Being Black in Minnesota: What White Folks Can Learn by Listening

As a 64-year-old white, Scandinavian Lutheran, I can hardly even imagine what it’s like to be a black person living in Minnesota, one of the whitest states in the nation.

Hallie at home

Hallie at home

When I’ve asked my black friends to describe our northern brand of racism, they tell me it’s beneath the surface. Buried under “Minnesota Nice.” 

 I never asked Hallie Hendrieth-Smith that particular question, but I did ask about her own experience with racism. She told me her parents had shielded their children by keeping them close to their rural, African American farming community, located outside of Selma, Alabama. 

“When I was a little girl . . . I was not aware of some of the negative kinds of things that were going on,” Hallie told me. “My parents were determined that we would not have a negative attitude,” she added. “And a lot of the things that were so close around me, I was surprised when I was a grown person to learn that these things were there! But when I asked my parents about it they said, ‘If we had told you and allowed you to experience all that, you would not have been able to move to where you are today.‘”  I thought that parenting strategy was absolutely brilliant.

 Hallie also mentioned several specific incidents during which she had to address racism personally. But it was her response to the question, “What do you do with your anger?” that stands out most. 

 “Ignore it,” began Hallie. “Don’t let it change you—it cannot change you if you’ve made up your mind that this is wrong.”  Later, she added, “I just don’t think white America can get away from being racist. They’ve absolutely been trained since the time they were children to be superior. And it just takes experience to break that kind of stuff.”

 Then she said something I have repeated to myself and others many times: “If you teach people to hate, they will hate. If you teach people to love, they will love.”

 Amen, Hallie. Amen.