Opinion / Politics / Society

Minnesota Racism

by Ross Anderson as published in the MN Daily


Racism has a newfound fervor when applied to the state’s largest migrant population: Somalis.

“What? (Expletive) you!” I initially thought.

Recently, the nation’s top law-dog, Eric Holder, our country’s first black attorney general, basically called Americans a bunch of yellow-bellies. We are “a nation of cowards,” he said, referring to our unwillingness to openly discuss race issues. “If we’re going to ever make progress, we’re going to have to have the guts … to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us,” he explained.

Okay, Mr. Holder, I heard you, and I write in response to your challenge.

Localize this subject and racism takes on special significance. Minnesota, and especially the metropolitan area, offers a unique and particularly potent brand of racism. Sure, it has a ‘Minnesota nice’ packaging and is mostly tacit and benign, but widespread and consistent nonetheless. Step outside the eternally tolerant collegiate bubble, and Minnesotans are not very welcoming of our east-African immigrant population, particularly the Somali community.

Somali and other immigrants from the horn of Africa are quickly becoming to the Twin Cities what Cubans have become to Miami. Thirteen percent of Minnesota’s foreign-born residents in the 2000 Census were from Africa — a higher percentage than any other state in the country. This number has undoubtedly increased greatly since then. Most Somalis and east Africans who currently live in Minnesota came to the United States as refugees. Roughly one-third of Minnesota’s Somali immigrants came directly from refugee camps; many first settled in other states and then relocated here. Fleeing their war-torn homeland, our east African population has built a large and palpable presence here in our state, and Minnesota constitutes the country’s largest population of Somali immigrants.

Introduce this accelerated immigration pattern to any state or country in the world and there’s likely to be a backlash from the locals, especially when portions of the immigrant population refute the native’s cultural norms. The refusal to handle pork products by some Somalis and the unwillingness of some immigrant taxi drivers to transport alcoholic beverages would be prime examples and have served to stoke racial tensions.

“If they can’t live by our rules, then they should go back where they came from!”

That was a common response from the local community. This sentiment is understandable, for a host country should not be expected to adapt to the norms of an incoming minority.

Beyond these minor disputes, these groups of peoples are intrinsically put at odds without provocation. Human nature tells us that we are instinctually attracted to those who are most similar to us, and it stands to reason that we are most repelled by those who are most dissimilar. Given that difference in physical appearance is the root of racism and our east African migrate population could be no more externally different than our mostly fair-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian natives, Minnesota presents an especially robust and natural recipe for racism. Apart from these superficial disparities, the generally comfortable socialization of a Minnesota local and the commonly chaotic upbringing of an east African could not be more contradictory, thus lessening the likelihood for constructive connection. And to add a little icing to this uncongenial cake, most east Africans are Muslim, which in a post Sept. 11 world is immediately scary and deviant to many Americans.

Accordingly, east Africans, who seem to all get clumped together as “Somalis” by ignorant white people, are a particularly popular target for the frustrated and intolerant Minnesota masses. I grew up in a suburb north of St. Paul, where racism was more or less tolerated. Though I was never really committed to the idea, I played along and regrettably, was a silent and passive observer of blatant prejudice. After high school I joined the Army, got a good liberal education and traveled the world, washing away any traces of silly bigotry. My high school friends, who more or less stayed put, weren’t so fortunate and still somewhat cling to their indoctrinated racism, though now with much less fervor. While their formerly regular target of prejudice was the black community, it seems that enough experience with blacks has diminished their intolerance, and they are now much less likely to express their disdain for those who are racially different. But this doesn’t hold true when applied to our local “Somali” population; they’re still fair game and are referred to with a level of unprecedented derogatory vehemence. The explanation for this is a mystery; my best guess is that they feel more threatened by Somali blacks than they ever did native ones. My high school friends, like I think every person who is not fond of our east African immigrants, feels vulnerable to a cryptic alien people who seem unwilling to assimilate.

This fear, and the racism that it creates, cannot be wholly contributed to ignorance or blind intolerance. Our east African population also carries some of the blame; their efforts to integrate into American society and coexist seem insincere in light of what attorney general Holder would describe as the “racially protected cocoons” that they have created across the Twin Cities. (Think Cedar/Riverside or parts of Lake Street.) This is no more morally justifiable than the distant racism mentioned above.

Although it is understandable; after all, it’s only natural, just as disliking those who are most different is natural. But the naturalistic fallacy is no excuse for continued division. Both our native population and our east African residents must resist their natural inclination toward separateness. Instead, let’s try embracing the uncomfortable process of getting to know each other.

Ross Anderson welcomes comments at randerson@mndaily.com.


14 thoughts on “Minnesota Racism

  1. Wow, enlightening! There is no doubt that racism in Minnesota is solid. I think it passes all geographical lines. West Africans, North Africans, Central Africans, and South Africans can say the same as East Africans. As long as you are an African, there is this sentiment, like you cannot be at a certain level as your native Minnesotans. You have to prove yourself capable or worthy. It is very difficult to talk race, especially in corporate America. Everyone throws blame and no one is willing to concede. This conversation has to happen at some point. I think now is very crucial. We need to really see what we can do together rather than what we are separately. Great post.

  2. This is a great piece. It’s good to note that the strained Somali – Minnesotan relationship is getting the public attention it deserves. Somehow racism towards the Somali community has been like the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Thanks for the commentary.

