Geography of Race and Place
Season 2, Episode 3
Americans live in a landscape of race and space inherited from an earlier era. How do historical narratives about the places we call home shape our understanding of them? What is left out of those narratives? And how can new understandings spark movements that drive equitable economic development?
This week on the CitySCOPE podcast, in episode 3, we talk to Kirsten Delegard and Kevin Ehrman-Solberg about the Mapping Prejudice Project in Minneapolis, the first project in the country to gather a comprehensive count of racially-restrictive housing covenants in a regional housing market. Naomi Shachter and Arianna Blanco, students in the Spring IEDL, co-host the episode.
Kirsten Delegard, co-founder of Mapping Prejudice, and Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, Digital and Geospatial Director, along with a small team at the John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota, set out to unearth the complex past of their hometown not knowing how the story would end. They were soon joined by 3,000 volunteers in the region, who were inspired by public workshops about the project to get involved.
Tune in to learn about what they found and what happened next!
1. Mapping Prejudice project at the University of Minnesota libraries website
2. Kirsten Delegard refers to the book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It by Mindy Thompson Fullilove, read description and link to independent bookstore in New Haven where you can order here
3. Link to Minneapolis 2040 Plan
4. Read more about the rezoning in Minneapolis in article by Richard Kahlenberg, 2019, How Minneapolis Ended Single Family Zoning here
5. Photo credit: The Mapping Prejudice Project, the University of Minnesota Libraries
This is CitySCOPE.
A podcast from the Inclusive Economic Development Lab at the Yale School of Management.
Where we learn about what might be possible in our city by talking with others about what is happening in theirs.
Are we ready?
Elm City, what up?
Naomi Shachter (00:29):
Hi, I’m Naomi Shachter. I’m a first year MBA student at the Yale School of Management.
Ariana Blanco (00:34):
I’m Ariana Blanco; I just graduated from the Yale Graduate School with a Master’s in International and Development Economics.
Naomi Shachter (00:41):
Congratulations. This episode builds on the conversations Joy and Charlie had in Episode 2 about regional housing policy. Today we’ll be focusing on the geographies of race and place in American cities.
Ariana Blanco (00:53):
Can you tell me what you mean by race and place?
Naomi Shachter (00:56):
As you may know, we have this new research from Raj Chetty and his collaborators using tax and employment data to track all Americans born in the early 1980s, showing that where you live, your neighborhood and your zip code, can determine many things about your future from health to education and future income attainment. And in America, most of us live in places surrounded by people of our same race. Race and place overlap to such a degree that many neighborhoods with lots of opportunities and higher predictable outcomes tend to be whiter, while people of color, on average, live in neighborhoods with fewer resources. So race and place have this tremendous power over the course of our lives. And, as we’ll talk about today, the way this all lays out is not accidental. In fact, in many ways, we are all living within a landscape of race and place that was drawn many decades ago in a different era.
Ariana Blanco (01:48):
Got it. And following this in Episode 4 on education, we’ll discuss how the geography of race and place impacts segregation and inequity in public schools.
Naomi Shachter (01:58):
Today, our episode is going to revolve around the work of a group of public scholars in Minneapolis who did the Mapping Prejudice Project, where they’ve collected and mapped racial covenants. Part of what is so interesting to me about their work is they actually set out to change the narratives in the region from one where concentrated poverty and low income black and brown neighborhoods is the focal problem to be fixed, to a narrative that focuses attention on the huge investments, the white supremacy that underline the current geography of the city. I’ll let them introduce themselves.
Kirsten Delegard (02:27):
My name is Kirsten Delegard, and I’m one of the co-founders of the Mapping Prejudice Project. And we’re at the University of Minnesota in the Borchert Map Library there.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (02:36):
My name is Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, I’m one of the co-founders of the Mapping Prejudice project, and I’m currently serving as the project’s geospatial director.
Naomi Shachter (02:43):
Kirsten and Kevin, and the whole team at Mapping Prejudice have done fascinating work. From them, I learned many things about the historical role of structural racism, about public scholarship, about community engagement and shifting public narratives. Today, we’re going to get into all of those aspects of their work and more. We started our conversation with them sharing how they got interested in this project.
Kirsten Delegard (03:05):
I’m a third generation Minneapolitan. When I was 18, I left the city for 20 years and I became trained as a academic historian and then two decades after leaving, I returned home. That return to my hometown really gave me a fresh set of eyes on a lot of the dynamics about Minneapolis. Minneapolis likes to think of itself as a really visionary, progressive metropolis in a lot of ways. The city has been renowned through the decades for being really ahead of the curve on some really important public policy issues. But the city also has some of the highest racial disparities in the country. The work that we are now doing with Mapping Prejudice, for me, was really motivated by this frustration I had with my hometown about the way that people talked about these racial disparities as though they were somehow peripheral to the main story, which was of this incredibly successful progressive metropolis but, “Oh, by the way, it’s a terrible place to be a person of color.” I really wanted to use my training as a historian to give people some perspective, to shed some light on how we got to the place that we are today. That it’s not some kind of accident. It’s not an aside, but it was actually deliberately manufactured through explicit policies. We settled on racial covenants as a really powerful vehicle for illuminating the explicit nature, the deliberate dynamic of creating basically a city where white people have been allowed to hoard resources through the decades.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (04:49):
One of the reasons why I became involved in Mapping Prejudice and a lot of my initial interest was, I was a master’s student at the time in Geographic Information Science at the University of Minnesota. There was a real lack of interrogation around the praxis of data collection, where I think there is this mode that a lot of researchers fall into where once a project becomes a big data project, it almost becomes conceived of as neutral, like this neutral vehicle where we’re collecting and researching, and there’s not a lot of real interrogation in what work that data is actually doing and what work that data collection process is doing. Mapping Prejudice was, I thought, a really exciting vehicle that could flesh some of that out in a way that comparable projects that I was involved with at the time just weren’t really doing. And I wanted to know what’s the political work that a data-rich project like identifying and mapping racial covenants could do. How could this be a potential vehicle for community engagement, for community involvement, where the methodology of what we’re doing can be as if not more important than the quantifiable research project that emerges from the work.
