Once again, crowds of people were at odds in public in St. Cloud – whites on one side, Somalis on the other.
On a street by the Stearns County Courthouse, the two groups exchanged words, at times the hostility barely suppressed, at times boiling over in the form of mean-spirited, hurtful words: “Keep your asses out of America!” one man yelled, thus advertising for all to hear his crude bigotry.
There’s no doubt that cultural misunderstandings, incorrect perceptions and racial stereotypes have reached a danger point.
Here’s the typical bigoted scenario heard from some white people: Somalis came to this country to get everything free from the government, including new cars, housing and all the other stuff we who “belong” here have worked hard to earn. These newcomers despise us; they take advantage of our bounty; they take our jobs; they don’t dress as we do; they don’t do as we do; they are rude and arrogant; they don’t want to learn our language; they are granted special prayer privileges; they are trying to take over; and who knows how many of them are terrorists? It’s so obvious these haters want to scapegoat Somalians for any problem that arises.
Similar, hateful nonsense could be heard with every wave of immigration – when the Chinese and Japanese came to California, when the Irish immigrated to Boston and New York City, when German Catholics and Protestants came to Central Minnesota, when Lincoln freed the slaves. There was almost always that fear of “the other” – suspicion, mistrust, even hatred and violence. And the same overarching attitude stubbornly persisted: that “they” don’t belong in “our” country. I’m sure the American Indians felt the same way, but in that case, with plenty of justification, when white Europeans came to this country and started a systematic campaign to displace and/or to eradicate them.
Some people like to bring up the fact some young Somali men from Minnesota returned to Ethiopia to fight with terrorist organizations. They bring that up as a bogus “proof” all Somalians have devious plans and are not to be trusted, that they’re “out to get us.” These defamers should be reminded more white Americans, warped by Internet propaganda, joined – or tried to join – those vicious organizations.
The fact is, Somalians are working hard to make a living and raise their families; they want what’s best for their children; they are learning English; they are trying to adjust to life in a different culture, a different climate, half a world away from where they endured so much suffering as hounded refugees.
It is likely Somalians also have misunderstandings, cultural miscommunications and stereotypes of us who are white. They have seen and heard instances of hostility against them – even overhearing nasty comments in public places like check-out lines – so they might assume, falsely, most whites don’t like them. Isn’t it interesting (isn’t it disgusting) how bigots think people they dislike are deaf and cannot hear their slurs, as in check-out lines?
It will take time and constant communication through positive social interactions before these mutual mistrusts and hostilities can be broken, or at least lessened.
In the meantime, the best way to improve the situation is to counter the distortions, lies and misperceptions when we hear them spewed by unkind people. We should simply – but firmly – tell them, “I do not agree with what you just said. It’s just not fair and it’s just not true.”
And then, calmy, unemotionally, give them the facts. Remind them the true American – a citizen of this wonderfully diverse country – welcomes immigrants instead of rejecting them.