Stop Talking About Inequality and Do Something About It
This virus is poised to rip through black neighborhoods like mine.
MINNEAPOLIS — The 12-hour drive to Detroit is always a chore, but on the last day of March, the pandemic gave a sinister hue to even the most banal elements of a Midwest road trip. Every time we used a bathroom, grabbed a gas pump or bought a snack was an opportunity to get infected. Making things worse, Detroit was seeing an explosion of coronavirus cases.
My grandmother had just died unexpectedly at the age of 82 — raised on a farm in Louisiana, she had always been healthy; to me, she seemed indestructible. Nana raised us — not just my dad and uncles, but nearly the whole family. Skipping her funeral didn’t seem like an option.
Nana was so beloved. She could have easily packed Gesu Catholic Church under normal circumstances. Instead, we sat in the James H. Cole Funeral Home, a beautiful little spot near the Motown Museum, but not where I would have imagined having her funeral. All in attendance sat six feet apart and in every other row; nearly everyone wore a face mask. Funerals have, all of a sudden, become tricky — dangerous even.
As unusual as it all seemed, the history of Detroit could have helped you predict its future when it came to this crisis.
I hope it won’t surprise anyone to hear that Detroit has a history of racial violence — interpersonal, economic and institutional. The short version goes something like this: Black people began to make incremental economic and political gains; white Michiganders became incensed, fled as fast as possible into the surrounding area and bled the city for every drop of wealth on their way out. There’s more, but that’s really a story for native Detroiters to tell.
Quietly, on the north side of Minneapolis, sits one of those neighborhoods.
I represent Ward 5 on the Minneapolis City Council, but where I’m from, people just call it the Northside. The short version, again, goes like this: Our corner of the city has always been plagued by flooding and weak soils, so naturally, it’s where the city parked its “undesirable” populations. In the early part of the 20th century, that population was Jewish, then black, then Southeast Asian.