Naomi Shachter (06:06):
Right away, you can see that Kevin and Kirsten are integrating so many of the interesting ideas we’re talking about in this series, from thinking about narrative shifts to community engagement and data.
Ariana Blanco (06:16):
But I think we need to back up a little bit. Does everyone know what racial covenants are?
Naomi Shachter (06:21):
I’ll let the experts explain.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (06:24):
Covenant just means a legally binding clause of a legal, notarized document. It’s just a clause in a property record in this case, it’s the warranty deed, the piece of paper that denotes ownership of a given parcel that restricts who can or cannot own, occupy that property. There is some variation there. Some of them, they only restrict ownership. Some of them have exceptions for domestic servants for example. We’ve seen that in quite a few properties. Once that line is in there, it tracks with the land and not the owner and not the structure. What that means in practice, the example I usually give is, if in 1910 I put a racial covenant on a property, 10 years later I sell it to a white person, 10 years after that, they sell it to a white person. 10 years after that, they sell it to somebody who isn’t white. So that last buyer and that last seller, I’ve never met them, this is several generations removed at this point. But since I was the initial granting party, since I was the first person to add that restriction, I have legal standing to sue the person who is trying to sell the property now for breach of covenant.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (07:33):
There’s also an enforceable reentry clause attached to these, which means I can seize the property. The property reverts to me, the initial granting party. Whoever’s trying to sell it would lose any equity they’ve accumulated, they would of course lose the property itself. Depending on the covenant, and depending on the time the Supreme Court also strengthened these restrictions by allowing neighbors’ legal standing to sue when a covenant is breached - that happened a lot in Washington DC. There are quite a few cases, successfully upheld, where you had neighbors sue because somebody tried to sell to somebody who isn’t white. Structurally, these restrictions are just incredibly powerful because they track with the land, not the house, not the owner. It doesn’t matter if the owner dies. The owner’s legal heirs or assigns would have legal standing to sue for, again, breach of contract if five sales down the line somebody tries to sell it to someone who isn’t white.
Kirsten Delegard (08:25):
They really are used in every community across the United States. We haven’t found really any place that does not have racial covenants embedded in the property records.
Naomi Shachter (08:36):
One thing we should note about Mapping Prejudice’s work is that it’s really setting the standard for research on covenants. They are the first group of researchers to actually set up and comprehensively count and geolocate all the covenants in their region from the first one to the last.
Ariana Blanco (08:50):
Wow, I’d heard about racial covenants, but I didn’t realize that they were so durable and widespread.
Naomi Shachter (08:55):
That’s a lot of what they’ve uncovered in Minneapolis; not just the existence of covenants, but how they spread and their dramatic scale and scope. Thinking back to what we learned from Bob Shiller’s work on economic narratives in Episode 1, we know that narratives have always been an animating force in human society across a lot of domains. One narrative that a lot of folks share is an idea that covenants or de facto segregation in cities is a result of reaction to the great migration and new African American communities appearing in Northern cities like Minneapolis, but that’s not the case. Their research has allowed them to put together a more correct story and show us how covenants were really a product of what Kirsten calls racial terror at a time when the black population was actually quite small.
Kirsten Delegard (09:39):
The standard narrative is that racial covenants were one of many tools, including white violence, real estate steering, that were used as a response to the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. I think maybe it wasn’t intentional, but over the years, this story has almost been told in… this was a unfortunate but understandable reaction to a massive demographic change. Finding in Minneapolis that the first covenant was inserted into the property record here well before there was any great number of African Americans. Because African Americans didn’t start coming to Minneapolis until really after World War II, so many decades actually after covenants were put into place, that really upends that story and makes us revisit this question of why, when there are only 2700 African-Americans in a big city, why these would even be perceived as necessary.
