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George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion

Edited by Walter R. Jacobs, Wendy Thompson Taiwo, and Amy August

Minnesota Historical Society Press (May 18, 2021)

Reflections on the murder of George Floyd and the uprisings that followed and on racism in Minnesota, as told by former and current residents of the state.


On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officers, sparking months of unrest at home and around the world. As millions took to the streets to express their outrage and speak out against systemic racism, injustice, and institutionalized violence, the city of Minneapolis and its residents were deeply shaken. For many, George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing uprisings shattered the city’s reputation for progressive ideals and a high quality of life. For many others, the incident simply caught on camera a representation of the harsh realities and paradoxes that they have been living with for generations. In the words of Jasmine Mitchell, “the ‘Minnesota nice’ comforts and illusionary progressiveness resides upon the ignoring of White racial terrorism and fears of Blackness, brown immigrants, and resistance to White supremacy.”

Sparked brings together the perspectives of social scientists, professors, and other academics who work or have worked in Minnesota. The essays present reflections on racial dynamics in the Twin Cities and the intersection of the wonderful and wretched sides of that existence, revealing deep complexities, ingrained inequities, and diverse personal experiences.

Contributors: Rodolfo Aguilar, Kate Beane, Rose M. Brewer, M. Bianet Castellanos, Catherine Ceniza Choy, Taiyon J. Coleman, Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Shannon Gibney, Ibrahim Hirsi, Walter R. Jacobs, David Todd Lawrence, Brittany Lewis, Enid Logan, Brian D. Lozenski, Keith A. Mayes, Jasmine Mitchell, Samuel L. Myers Jr., Mario Alberto Obando, Kong Pheng Pha, Katrina Phillips, Amber Joy Powell, Rachel Raimist, Neeraj Rajasekar, Thomas X. Sarmiento, Jerry and Sarah Shannon, Erin Sharkey, Jermaine Singleton, Jason Marque Sole, Gabriela Spears-Rico, Wendy Thompson Taiwo, Darren Wheelock, Marcia Williams, Yohuru Williams, Terrion L. Williamson, Mi'Chael N. Wright

Table of Contents:

Preface: “From Wonderful/Wretched Memories to Sparked Discussion of Racial Dynamics in Minnesota,” by Walter R. Jacobs
“Coloring in the Progressive Illusion: An Introduction to Racial Dynamics in Minnesota,” by Amy August

Part 1: Wonderful/Wretched Memories of Racial Dynamics in the Twin Cities

“Blackasotan Identity Lanes,” by Walter R. Jacobs
“A Letter to an Old Friend about Race,” by Darren Wheelock
“Will Words Lead to Action?” by Marcia Williams
“My Beautiful, Broken Minnesota,” by Rachel Raimist
“In This Country,” by Catherine Ceniza Choy
“The Sound of the Police,” by Jerry Shannon and Sarah Shannon
“Black Life and Death in Minnesota,” by Wendy Thompson Taiwo
“In Transit,” by Thomas X. Sarmiento
“Everybody's Going Uptown,” by Rodolfo Aguilar
“Luna Lovers,” by Mario Alberto Obando
“Gesturing Towards Tenuous Inclusion,” by Jasmine Mitchell
“Learning the Music and Diversity Scales in My Minneapolis,” by Neeraj Rajasekar

Part 2: Sparked Reflections on Race and Racism in Minnesota

“The Minnesota Paradox,” by Samuel L. Myers Jr.
“What’s Understood Don’t Need to Be Explained: Sometimes Gifts Come in Ugly Packages,” by Taiyon J. Coleman
“Minnesota Nice White People,” by David Todd Lawrence
“It Shouldn’t Be Me or You but Especially Not Them: The Proximity of Black Death and Trauma,” by Mi'Chael N. Wright
“Some Abstract Place: Reflections on ‘Black Life and Death in Minnesota’,” by Yohuru Williams
“White Justice in Life and Death: Will George Floyd Receive Justice?” Keith A. Mayes
“Crime and Imagination to Contend with It,” by Erin Sharkey
“Woop-Woop! That’s the Sound of da Beast,” by Jason Marque Sole
“A Reflection on Racism, Police Violence, and Abolition,” by Amber Joy Powell
“Remembering David Cornelius Smith,” by Terrion L. Williamson
“On the Precarity of ‘Safety’: A Black Mother Contemplates What It Means to Defund the Police,” by Shannon Gibney
“Finding Myself in a Racialized World: A Personal Story of Being Black and Immigrant in Minnesota,” by Ibrahim Hirsi
“May 29, 2020: We Are Not Okay,” by Enid Logan
“Brown Minnesota,” by M. Bianet Castellanos
“Beyond Shadow Boxing: Reflections on the Matrix of Race in the Post-Floyd Era of Racial Protest,” by Jermaine Singleton
“Minneapolis Rise Up 2020: Black Lives and Whiteness Unveiled,” by Rose M. Brewer
“The State Is Not Our Friend,” by Brian D. Lozenski
“‘End White Supremacy’ from Black Lives Matter to the Toppling of the Columbus Statue: A Testimonio from San Pablo,” by Gabriela Spears-Rico
“‘Beyond the Borders of the State’: Being Native in Minnesota,” by Katrina Phillips
“Rediscovering My Purpose: The Politics of Race, Access, and Change,” by Brittany Lewis
“George Floyd Was Murdered on Dakota Land,” by Kate Beane
“Unsettled Mourning,” by Kong Pheng Pha
“All the Stars Point North,” by Wendy Thompson Taiwo
“Minneapolis to the Sea: Haibuns in Memory of George Floyd,” by Kale Bantigue Fajardo

Conclusion: “Where Will We Be on May 25, 2022?” by Walter R. Jacobs, Wendy Thompson Taiwo, and Amy August

Works Cited
Discussion Guide

Author information

Walter R. Jacobs is a sociologist and the Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University. He is the author of the ethnography Speaking the Lower Frequencies: Students and Media Literacy and coeditor (with Jeffrey Di Leo) of If Classrooms Matter: Progressive Visions of Educational Environments. He spent 14 years on the faculty of the University of Minnesota, including five years as chair of the department of African American & African Studies. Jacobs serves on the board of directors for the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) and for StoryCenter, the world-renowned nonprofit organization that uses innovative story development practices and participatory media methods to support people in sharing personal narratives rooted in their own life experiences.

Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an assistant professor of African American studies at San José State University. Her research and teaching interests include Black migration to the Bay Area, Black women and mothering, race and the built environment, and Black visual expressions of social status and class. She previously worked as an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities.

Amy August is an assistant professor of sociology at San José State University and the assistant director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change, where she collaborates with a team of colleagues and student interns to promote social justice in and through sport. Her research focuses on the classification and instruction of preschoolers in school and sport, families’ involvement in youth extracurricular activities, and women’s gymnastics and the #MeToo movement. August has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Minnesota.


Related resources

The Society Pages: Wonderful/Wretched Memories of Racial Dynamics in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, special feature by Walt Jacobs

More MNHS Press books on African American History in Minnesota

Black History, Black Voices

  • 240 pages
  • Paperback
  • Includes discussion guide
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681342085

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