Reflections on Minnesota by a sixth-generation black Minnesotan

“Brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying / Who are they to judge us simply because our hair is long / Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me, so you can see…”

These prophetic words are excerpts from the lyrics of Marvin Gaye’s song, “What’s Going On?” The song was released in 1971 but could just as easily have been released in 2016. 

During the ensuing 45 years, no substantive or intentional transformation has occurred in our country. The state of Minnesota and our entire nation have never been able to address the cyclical nature of the racial fissures leaving us historically traumatized. 

The root problem of today’s deadly police force goes far beyond the unconscionable trigger-happy actions of any one police officer or, for that matter, any single police precinct. The problem is hundreds of years old, and it is one the state of Minnesota is long overdue to address. Minnesota has a long standing systemic and cyclical history of countless unaddressed and unhealed racial traumas that reach back to the birth of this nation. Minnesota’s racism has changed its face from decade to decade, but not its ugly core.

People in our society are suffering from the affliction of “historic amnesia.” Americans are robbed of any meaningful social or historical context for the interracial police abuse and violence routinely visited upon black, brown, poor and mentally ill Americans with seeming impunity. By ignoring this reality, inequity, injustice and violence will sadly remain the norm, just as it has been for all of our nation’s history.

Until black life is valued to the same extent white life is by members of law enforcement, the criminal justice community and by Minnesota elected officials, the question of legitimacy of the police and their actions will remain, particularly among black folks who are routinely stopped.

Regularly scheduled race and equality training should be mandatory for all law enforcement officers, all governing bodies, local, state and federal employees and every individual elected to hold public office.

History is about context. It’s about connecting the dots between the past and present, exposing true American history and making history accessible and relevant to a much broader audience. The goal of black history, descriptively synonymous with American history, is to expose the larger community to the rich heritage, culture, contributions and history of African Americans; doing so can eliminate the racial barriers that divide us as a nation.


Roxanne Givens

Minnesota Daily reader