Kirsten Delegard (10:44):
1910 was the apex in some ways of racial terror in the United States, of intensifying racial conflict. We know that American cities at this moment all over were really being seen through the lens of race in a new way so that land use policies were being deployed to segregate cities that were not terribly segregated up until that time. But the things that were driving it were not necessarily a demographic change. It was the creation of new professional organizations of real estate professionals who were getting together and figuring out what’s best practices. It was this broader context of racial terror which right around the same time you have a wave of race riots, most notably in Springfield, Illinois, that led to the NAACP. You have a sharp rise in the number of lynchings in this period. To me it really repositions racial covenants as coming out of that climate of racial terror, of racial violence, rather than some kind of, I don’t know, dry, legalistic sort of response to property values talk.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (11:56):
One of the driving ideas behind Mapping Prejudice has always been exploding this bifurcation between the North and the South and how they’re perceived in relation to specifically the Jim Crow era of racial segregation and white supremacy. Christians, I mentioned earlier in this, the popular narratives, so to speak, in Minnesota has for a long time been that this is the progressive liberal bastion of the Midwest and structural racism is a Southern thing. Sure, there may have been some racists in Minneapolis or Minnesota, but it was individual. It wasn’t organized in the same way that it was in the South. When you look at the temporality of racial covenants in Minneapolis, it really just blows that up. Because the popular narrative of racial covenants being used as this reactionary tool where a black family moves in, neighbors get upset, and then they organize at the super local level to do something about it, that happened.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (12:58):
There were cases like that in Minneapolis that resulted in violence, but that’s not what was driving racial covenants. What was driving racial covenants was the real estate industry and this normalization of the idea that states needed to be white to have any value at all. That was done very preemptively in Minneapolis. That was done before the black population was over 1% of the city’s total. I mean, it’s not until, again, as Kirsten mentioned, after World War II and really the 1970s where the black population starts to get above 1, 2% of the city’s total. Having said that, why are there 30,000 racial covenants that are embedded in the landscape that are outnumbering actual black people by, 10 to 1 or 20 to 1 or whatever the fraction is? And that is an intentional structural drive to ensure that as the city grows in the 20th century, as it expands, that expansion is reserved exclusively for white people. It is structural racism. It doesn’t result in the whites only signs that you see in some Southern states, but it’s as, if not more, devastating when you look at the material impacts of what happens when you shut out an entire segment of the population from being able to purchase homes for the better part of a century. I think that’s why you’re looking at covenants in relation to the narratives around the Great Migration matters. Because if you view these things as strictly this kind of localized reactionary thing, you’re grossly undercounting the damage, the structural damage, the structural impact that racial covenants had on the ability of non-white families to accumulate wealth through home ownership.
Kirsten Delegard (14:36):
Also I think, looking at the chronology of racial covenants in this new light, for me as a historian too, it repositions racial covenants as part of the larger history of the State of Minnesota, which is that of genocide against Native Americans. I mean, Minnesota was the site of one of the largest battles of the Civil War, which was the US-Dakota War which resulted in the exile of the Dakota people from Minnesota. That was a law, that was a structural response to make space that was once multiracial into space that’s just all white. That happened in the 1860s when Minneapolis was becoming a city and racial covenants are put into place in 1910. To me, it’s a continuation of these earlier statewide policies rather than a departure. In some ways, it’s a new way of thinking about urban space, but it follows very closely on 19th century policies around race and land use.
Ariana Blanco (15:41):
Put into this larger historical narrative, I can see how covenants show structural racism throughout the country, and especially in the North. When we talk about race and place, they really show that space isn’t neutral and it isn’t accidental, but created through tools like these on purpose.
Naomi Shachter (15:57):
Yeah. We even see the role of narratives in history that racial terror in the 1910s was a nationwide phenomenon, not just a Southern one. And through practices like housing covenants, the underlying racism and enduring material impact of that era are still visible today.
Ariana Blanco (16:13):
These covenants and their impact sound like something I’ve learned before - redlining. How are housing covenants and redlining related to each other?
Naomi Shachter (16:21):
There’s been an increasing body of work on redlining, which is important. But Kirsten and Kevin’s work shows that it’s only part of the story.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (16:29):
It’s important when talking about redlining to make a distinction. Redlining, at this point, colloquially, I think means any sort of institutionalized discrimination in the realm of housing based on race. And frankly, how people talk about redlining more generally often encompasses what covenants we’re doing. Historically, redlining has a bit more of a specific connotation, which is the HOLC maps that were produced in the 1930s. HOLC, the federal new deal program that provided mortgage assistance for really only a few years, was founded in 1933. By the early 1940s, it had been completely subsumed into the FHA, the Federal Housing Administration. Those specific maps, which resulted in the term of redlining, because they were color-coded maps, and areas that work shaded in red were considered risky and were ineligible for HOLC funding, those particular maps were only in effect for less than a decade, and they were only created for around 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. The direct impact of redlining, as expressed through HOLC, was fairly limited, at least in temporal scope. The ideas being put forward by HOLC, the idea that the quality of space and the level of financial risk of space has to do with the racial category of that area’s occupants. I mean, that is certainly institutionalized through the FHA and continues to have a huge impact on the housing market. But what covenants are doing is kind of the inverse in a lot of ways of what the redlining policies of HOLC are doing, where that is attempting to assign risk to prevent people who are deemed risky from securing financing to purchase homes. Covenants are ensuring that space becomes white and it’s illegal for you to live there unless you are white.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (18:17):
So it’s kind of this one, two punch. And the way that this often plays out spatially is that the inner parts of cities, and this is certainly true in Minneapolis, these are the areas that are redlined. It’s just impossible, essentially, for anybody to get a mortgage or any sort of financing to purchase in that area. The areas around the redlined parts of the city, so the city’s extremities as well as the first ring suburbs, these are where the racial covenants are going. So it’s impossible for you to legally own or occupy one of those parcels if you’re not white. A big chunk of the city, impossible for you to get a loan. The remainder of the city, impossible for you to legally live there if you’re not white. This just greatly reduces the amount of space where people who aren’t whites are able to, A, secure financing and, B, find a place where they can legally live.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (19:05):
When you only look at redlining, you’re really underrepresenting the amount of structural barriers that are preventing people [who are] not white from being able to purchase property. Covenants, in this way, are conferring this incredibly powerful materialized privilege for people who are white. Through some additional work that we’ve done we’ve found that areas that are covenanted are overperforming city median by around 15 percentage points, which equals, in Minneapolis it’s like 25, $30,000. While redlined areas are underperforming by about 25 points. This question of, where on the map? What’s your grandparent’s home? Two identical properties - if one’s redlined and another one is racially covenanted, the difference between those two is based on median value today, normalizing for structural characteristics, the answer to that question, is worth about $100,000. So it’s incredibly important that you look at redlining in conjunction with racial covenants, because otherwise you’re just undercounting the material impact that these discriminatory policies had.
