Mason Bulje and Laura Riness

Mason Bultje and his mom, Laura Riness, at an annual gala hosted by Bultje’s employer. The duo created a video series to amplify Black voices in the Mankato community.

Systemic racism exists in institutions ranging from housing to education, Black members of the Mankato area community say.

The fourth session of the “Amplifying Black Voices” virtual series tackled the roots of systemic racism and its ongoing impacts.

“It’s important that we take a step back and assess the roots of all systems and acknowledge that their foundation was built upon racism,” said Mason Bultje, an organizer of the series.

Monday’s presentation started with defining systemic racism as: “Policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization, that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.”

In a video and a panel discussion, Black community members shared statistics as well as some of their own experiences.

Mankato police officer Ermias Asfaw recalled applying for a loan to purchase his first home in the Mankato area. The loan officer increased the interest rate after realizing he was Black.

“If I was a white guy I would have more money today,” he said.

Blatant racism can still be found in property deeds, said Janet Jennings, vice president for equity and inclusion at Kline Family Caretaking. Deeds in neighborhoods across Minnesota still have covenants banning the sale of property to people of color.

Such discriminatory housing practices have perpetuated wealth inequality, she said.

Discrimination in housing has permeated into education, said Greater Mankato Diversity Council Executive Director Bukata Hayes. Some education funding comes from local property taxes, creating better education opportunities in affluent communities, he said.

Jennings recalled the first time she experienced racism as a 7-year-old when she was invited to take tests for admission into a gifted school program. Some classmates questioned if she would pass because she was Black, she said.

Increasing staff of color in schools and updating policies and curriculum are other keys to making educational systems more equitable, said Stacy Wells, communications director for Mankato Area Public Schools.

White people need to be willing to educate themselves and have difficult conversations about systemic racism before real change can happen, the Black leaders said.

“If white America is serious about being allies they need to be serious about dismantling the systems that have played to their benefit,” Hayes said.

Monday’s video and discussion was the fourth in a five-part series aiming to “promote understanding, reflection and conversation, as well as a willingness to examine the often uncomfortable topic of racism.” It is sponsored by several area community organizations and educational institutions.

All four videos, created by Bultje and his mother Laura Riness, can now be viewed on YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCbwqY-b1G-3oEe3TUzN57Fw.

The series concludes next Monday with a panel discussion about “what’s next.” To register go to t.ly/Ama3.

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