Whose voices should shape the image of Central Minnesota?

Mike KnaakEditorial, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

A front-page story in the June 21 New York Times reported on St. Cloud’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration advocates.

It’s not the first time Central Minnesota’s racist and xenophobic attitudes have received statewide and even national attention.

In the print edition, the headline read “Resettled refugees unsettle a mostly white city.”

The online story carried a more detailed headline: “These People Aren’t Coming From Norway: Refugees in a Minnesota City Face a Backlash. As more Somali refugees arrive in St. Cloud, white anti-immigration activists have pressed an increasingly explicit anti-Muslim agenda.”

Predictably, locals responded the Concerned Community Citizens crew quoted in the story does not speak for the entire area or a majority of residents. An editorial in the St. Cloud Times called on people with a different viewpoint to step up and speak up.

These stories will continue to appear and the notion St. Cloud is a place that does not welcome diversity and change will keep coming as long as a noisy few appear to speak for all. If the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant viewpoint is truly held by a minority, only words and more importantly actions, prove it.

Meanwhile, St. Cloud will continue to be known across the country as White Cloud. That image does not stop at the St. Cloud city limits. Sartell, St. Joseph, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park residents need to speak and act their true beliefs.

In St. Joseph, the Cultural Bridges group sponsors programs to help immigrants become part of the community. English classes, citizenship education, community meals and job counseling reach out to the city’s newest residents. Cultural Bridges has taken action as well as offered words.

In addition to the legal and moral issues raised by xenophobia and racism, there’s also a component of economic self interest. When companies research where to locate, when families decide where to accept a new job or parents decide where to send sons and daughters to college, do we want the New York Times’ reporting, and other stories like it, to be at the top of a Google search.

As the New York Times reports, “In this predominantly white region of Central Minnesota, the influx of Somalis, most of whom are Muslim, has spurred the sort of demographic and cultural shifts President Trump and right-wing conservatives have stoked fears about for years. The resettlement has divided many politically active residents of St. Cloud, with some saying they welcome the migrants.

“But for others, the changes have fueled talk about ‘white replacement,’ a racist conspiracy theory tied to the declining birthrates of white Americans that has spread in far-right circles and online chat rooms and is now surfacing in some communities.”

According to the New York Times’ story, Concerned Community Citizens, known as C-Cubed, was formed in 2017 to support more nativist candidates on the City Council.

There’s mixed evidence whether C-Cubed represents the majority viewpoint. Last year, the group supported four candidates and won two seats on the City Council. Modeled on Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hats, red Make St. Cloud Great Again Hats appeared on the heads of C-Cubed supporters.

Results of the “Social Capital Survey of Central Minnesota,” commissioned by the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, presents more scientific evidence. The 73 percent of respondents who say they trust people from Somalia was 17 percent higher in 2015 than it was in 2010. Granted, this data is four years old and was collected before Donald Trump unleashed his daily lies about immigration, but it does represent positive change?

The Times story ended with this anecdote:

“One woman, who declined to give her name after the group discussion, bemoaned the city’s so-called no-go zones, or the areas where white residents said they felt so uncomfortable with the Somali-American presence that they would not return — a shopping mall, a community housing center and Beaver Island Trail, a hiking area that borders the Mississippi River.

‘They were just —’ she said, searching for the words to describe the offending behavior of the Somali-Americans. ‘They were just walking around.’”

Is this the Central Minnesota we want, where walking while being black is unacceptable?

Author: Mike Knaak

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