Kirsten Delegard (20:06):
Covenants set the stage for redlining. Covenants created the neighborhoods that were then systematically starved of capital. You couldn’t have had the second chapter of this cascading set of practices around housing without the first. Because in Minneapolis, what we found is that the city was not particularly segregated when covenants were put into place. African Americans in particular were living all over the city. It would have been very difficult to isolate certain neighborhoods based on race if you hadn’t had this sorting mechanism first and covenants are just one part of that, obviously. I think the other problem with the overemphasis on redlining, redlining is so elegant. It has these very visually-arresting maps that have now been uncovered for so many cities, but it implies that the federal government was the entity that was responsible for segregating cities and creating inequality. The federal government played a large role in that, but there’s a lot of blame to go around for that process. It really obscures the fact that it was the private real estate industry that created this classification system and actually engineered the segregation, which was then adopted by the federal government, that it was really this partnership. And that really helps to explain too why these patterns of inequality and segregation have been so persistent even after federal legislation has been enacted to make illegal some of these practices. They’re still so deeply embedded in every aspect of the housing industry. It’s not something that was imposed from on high, it bubbled up from below. I think that’s also really important. This emphasis on red-line is important, but it really oversimplifies the story.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (22:02):
I think it’s also important to think through covenants because covenants, as Kirsten mentioned, are effectively ground zero for intentionally, systematically, racially segregated space. It’s important, I think, to denaturalize this idea of racial segregation and property valuation just writ more broadly. That was a constructed idea. Our cities have not always been profoundly segregated. There have not always been these widely divergent property valuations based on race of a given neighborhood. It took a lot of work to really institutionalize that idea. I mean, it took newly nationalized professional class, the real estate agent, to comprehensively lobby for these things. It took countless real estate developers to comprehensively buy into this idea and artificially naturalize this idea through the process of putting countless covenants in cities across the United States. It was only through that the idea of redlining as this federal policy was able to take hold by leaning on this work that covenants did initially. But if we want to fundamentally or materially deconstruct segregation and wealth inequality in our cities today, I mean, we have to figure out how these ideas were engendered initially. Covenants are the keystone of that arch of inequality, which is why I think it’s important to not just stop the story at redlining.
Kate Cooney (23:34):
I’ve also heard you talk about, it locates the problem in a different place as well, in that what redlining does is focus all our attention on spaces where communities of color live and what the focus on covenants does is shift the focus in an important way.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (23:52):
Yeah. I can’t remember who did the quote. Do you remember, Kirsten, who said “Whatever the urban problem is, the solution has always been move black people?”
Kirsten Delegard (24:00):
Yeah, it’s Mindy Fullilove. She wrote in Root Shock, which is all about the trauma associated with displacement. Yeah. Every problem it’s like, “Well, it’s the black neighborhoods again. That’s where we got to focus the problem.” Instead of, “What’s the deal with these intensely, aggressively white neighborhoods,” where people are very intent on continuing to hoard resources of one kind or another. All under this race blind rhetoric of property values as though that’s somehow a neutral value. Once you start seeing this discourse around property values and this history, you just can’t see that as race-blind anymore. I think for a lot of people, that’s the power of racial covenants. Actually reading these documents, it peels the scales away for a lot of people who know intuitively that there’s all kinds of racial dynamics in these debates over neighborhoods, and property values, and land use policies. But they can’t quite pinpoint where it is unless you understand this history. And as Kevin said, unless you understand how the system was constructed.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (25:10):
Now that we’re close to complete with the distribution of racial covenants and in Hennepin County, the vast majority are not located in Minneapolis. The ones that are in Minneapolis tend to be really around the city margin. The majority of covenants are going in first, second, third ring suburbs and including rural areas. We found quite a few that are going onto what’s called unplatted land. Before municipal lots are even drawn, when it’s still multi-acre farm sites, we’re still finding racial covenants attached to those properties, which was incredibly surprising; areas that are actually still rural today. I don’t know if that was because they anticipated some development that never happened or what the deal with that is. I think it’s a critically understudied part of this larger story of black home ownership and the lack thereof where if you are only looking at cities, you are greatly restricting yourself to these particular geographic distributions.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (26:05):
Yeah, this is one of the problems with the overreliance on redlining. If you only have 100 maps, and they’re only there for the largest cities, the story of race becomes the story of race in these 10 large cities and just winds up, by default, ignoring what’s going on in all of these suburban and rural areas. That’s part of the brutal efficiency of racial covenants is that you don’t have to wait for the federal government to decide, “Okay, we’re going to create this specific new policy for this specific geography.” All you need to do to racially restrict land is to add a sentence in your warranty deed. That’s it. It’s very, very, very easy, and it’s incredibly powerful, in many ways more powerful than redlining. Like HOLC can change their policy, you don’t need to have an election or something for that to happen, to remove a covenant that took multiple Supreme Court rulings at the state federal level combined with national legislation and state legislation to end the process of racial covenants. Because they’re recorded in these legal instruments, because they’re recorded in the warranty deed, the longitudinal impact of these covenants is just so, so great. I think the idea that suburbs are kind of let off the hook when it comes to the dynamics of race, privilege, discrimination, and segregation, I think that’s true. And I think that’s true in large part because the data isn’t necessarily there, so scholars, researchers, we work with what we have. Racial covenants allows you to root those disparities in something material and intentional. I think that’s a very powerful way to inject some accountability, to generate some political momentum for contemporary policies that try to redress some of these historical wrongs in these areas that often like to think of themselves as race-neutral.
