Published in Hunger Action Coalition Newsletter (St. Paul / Minneapolis, MN), January/February 1987, Page 2


By Larry Pinkney

Larry Pinkney is a former leader of the Black Panther Party. He is the only American to have received an official ruling from the UNITED NATIONS declaring that his civil, political, and human rights had been violated; and he is currently a Community Faculty Member at Metropolitan State University, in addition to his community work as Program Administrative Assistant and co-facilitator for the Personal and Community Empowerment Program in St. Paul, Minnesota. Pinkney is also a student at the University of Minnesota, studying International Relations, and has been politically active in the United States, Africa, and Europe.


Professor Charles V. Hamilton and political activist Kwame Ture have defined the term “racism” as meaning, “the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group.” With this definition in mind it is worth examining our communities, our state, and our country.

Having arrived in Minnesota, in 1984, I was continually told by many White Minnesotans that racism in this state is either minimal or virtually nonexistent. My experiences as a person of color poignantly tell me otherwise.

When examining racism it is of particular importance to look beyond the superficial; for racism is not only insidious but it is also pervasive and thus permeates every segment of society. Racism is not merely having racial insults yelled at you by teenagers in a passing car, as happened to me a short time ago as I was walking down a street in St. Paul. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, the individual and institutional aspects of racism that prompt and promote negative and stereotypical assumptions on the part of White people, which automatically relegate Black and other people of color, to a position of assumed inferiority. This assumed inferiority can be found within the ivory towers of academia, the councils of city government, or within the psyche of the cop on the beat. All too often, these negative and stereotypical assumptions on the part of White people towards people of color, have the most devastating psychological and physical consequences for the latter.

I have noted that many of my White Minnesotan acquaintances are quick to point to the racism in other parts of America, paying little heed to the very real racism here in Minnesota. In this vein, I was recently at a conference in Minneapolis, listening to an obviously sincere and eloquent White female speaker on the important topic of resisting the nuclear arms build-up. Unfortunately, this speaker emphatically said, “We must fight with all our being against the black doom of nuclear disaster!” This was obviously an unconscious but very devastating use of racist language in an otherwise urgent and much needed message; for doom, is neither black not white. Color should not be used to describe a horrid devastation, especially when that color represents an entire ethnic group on this planet.

When one looks past the liberal facade of Minnesota, it becomes clear that the examples of Randy Staten, Linda Johnson, and Ron Edwards are indicative of the double standards used in Minnesota to discredit and eliminate Black voices in this state from positions of influence, especially when these Blacks have a mind of their own. The case of Ron Edwards is perhaps the most blatant example of how Black people are kept in line in the liberal state of Minnesota. How much more so are the daily lives of the majority or ordinary and unknown Black persons affected by the sophisticated individual and institutional racism in Minnesota! When one examines the relations between the Black communities and the judicial and police systems in the Twin cities, one is forced to see that racism is alive and well in Minnesota. When one examines the daily treatment received by black people as we go about our business, it is inescapable that racism is alive and well in Minnesota on virtually every level of society. When one looks at the plight of the homeless and the hungry in Minnesota, it is clear that people of color are, along with increasing numbers of White people, feeling the brunt of ever growing despair and hopelessness. Racism is alive and well in Minnesota!

Ignoring these realities or choosing to pretend that such realities are not growing in this state, does nothing but exacerbate the problem. No amount of verbal or physical attacks, or discreditation activities against those who speak out against racism will solve or lessen the problem. Indeed, no amount of intellectual masturbation about how wonderful Minnesota is will deal effectively with racism in this state either! Only honest and forthright interaction will turn the tide of growing racism in Minnesota.

We would do well, the next time we hear about the rise of neo-Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, and racial killings such as the recent Howard Beach occurrence in New York, to ask ourselves what we are doing to make our own communities  a place where racism is neither taught nor tolerated. It is easier to pretend that it does not exist or to deprecate those who say it does. It is however, tougher, saner, and the course of wisdom to recognize racism for what it is, and in so doing lay the foundation for eradicating it.

Minnesota, like other states in this country, has positive potential. We cannot look to the present national leadership for forthright guidance in this area. We must look at ourselves. Yet looking at ourselves for leadership is not a bad thing, for, to paraphrase James Baldwin, “It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance totally without rancor, of life as it is, and people as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is commonplace. But this did not mean that I should be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins; however, in the heart and it now has been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.”

The time has come to stop hiding behind the facade of Minnesota liberalism and have the courage and determination to expose, face, and embark upon the path of eradicating racism in Minnesota. It won’t be easy, but surely it must be begun.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.