Why renounce?

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered by Minneapolis police officers. Floyd died only three miles away from Southwest Minneapolis’s Armatage neighborhood, where AREA’s founding members live. In some ways, however, those three miles can feel much farther. We enjoy privileges here not seen everywhere in Minneapolis. Many of us did not know how we gained those advantages until one neighbor sent a block-wide email days after Floyd’s death.

Photo credit: Brian Coe

It was a brief message to neighbors on the 5500-block of Morgan and Newton Avenues, highlighting how our homes had racial covenants when they were first built. Many of us had never heard of the covenants before. So this started a conversation via email, which quickly led to a virtual meeting on race and racism in Minneapolis. Throughout the year, eight households continued to hold meetings to discuss how to respond to the covenants and George Floyd’s killing. (Due to the pandemic, some of us still haven’t met in person.) Some AREA members have experience in working for reparations and racial equity, but most of us are just “regular people,” without much background in activism. Learning how our community’s racist origins could still lead to horrific events like George Floyd’s death was a catalyst for action.

Here are some of the reasons we’ve chosen to begin by renouncing the covenants:

I am a Mexican woman, married to a Jewish man and we have a multicultural son. Even though the racial covenants were ruled unenforceable decades ago, having a racial covenant on my title sends a message that we are not wanted in this area. There are many such messages of racism that exist in our society—ways to make people of color feel like they are of a lower caste and therefore undeserving of health, happiness, and prosperity. Making the decision to renounce the racial covenant on our home was simple. We love our home and we don’t want it tainted by the racial covenant. We hope to help encourage others to examine the history of our community and the impact that these racial covenants, among other racist actions, have had on shaping where we live. — Veronica Soria Miller

A covenanted block in Armatage.

I renounced the covenants because if we don’t acknowledge our history of racism in our city we are doomed to repeat it. As a white person who has benefited from the historical exploitive economic housing practices in our city, I have to look at this inheritance squarely in the face and find ways to repair this harm. The harm was not my fault, but the healing is my responsibility. While this is a small symbolic gesture, we know that symbols have power in our society. I hope that this renouncing of the racial covenants is just the beginning of deeper efforts to address systemic racism that continues to linger in our city. We have to start somewhere, and this is one place where we can begin the reparative process that needs to happen. — Dave Scherer

The racial covenants feel like having graffiti with a racial epithet on our garage. If I leave it on the garage it says I am indifferent to those words. We as a family cannot live with that. Thus the right thing to do  is to remove it. — Ann Sittig

At first, I didn’t know if a symbolic act like renouncing the covenants was worthwhile. It didn’t sound like reparations to me. But after reading From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, I learned that reparations are “a program of acknowledgment, redress, and closure for a grievous injustice.” I was missing the “acknowledgment” step of reparations without realizing how important it is to first offer an apology and, to paraphrase Darity and Mullen, acknowledge how I’ve benefited from the covenants. By renouncing our home’s racial covenant, my household is trying to acknowledge the advantages we’ve gained, and making a first step toward reparations. — Eric Magnuson

A covenanted block in Armatage.