Kirsten Delegard (27:53):
Yeah. I think it’s important to recognize that racial covenants were tools of displacement, not only within cities, not only within the boundaries of a city like Minneapolis or St. Paul, but all over the state and in small towns. It was very interesting to me when the Minnesota state legislature passed a law making it easier for Minnesota homeowners to do what’s called discharging the covenants from their deeds without going to court. One of the people who spoke on behalf of this legislation was a legislator from very rural Minnesota who said that his house in Pequot Lakes had a racial covenant on it. And that convinced him of the importance of this to everyone in the state. In looking at the biographies of individual families that we’ve studied here in Minnesota, we often find that, especially in the early 20th century, families are being basically forced out of smaller towns across Minnesota. They come to Minneapolis thinking that it’s going to be a more welcoming environment and maybe it is, but covenants are following on their heels and reconfiguring these urban spaces too.
Naomi Shachter (29:03):
Before talking to Kirsten and Kevin, I had no idea the scope of covenants and how pervasive and powerful they really were.
Ariana Blanco (29:10):
Yeah. When we think about shifting the narrative, seeing the role that covenants played really shifts the lens from just one set of HOLC decisions to a systematic creation of white and nonwhite spaces across the country.
Naomi Shachter (29:21):
That’s definitely what they hoped might happen. That when the community learned this story, people might be open to new courses of action to act more boldly to undo these legacies. But as we’ve mentioned, not all of this was clear when they started. They knew they wanted to study covenants in Minneapolis, but they did not initially set out to map them all. And as the first to try to map all these covenants, they were not even sure what they would find.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (29:45):
We were certainly the first project that has intentionally, deliberately, and methodologically found a way to identify and map racial covenants at a comprehensive scale. Prior to our project, folks would look at a particular area of a city or a particular subdivision, try to figure out what’s going on there. Or it would be more of a representative sample where they would look at some percentage of the deeds and from that try to extrapolate what the total amount of restricted land would be.
Kirsten Delegard (30:12):
The only way to do it is to read through every property deed that has ever been registered with the county. Early in the process, Kevin did some calculations to figure out how long that would take. He calculated that if he read deeds for 40 hours a week, it would take him 20 years to read through all of our property records, just in Hennepin County, which is not one of the biggest counties in the country. It gives you a sense of the scale and why no one has ever done this for any American city before.
Naomi Shachter (30:45):
So obviously Kevin did not spend 20 years reading through each of the deeds. Instead, Kirsten and Kevin worked with community volunteers. They could have tried to get a grant or hire a bunch of research assistants, but they understood intuitively that the impact of this project would be amplified by allowing the community to engage directly with the work itself.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (31:05):
We knew we wanted to do something with covenants, and that was kind of as specific as we had gotten. The idea of crowdsourcing, the idea of opening our project in the precise ways that we did was a result, in a lot of cases, of community feedback, of people approaching us saying, “We want to be involved. We want to help map these things. I want to know where covenants are in my own personal geography. It’s not good enough for me to just read a few deeds. I want to know exactly how this shaped the area that I grew up and I want to know how this shaped the trajectory of the neighborhood that I live in today.”
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (31:34):
To answer those questions, we had to come up with a way of comprehensively identifying and mapping these racial restrictions at a scale that, frankly, we had no intention whatsoever of doing when we initially started the project. Being receptive and able to iterate the initial idealized research model in response to stated community need, that really engendered the buy-in, made people want to participate, made people want to take some ownership, made people want to stake some claim in the work that we’re doing. By building that network, I think that’s how this work continues to live on even once the initial mapping process is done.
Kirsten Delegard (32:11):
Kevin talked about people wanting to know certain, very specific things. Them being invested in the research process because they were driven by certain questions, “What about my neighborhood? What about my house? What about the neighborhood where my parents grew up?” But some of the drive there came from the fact that we didn’t know the answers. It’s almost like the cardinal rule of narrative storytelling; we didn’t know the end. It’s the opposite of how a lot of research projects are done, where you have your findings and you’re trying to bring them out to community and disseminate them and say, “Here we go, we got it all figured out. Here’s the answer.” Instead, we were really on this process of exploration together, and I’m thinking about a serial podcast where the investigative journalist is bringing listeners along through the investigative process. And you really don’t know what the outcome is. You don’t know what the answer is. And a lot of times I felt like building this map together with community was a lot like that process. We didn’t know where the bodies were buried, so to speak. We didn’t know where the covenants were embedded and people were on the edge of their seat waiting to see the next iteration of the map to find out where else these covenants would show up. That’s part of, I think, that narrative tension, was part of what drove the project forward for three years of pretty hard work. I don’t think we could have sustained that level of community interest if we knew the answers at the beginning.