  3. Hello All
    My name is Raymond Carnation. I was a Philadelphia Police Officer that opposed racism against African Americans in my department.
    I along with two other officers were then retaliated against and then fired for coming forward . This occurred under the command of William Colarulo now a chief inspector.
    In May of 2008 we won our Precedential Federal Racism Case Myrna Moore vs. The City Of Philadelphia. D.C. Civil Action NOS. 99-cv-01163. This ten year nightmare has
    inspired me to campaign to ask President Barack Obama to place police racism on our national agenda. I am also aware this is a Global Problem I researched Ali Tahmourpour racism case from Toronto Canada.He and I are teaming up and are seeking Global as well as national attention on this serious problem. Him and I would like to write a book and also a movie on our true stories and our findings on police racism.We hope that Oprah ,20/20 or Dateline can do a story so the world,public and our President can take proper action and place this on our National Agenda.
    Below are the articles on my story so you will have a better understanding what had occurred in my career in Philadelphia. Together we can make a positive change for all. I hope you and your staff can assisted us in our quest.
    Thank You and God Bless.
    Yours Truly,
    Raymond Carnation
    ; around4life@aol.com
    Cell# 267-231-8143






    Racism in Police Departments Must Be on the National Agenda

    By Keith Rushing
    I hope that the U.S. Department of Justice in the Barack Obama administration on will he do what none have done before: take serious measures to end the rampant racism and abuse of power in police departments across America. O f course, we can’t expect miracles in the span of…
    URL to article: http://www .justdemocracyblog. org/?p=791

  4. next time tells you to go back to Africa, just say “ok” and walk away, in my experience this is the most satisfying thing to say to them.

  5. @ Raymond, thanks for sharing. No doubt you are fighting a tough battle and I admire your persistence. Thanks for the information and please keep us posted.

  6. I am a Native Hawaiian who lived in Minnesota since the 1970s. I am just as dark, if not, even darker, than these Somalis. No other state, including my own Hawaii, has ever afforded me the many opportunities, education, training, and upward mobility as Minnesota. I worked for everything I got, and got it, thanks to Minnesota and Minnesotans. I’d like to see Somalia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, or any other nation provide someone like me the same opportunities as Minnesota. Until these nations do so, nationals from these countries have no business whining about “racism.”

    Get off your duffs, quit playing the system and the public at large: get yourself educated and/or technically trained to advance your plight instead of sitting at a computer while crying on the Internet that you’ve been “discriminated against” through “racism.” What a bunch of hooey. And those native Minnesotans who fuel and fan the flames: Shame on you! Also, if you want to conform and assimilate: stop wearing ridiculous clothing; you are in America, not wherever you came from. As a Hawaiian, I wouldn’t dream of going around wearing a hula skirt, so I beg the question: Why do so many of you wear the things they wear in Africa and the Middle East? The same applies to language. I don’t go around expecting others to speak and have everything printed in Hawaiian. So, likewise, don’t come to America and expect everyone to cater to YOUR language needs. How selfish. ASSIMILATE, get educated, and prepare yourself for a career. Follow the examples of upward mobility minorities like progressive Iranians and Koreans. They haven’t got the time to sit around and WHINE.

  7. You should talk to the younger generation who live in diverse areas there. I am from St. Paul and went to a suburban high school my first two years. There was definitely an underlying tone of racism. For my last two years of high school, though, I attended St. Paul Central High School. It has a bad reputation, but I never felt threatened or in danger at any point. I did, however, notice the lack of discrimination among students and though it had cliques like every other school, it was a very accepting atmosphere. Also, any kind of racism would not have been tolerated, or at least not in my class. I know that everyone I associated with at Central would be shocked by what you have presented. I know I was.

  8. Yesterday I called a middle school in Prior Lake, and when I asked about racial diversity(my children are biracial) the lady told me “yes, we have some colored students”. WTF? We are from Ohio and define people as Americans in general, but if asked we will use “african american or somalian” etc. defining by nationality not color. I told her that in my experience people of color do not want to be called “colored” but she wasn’t listening. I mean after the old signs at swimming pools, on buses, at restaurants “no colored allowed” , isn’t using that word bringing up old BS? But then again, NAACP has the word colored people in it. Needless to say, we will tell our realotr not to show us any homes in Prior Lake

  9. Having lived in Minneapolis for many years (20 yrs. on the West Bank) I have considerable experience with many cultures. It is about behavior people. Good behavior is basically the same around the world. Don’t be pushy, don’t be loud, don’t break the law, have respect for others and it will come back to you. Minnesota nice works both ways.

  10. Are you insinuating that people of other races are all pushy, loud, and don’t respect others? Sounds like the old KKK days, be quiet, invisible and stay out of their way and they wont hang or beat you blackie.

  11. Hi

    I am black and a christian and proud. My culture and religion teach me to be open minded and tolerant. However these Somalis are not black but just thick Somalian, usually racist themselves towards others when they have a chance. My advise is to segregate and be wary of them, They just want to take take take and take and they give nothing back. They don’t come to integrate but seek to conquer in an abusive manner themselves. They are also good pretenders. Give them a chance and you will end up like France. Their culture is not compatible with any other culture. They have an identity crisis, they don’t see themselves as black but as (Black) Arab whatever that is. The Arabs in turn do not see them as Arab and the world sees them as Black. The white racists are OK. They are trying to preserve their culture. I am Black and would feel very uncomfortable with having a white person in my home, place of work etc. Because we are different and not because I hate them. The sad thing is that when a white person tries to cover their ground its racism. Go and try to build a church in Somalia and see what happens. the Somalis are intolerant of other people but they like special treatment. Leave them like that and you going to have Minarets all over the place AND MINERATS ARE NOT NATIVE TO MINNESOTA.

  12. Pingback: Why Nice People Can Get You Killed (Especially in Minnesota) « Rethinking Reticence

  13. Pingback: Why Nice People Can Still Get You Killed (Especially in Minnesota) « Rethinking Reticence

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