstoy

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/21/2016 - 12:00 pm.

          The past is current

          When nothing was ever done to redress the harm caused, or the harm that came after. When that’s complete, then it can be left in the past. As to the rest of your usual laundry list, get back to us when you find your perfect world, where everything goes as planned. I’m sure life is much easier there, back here in the real world we’ll continue addressing the sling and arrows to befall those who lack your “perfect” blueprint for a wonderful life, and those whom follow it to a tee, yet still find themselves on wrong side of the ledger of success.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/21/2016 - 01:22 pm.

            Simply not so…

            “When nothing was ever done to redress the harm caused, or the harm that came after.”

            I would support if you focused on “successfully done,” as seems more to the point. Even success is not a shared conclusion, here, or in many other civil issues.

            Gotta keep trying, though, and working through the “noise” and distractions of grudge groups.

          • Submitted by Michael Hess on 03/21/2016 - 04:43 pm.

            exageration

            “perfect” blueprint for a wonderful life is a gross overstatement. The comment above basically says stay in school, treat people with respect and dont’ become a parent before you are ready. This should not be a high bar.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/21/2016 - 06:24 pm.

              He says a lot more than that

              Per usual, when the “social engineering” comes from the right, or when it’s used as a means to blame the victim for their plight, some quarters find it far more palatable. Were life so simple (and less fraught with terrible luck for so many) perhaps this “blueprint”,perfect or otherwise, might serve as the be all end all to achievement. As it’s not, it doesn’t serve as anything more than condescension from on high, “look at me, I did it THIS way, what’s wrong with YOU?”. That and as a way to morally justify ignoring the nagging guilt one feels,(well at least those with some semblance of a conscience remaining) when one looks back on one’s life and realizes all the many ways it could have gone off the rails, to realize that all that separates oneself from those lesser “others” is pure, unadulterated, luck. It’s not exaggeration when one understands the entire worldview of a good portion of our society to be founded on myth, that nothing but their own determination and merit decides their fate, to point out that the world is far more complex than this simple minded optimism is far from hyperbole. If that were the case there would never have been such a scourge as slavery to require the need for reparations, and there would be no poor to aid.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/22/2016 - 12:12 am.

                Actually

                It seems to me that most government driven “social engineering” comes from the Left. And as we can tell from this chart it has been very effective in a bad way,
                http://www.familyfacts.org/charts/205/four-in-10-children-are-born-to-unwed-mothers

                The days of free love and easy welfare payments seem to have decimated the 2 Parent households where they are needed most. This unfortunate for the children in these households.

                And no I do not feel superior to these folks, I have made wrong choices in my past. I just know it is much better to help them via charities that require improvement efforts from them. And that is who I give a lot of money to. Just writing them checks via the government bureaucrats will just keep enabling them to stay on the wrong path and likely enable them to continue the cycle with more children.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/21/2016 - 06:55 pm.

              Excellent Comment

              At one point I believe that was deemed the normal blue print. As for the consequences of not following the recipe. Here is some data.
              http://www.familyfacts.org/charts/329/poverty-rates-are-higher-among-single-mother-families-regardless-of-race

              As one of my readers asked today, ‘How does one not following the recipe make people who do follow the recipe responsible for helping to pay for the choices of the non-recipe followers?’

              It is a good question that I do not have an answer for…

  5. Submitted by miki polumbaum on 03/22/2016 - 05:01 am.

    Reparations– Throwing money at the problem(s) isn’t the answer:

    If any kind of reparations are to occur at all, the best reparations of all would be to dismantle the ghettoes here in the United States and work towards more integrated housing. That, in itself, would promote racial equity, because racially/ethnically/socioeconomically integrated neighborhoods would mean integrated schools(thus eliminating the need for things like large-scale, cross-city Federal Court-mandated school busing edicts, which, all too often, have further pitted people of the different races and classes against each other, because it’s all too often consisted of mixing the have-nots with the have-nots by busing kids across town from one failing school to another failing school.) Also, with integrated neighborhoods, everybody would receive better city/town services, and would learn awareness about each other.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/22/2016 - 08:33 am.

      The Challenge

      Being a Parent from the Robbinsdale school district, which is very diverse in most ways. Problems and challenges come with children from poorer families. (whatever their race) And most responsible higher income Parents who are not willing to sacrifice their children for the greater good are not willing to subject their kids to this. I mean why would they when they can move, open enroll or enroll in a school where the learning environment can be focused on learning, not security, disruptions, wide variations in academic capability, ELL, etc.

      We stayed because the girls loved it there, I thought Rdale did a good job and I like to fight for my community, unfortunately families like ours are in the minority. I mean look at the chaos in Eden Prairie where the Supt tried to diversify the schools….

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/22/2016 - 09:11 am.

      “De-construction”

      Yes, the goal seems broadly embraced now (actually, for decades), and that’s the rub. So many years of talk and opinion and political maneuvering; yet, here we are, perhaps more ghettoized, in part due to instant information (and disinformation) exchange.

      The question: How to “dismantle”?
      By physical replacement, legislative dispersion, social progression…how?

      We’ve tried two over the years, now working on the elusive mechanism of social progression.

      It seems the traditional “American” model of progression (move in, move up, move out) has become anachronistic somehow. Those who focus on that former model now may, themselves, be of little use in creating a newer and more equitably fluid mechanism.

      I certainly don’t know answers, myself, but do encourage those with better thinking with honest motivation and true dedication to the proposal.

      What could be a paradigm shift here?

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/22/2016 - 04:49 pm.

        Out of the Box

        My Out of the Box thinking is usually considered too extreme.

        Ultimately the babies, kids, teens need to be raised in a good home with qualified mature people to love, educate and provide positive role modeling. People who believe that the child can be successful no matter their income level or skin color. People who are willing to be a firm, consistent, helpful, loving, etc Parent/Coach and really work at it..

        So like driving a car, if you want to have a child you had better be able to pass “the test” and afford “the costs”.(ie insurance) And if you violate the rules of Parenting you will loose that privilege nearly immediately because that child’s needs are much more important than that adult’s wants.

        By the way, my Conservative readers freak out when I say that the Teachers would get to grade the Parents…. And the Liberal readers freak out at the idea that I consider being a Parent to be a privilege and not a right. I find both amusing because being a good Parent is one of the hardest things I have ever done and it is also one of the most important.

        Definitely more so than driving…

Leave a Reply