Naomi Shachter (33:46):
Kevin and Kirsten worked alongside 3,000 volunteers.
Ariana Blanco (33:50):
Naomi Shachter (33:52):
Not just to get the work done, but as a way of creating scholarship that is on the one hand co-produced with the community, and on the other hand, shifts over time so as to remain relevant and salient for the audiences they engage with, and not just sit on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.
Kirsten Delegard (34:08):
I have, for many years now, been really fascinated with this motivation that I feel to tap into this deep community expertise. That stems from a couple of places. One, I’m fascinated by if you just listen to people, community members, the neighbors, what they teach you about some very complicated issues. But I think a lot of research to do work in the world, not just to lie fallow in a library, not just to be in a journal somewhere read by other people in your subfield. People have to feel like they have had a hand in creating the project. That’s been an obsession of mine, I would say, for 10 years. How do you do complicated, valuable research work that really makes a contribution in terms of answering thorny questions, but also involve as many people as possible in the process. That was what was driving me. I’m not someone who comes naturally to technology. I’ve embraced technology that we use in Mapping Prejudice out of this desire to bring as many people as possible into this work. It’s one thing to talk about structural racism, or racial covenants, or even the history of discriminatory housing practices or policies in a theoretical way, in a one-way delivery where you lecture to people or explain the problem to people. It’s another thing for them to be reading the primary sources for themselves. And that was my vision that I took out of a more traditional classroom setting and wanted to apply to a community setting, to get as many people as possible to read these particular primary sources, these racial covenants. The language of those legal documents is so, I would say, jarring for modern ears. I knew that there could be some transformative work that would come out of reading those primary sources.
Kirsten Delegard (36:10):
It’s wanting people to engage directly with the primary sources in a way that I felt would be productive, but wanting the most people possible to do that. Hence our use of this Zooniverse platform which, in Hennepin County, it allowed us to recruit more than 3,000 volunteers to read more than 100,000 property deed images and contribute 14,000 hours of labor to this work.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (36:37):
This question of, how do projects like this continue to have relevance and salience upon completion? Once all the data has been collected, it gets deposited in an archive, in our case in the University of Minnesota libraries. How does that not just disappear? I think that the answer to that has a lot to do with the idea of ownership and thinking critically about that. By opening the project up in the way that we did, we’ve established this huge network of buy-in to the work that we’re doing. I think our ability to really leverage that also has to do with the idea of shared authority, where in academic projects like this, there’s certainly more interest in doing community-engaged scholarship at this point. I’ve seen a notable change over the last five years even. But a lot of times what that winds up looking like is researchers approaching community members with this very predefined research agenda where the community engagement work, so to speak, is essentially trying to convince other people that the work that I’m doing is relevant to their lives and they should care about that. It’s this didactic model that reproduces the researcher subject bifurcation. But a lot of times people just don’t care about the questions that you’re asking and how you’re going about it, right?
Naomi Shachter (37:58):
This is one of Mapping Prejudice’s big accomplishments. They didn’t just do novel scholarship about covenants in Minneapolis, but they approached working with the community in a whole new way that allowed them to accomplish more and co-create to give their project more buy-in. Ariana, what’s the first thing you do when you look at a map?
Ariana Blanco (38:17):
I look for the, you are here star.
Naomi Shachter (38:20):
Exactly. I think we use maps in particular to locate ourselves in space and sometimes in time. They’re almost inherently personal. By working with all of these community members, each one got to locate themselves in the history. And Kirsten and Kevin were so intentional about learning from community members too and really making the project something that was created together.
Ariana Blanco (38:42):
But this history wasn’t newly uncovered for all residents of the city, right?
Naomi Shachter (38:46):
Right. As Kirsten and Kevin hosted workshops around the region with a lot of different audiences, they soon learned that for communities of color, the reaction to this project can be complex.
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (38:56):
The reaction we’ve gotten to our work, it’s complicated. I would say in general it’s been positive. One thing that became very clear very quickly is when we talk about community engagement, community is not a monolithic entity. There are a large number of communities in the immediate area of Minneapolis who have varying levels of interest in our work. I would say, writ broadly, white audiences tend to be shocked. It’s shock followed by, “We have to do something,” tends to be how those conversations go. You hear a lot of, “I had no idea. I grew up in that area, I never thought about why it was so white. Wow! These documents are incredibly racist even though you told me what was going on, once I read these deeds, it did something cognitively that made this feel more real.”
