A Tale of Two Cities

What happened to George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, Minnesota would not have happened in Atlanta, Georgia.

I know this like I know I’m a 63 year old, white woman who has lived in both places.  Technically, I live in St. Paul, but I can see Minneapolis from my front yard and the Twin Cities are called that for a reason.

Georgia has been in the news a lot lately and not in a good way.  I don’t want this blog to devolve into a critique of Brian Kemp, so I’ll assume you’ve been paying attention to all the news out of Georgia, including the murder of Ahmud Aubrey.

What Georgia doesn’t get enough credit for, however, are all the right things that happened as a result of desegregation in the 60’s.  My family moved to Atlanta in 1966 right smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement.  We rented a house in SW Atlanta off of Cascade Road.  White flight was just getting started in that neighborhood and more and more black families were moving into the middle-class homes on beautiful, tree lined streets.

Our neighbors included both Hank Aaron and Martin Luther King, Jr.  My playmates included the daughters of Atlanta Braves left fielder Mack Jones.  For the first time in my short life I went to school with black children.  And even at the young age of nine, I recognized that all of this was somehow new and different.

I was invited to a slumber party.  I overheard my mother on the phone and later talking to my dad about it.  The mother hosting the party called my mother to let her know that a black girl from my class, Marilyn, would be attending.  She just wanted my parents to know in case they had an issue with it.  Apparently, another girl’s parents wouldn’t let her come when they found out Marilyn was going to be there.  My parents, thankfully, didn’t see an issue with it at all and let me go.  It was my first sleepover and I had a blast.  Marilyn did too.  We became good friends over that year that we lived in SW Atlanta.

My parents were smart people.  And they didn’t tolerate bad behavior.  Over and over throughout my childhood I recall a simple but clear message.  We are not better or worse than anyone else.  Treat all people with kindness and respect.  Do not tolerate bullies or racists.  We are all equal.  And never, ever, ever let us catch you using the “n” word.  Ever.

I lived in and around Atlanta until 2016 when I packed up and relocated to the progressive bastion of the Twin Cities, Minnesota.  The differences between the two regions are too many to name.

But one of the first and the most stark things I noticed was the inequities between white people and people of color.  African Americans in the Twin Cities are in no way equal to their white counterparts.  In it’s defense, Minnesota is a pretty white state.  It was settled by Scandinavians and it shows up everywhere.

I came from one of the most diverse cities in the country.  I came from a place where black people had fought hard to advance in every way.  I came from a place where African Americans held the highest positions in city government and could control the narrative as it pertains to social and criminal justice.

African Americans in Atlanta live in nice neighborhoods, drive nice cars, attend good schools and are able to get good jobs.  The middle class is full of every shade of skin color.  It is so prevalent that you take it for granted.

Until you come to the Twin Cities.  Where people of color still live in the poorest neighborhoods and whose prospects of scraping their way into the middle class are pretty dim.

And where city governments and police departments are still run, for the most part, by white people.  Melvin Carter, Mayor of St. Paul, being a welcome and somewhat recent exception to that rule.

What Atlanta has shown us is that once people of color are in positions of power and influence, they are able to make their way out of poverty and oppression.  Atlanta isn’t perfect.  Racism is alive and well throughout the region.  There is still wide spread poverty among the black communities.  But what Atlanta seems to have that the Twin Cities doesn’t is hope.

A young, poor, black man in Atlanta can look to the police officers and political leaders of that city, the upwardly mobile friends and relatives who were able to get an education and a good job and he can see a way out.  While getting stopped by the cops would still be a scary experience, he is more than likely going to be stopped by another black man who might not be as eager to show him who has the power.

That same black man in Minneapolis or St. Paul does not have that same hope.  When he looks around he sees very few opportunities for advancement.  And very few role models to emulate.  And when he has contact with law enforcement he knows that his chances of equitable justice are sketchy at best.

I don’t know what George Floyd did or didn’t do on Monday that led to the police being called to the scene.  But I do know this – if he had been in Atlanta, he’d still be alive.