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (39:41):
We’ve had some belligerent denial, but that’s been pretty minor. I mean, I had been yelled at before while presenting that we’re doing this wrong and these things aren’t real. A nice rejoinder to that is, you can actually go to our website and look at as many deeds as you like if you are questioning whether or not these documents actually exist in the world, but some folks just don’t want to hear this. We haven’t had too much of that. I think a lot of that has to do with self-selection. Those aren’t the people who want to show up to one of our transcription sessions necessarily. I would say in the black community specifically, the reaction is a lot more complicated. One of the main reactions is that this validates some form of lived experience that I have. We had one person say during a very early talk of ours where a young black woman who said, “I knew something was up my whole life and everybody has been telling me I’m crazy. You’ve given me quantifiable evidence to validate my lived experience.” Part of me is a little frustrated that, why do we need quantitative evidence? Why, isn’t your experience enough? I think some people get upset by that, understandably so. But we do live in a world where an undue amount of weight is placed on empirically-derived data. If we can leverage that to reinforce and support people’s lived experiences, I want to do that. But we have also had a fair amount of criticism from black communities where it’s, “We know this problem exists, we’re tired of being researched. What are you going to do about it? This isn’t news to us. Some of the specificity of what you’re doing might be new, we didn’t know exactly which lots or which neighborhoods had the most restrictions, but yeah structural racism is real. This has impacted our ability to accumulate wealth through home ownership. We got that. We’ve known that for a long time. What are you going to do next?”
Kevin Ehrman-Solberg (41:24):
And one of those things that we just had to come to an understanding of was that there’s no correct way to present this work that’s going to make everybody happy. That just can’t be done. I think misrecognition is a condition of white supremacy, and as white researchers talking about white supremacy, that’s just part of it. You can really debilitate yourself, I think, if you keep waiting to like, “Oh, if I can just frame this more accurately, I won’t get any pushback.” I think it’s good to have some pushback. Meaningful work is often disruptive and often disruptive in ways that might be uncomfortable for us. But I think that’s fine. I’ve just come to a point where I think if our work validates your lived experience, that’s great. And if you’re pissed that some white researchers at the U are getting money to research why you don’t own a home and you’re upset about that, I think that’s valid too. So being able to think through all of that, for me, as long as this work continues to be oriented towards meaningful material, racial justice reparations, I’m cool with all the disruptive pushback, whatever that looks like.
Kirsten Delegard (42:34):
One of the things that I hope that we have learned in doing this work is the importance of continuing to listen. As Kevin said, when we do get pushback, that’s not a bad thing. That is a good thing that helps us grow and move forward and improve what we’re doing. Out of that back and forth, we’ve been able to form partnerships that we hope as we continue this work we will deepen those partnerships and really be able to, not only co-create a map, but co-create a way of creating more mobilizing narrative, creating more data that will push for real meaningful change. There are certain things that we can’t do on our own as white researchers from the U of M. So I’m going to use one example. We’ve had a partnership with a documentary filmmaker here at TPT who created this film called Jim Crow of the North, which was inspired in many ways by Mapping Prejudice. But it also is the story, I would say, of African American families in Minneapolis over time. Dan Bergin who’s the filmmaker, he’s a native son, he’s African American. That film really tells the stories of resistance as well as the story of white supremacy that we’re telling with Mapping Prejudice. To me, Jim Crow of the North is a good example of what we need to continue doing, which is making partnerships with people so that we can tell more complete stories so that this work doesn’t end up ultimately just replicating these relations of power that we’re trying to dismantle.
Ariana Blanco (44:12):
We watched the documentary for class too, it was fascinating.
Naomi Shachter (44:16):
If you’re interested, you can watch Jim Crow of the North online; we recommend it.
Ariana Blanco (44:20):
This has been one of the big lessons from Mapping Prejudice. When you think about community engagement, it’s never just one community, one way of engaging, or one reaction.
Naomi Shachter (44:29):
I think they show that so well. Being cognizant of the fact that communities are different and their reactions are different and valid, changes what it means to engage communities. But we haven’t even gotten to one of the biggest impacts their work has had so far.
Kirsten Delegard (44:43):
In December of 2018, Minneapolis became the first large city in the country to eliminate single family zoning. So on any property parcel in Minneapolis, you now can build at least a three unit building. And in some parts of the city you can build even more densely than that. That land use policy change was motivated by the same racial disparities that have driven Mapping Prejudice in the sense that the city, by enacting that very dramatic change, was trying to figure out how to change the regulatory structure in a way that would make it possible for there to be more safe and affordable housing, for there to be greater opportunities for home ownership, overall to address this housing shortage.
Ariana Blanco (45:33):
That’s an incredible change.
Naomi Shachter (45:35):
Yeah. It’s taking away the recommendations that David Schleicher makes and that Charles and Joy talk about in Episode 2 to a logical extreme.
Ariana Blanco (45:42):
Right. Were the folks at Mapping Prejudice also involved in this effort?
Naomi Shachter (45:47):
No, not really. Their efforts on research and mapping were just coincidentally perfectly timed with the city’s planning efforts.
Kirsten Delegard (45:53):
Mapping Prejudice and what’s called the 2040 Plan came together in something of a perfect storm. It was not intentional on either the planning department’s part or on our part that we would be operating in the same space. The process of disseminating the 2040 Plan, getting widespread support for it across the city and Mapping Prejudice both happened at the same time. We happened to give a talk on some of our very early research findings right when the city was embarking on this process. We went to City Hall and some of the people who were at that talk were the people who were the architects of the 2040 Plan. They immediately saw, in our data, the connection between what they were trying to do. One of the connections they made very early on is the fact that it was the very same year that Minnesota made racial covenants illegal, that Minneapolis first adopted single family zoning across the city. Again, we don’t have a smoking gun from a planner saying, “Okay, now racial covenants are done. We have to have some other kind of mechanism to keep these neighborhoods intact.” But the chronology is pretty damning there. And we do know that the zoning policies that were adopted and have been used for most of the last 50 years have basically frozen in time the patterns that were created by covenants. The planning team at the city immediately started using our data and incorporated our maps and our data into their… it was like a 430-page plan ultimately. There were many other parts of it; in no way were we the whole plan. So this plan, it completely engulfed the city. For a while, it was all anyone was talking about. There were lawn signs everywhere. It was every letter to the editor. There were huge community meetings that went on and on and on. The city got something like 16,000 online submitted comments. I mean, it was a huge deal. And in looking at the debate that happened, it was surprising, I think, to all of us, how central Mapping Prejudice became and how central covenants became to that whole debate. I really do think that it was something of an accident but we did provide a mobilizing narrative and data that pro-density activists and policy makers could use to really explain the moral urgency of these land use changes.
Naomi Shachter (48:29):
It’s so neat to see their research isn’t just engaging community, isn’t just starting conversation. But it’s also leading to real change for the city.
Ariana Blanco (48:37):
Yes, it’s all connected, that by working directly with folks, they were able to change narratives, open up new possibilities to create change.
Naomi Shachter (48:45):
But as researchers involved in documenting an important component of the architecture of racial inequality in the city, they remain agnostic about whether this policy is sufficient to reckon with the huge impact that covenants and other policies have had in upholding white supremacy.
Kirsten Delegard (49:00):
Certainly, the fact that the city was really trying to reform land use policies with a race equity lens, we were extremely supportive of that. But we were always a little queasy about the idea of just offering increased density up as the solution to this history of racial inequity. That was sort of the complicated dynamic. But when you talk to the people who were part of the planning process for this project, for the 2040 Plan too, they would say, “Look, we’re not offering this as a silver bullet. This is just the first step. We can’t have any more creative solutions if we don’t take the step of reforming the way people can use land in the city.” But I would say that our team has said that we want to make sure that the conversation doesn’t stop there. With the adoption of the 2040 Plan, that people are content to say, “Okay, we did our part. We did this revolutionary thing and we’re good now.” Because that’s been the history in Minneapolis that there’s a big debate, there’s something that gets the city a lot of attention across the country for being really seemingly very forward thinking. But then the material reality, the material conditions don’t change. As a historian, I’ve seen this again, and again, and again in Minneapolis. And I guess I feel like that’s the most urgent mission for us as a team is to make sure that people don’t forget that the material conditions have remained unchanged even though we have these new land use policies.
Ariana Blanco (50:26):
Think of how long these kinds of racially exclusive policies were in place. It makes sense that there would not be a silver bullet and to keep pushing for equity with those big goals in mind.
Naomi Shachter (50:35):
To that end, we asked Kirsten, what do you want the future to look like for Minneapolis? If you imagine Minneapolis in a generation from now, what you’d like to see, what you hear, what does it look like? What has Mapping Prejudice accomplished as part of that?
Kirsten Delegard (50:51):
The hard question. No, I mean, that’s the easy question actually in a lot of ways. I would like for my children to be raising their children in a city where race is not the number one determinant of your life trajectory, which it is now. I’m absolutely convinced that at the root of so many of these disparities is housing, which is why I feel that this work with Mapping Prejudice is so important. You can have these endless chicken and egg arguments about what comes first, what’s the most important thing to attack. But I’ve seen it again and again in both hearing contemporary stories and also looking at the history, that so many aspects of human welfare and well-being stems from whatever your housing situation is. That includes your ability to accumulate wealth, which of course opens the door for so many other things from access to education for your children, or just stability in your life in one way or another.
Naomi Shachter (51:46):
I think that’s a great place to leave it.
Ariana Blanco (51:48):
Thanks for inviting me to co-host today. Mapping Prejudice is providing such a great model for what public scholarship and civic engagement can look like to truly shift narratives and mobilize for change.
Naomi Shachter (51:58):
Many thanks again to Kirsten and Kevin. You can learn more about their work, see the maps, and read covenants at mappingprejudice.org.
Ariana Blanco (52:06):
We’ll continue the conversation about race and place in the next episode on education, where we look at the links between property tax and public financing for public schools. We learn about the trends in racial segregation, both within and between districts, and hear about a group of kids in NYC who are coming together to organize for change.
Naomi Shachter (52:25):
Join us next time on CitySCOPE.
This podcast was recorded in our homes on Zencastr.
Created by Kate Cooney and the students of the spring 2020 Inclusive Economic Development Lab class.
All engineering and projection by Ryan McEvoy and Kate Cooney.
Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administration support and to [Giana Montez 00:39:57] for assistance with Zoom.
Music from the album Elm City Trees composed and performed by the artist K Dub. For more information and show notes, visit our website at iedl.yale.edu.
Thank you for listening.
Look, I’m from a city that’s half pretty and half gritty. Ain’t too many cities rocking with the Elm City. Home of the blazers. Those were the days. When I played, all these fast breaks. We don’t need plays. We play on Sundays like we don’t need praise. We pressing all game like we don’t breaks. Look, no debate. Best team in the state. We flow like the Lakers back in ‘88. I learned to play crazy eights in the city that raised the kid that want to big. Like I want to be big. I really hate the way rap’s portrayed. I want to the kids in the Elm to see a different way. Because way back I knew that I would get some pay. Every day in the mirror trying to get some waves. I ain’t trying to push weight. I want to own estates. Putting on the state on my license plate. Elm City. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave.