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July 2, 2012 5:30 AM   Subscribe

Why do the Somali men congregate on the sidewalks downtown? Royal Ross, from the downtown business association for Faribault, Minnesota, a small town just outside Minneapolis, answers the question for you. The very short answer: everything's just fine.
posted by gimonca (63 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ladies may meet at Church or one of their homes

Yeah, where they belong.

I understand that any group congregating on the sidewalk is intimidating no matter if they are Somali, leather clad bikers, teenagers, smokers, or uniform wearing softball players.


Damn softball players, multiplying like the scum they are. C'mon, honey, hurry along and whatever you do don't make eye contact.
- - -
The overall message may be positive, but some of the author's supporting examples could use a little fine-tuning.
posted by item at 5:50 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


item: way to miss the forest for the trees. Royal Ross gets the Mr. Rogers hug from me for being a decent person.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


Ladies may meet at Church or one of their homes

Yeah, where they belong.


Next up: Why do white ladies congregate on the sidewalks downtown?
posted by swift at 5:54 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Think about who he is addressing. Then the response makes perfect sense.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do leather clad bikers congregate in trees in the forest?
posted by item at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Next up: Why do white ladies congregate on the sidewalks downtown?

They are reveling in their ability to intimidate passers by. And they are contemplating crimes! Mostly hot-dish based crimes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Damn softball players, multiplying like the scum they are. C'mon, honey, hurry along and whatever you do don't make eye contact.

Uh clearly you haven't been in the park recently
posted by dismas at 5:59 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Next up: Why do white ladies congregate on the sidewalks downtown?

Watch out for that lot...
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:00 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The overall message may be positive, but some of the author's supporting examples could use a little fine-tuning.

I read those bits as well placed condescension.
posted by pmcp at 6:03 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do leather clad bikers congregate in trees in the forest?
Hmm.. To watch the Pope? I give up. Why?
posted by knile at 6:04 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do leather clad bikers congregate in trees in the forest?

Because they don't make a sound!!
posted by Floydd at 6:06 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn softball players, multiplying like the scum they are. C'mon, honey, hurry along and whatever you do don't make eye contact.

I was in a bar (Mary Ann's in Cleveland Circle: not a nice place) with two friends one summer night, and the softball players -- always rowdy drunks -- came in. We were in a corner, slurping up pitchers of watery beer as we had done all summer. At one point my friend looks over and one of the softball guys glares at him, then pulls up his shirts and flexes his abs.

My friend didn't actually know what the message was, but its primate intensity was pretty plain; we departed as quickly as we could.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:09 AM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


One of the most powerful ethnographies I ever read during my truncated career as an anthropologist was Dan Rose's Black American Street Life, South Philadelphia, 1969-1971--a sadly underrated or neglected pieces of work in the enthnographic literature, IMHO.

Rose spent 2 years living in a black neighborhood in South Philly, providing an intimate and in-depth portrait of the lives of men and women who live there. Rose would go on to to teach in the field of landscape architecture rather than anthropology, and in Black American Street Life that budding interest is very apparent, in his analysis of the interaction between a social fabric and the space it occupies.

Growing up in mostly white, middle-class middle America, and even into grad school in an "enlightened" discipline such as anthropology, I had an ingrained fear of urban neighborhoods where people congregate on the corners, on the sidewalks, in doorways and on stoops. Rose examines the motives of an urban underclass that colonizes these spaces for socialization, from overcrowding to feelings of shame about socializing in one's home, when one's home may be little more than some beat-up furniture and mattresses on the floor.

Reading that book allowed me to identify and examine that fear I had of such spaces--I won't call it "instinctual," because it's very much a learned thing. I trained myself to think of urban street socializing as just that--just human beings socializing, not automatically drug dealers, muggers, or generally "up to no good."
posted by drlith at 6:10 AM on July 2, 2012 [36 favorites]


I read those bits as well placed condescension.

I did too - condescension that maybe the article could've been more effective without. Then again, as a teenaged Somalian softball playing smoker on my way to a biker rally, I'm not really the article's target audience.
posted by item at 6:10 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how I would feel if I were a Somali person reading this. Reading it as a white Minnesotan, it seems sort of othering even as it tries to be supportive. And yet I also know that milieu - the outstate cities and towns that have historically been conservative and white (that is, except back in like the 1890s when they were white-immigrant and radical). I wonder if they could have gotten a couple of Somali folks to be 'guest columnists' for this one, though.

I think it's difficult to acknowledge that change is change - if you've grown up as a white Minnesotan in Faribault, yes, it is different to suddenly be living around a visible group of people whose cultural traditions are really visibly not like you...anyway, to acknowledge that change is change without legitimating racist fears and stupid beliefs. I wonder if it would be possible just to say that - like contextualize it in Minnesota history, that things change and that's okay.

(Of course, then you have to talk about the really bad change - stealing the land from the Dakota and Ojibwe people, the concentration camp at Fort Snelling - and that gets people riled up. I wish we could just have some fucking reparations in this state and stop having it be the Big Thing We Don't Talk About. It wouldn't even be that hard; there's lots of good land here that is lightly used that could be given back, and we could work out some financial angle if we phased it in over years. And then we could stop having this sort of Flowers In The Attic half-secret and start moving forward. I truly love this state and it has so much potential - it could be so incredibly cool that to have a mixture of indigenous cultures and Somali and Ethiopian folks and folks from Mexico and Central American and African-American people (some who've been here a long time, some who came here, for example, after Katrina) and the various Germanic and Scandinavian and Irish white cultural background stuff. I feel that ifwe could really figure out how to live together justly and lovingly then we would be the best state in the entire country.)
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on July 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


I feel that ifwe could really figure out how to live together justly and lovingly then we would be the best state in the entire country.

Huzzah!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:16 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


condescension that maybe the article could've been more effective without

Of course, you would say that.
posted by oddman at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2012


Old, rich white men "no threat to your safety"

The City of London Police today issued a statement to soothe concerns about gangs of old, rich white men seen loitering around the board rooms of major banks and financial institutions.

"We have investigated numerous reports about elderly white males in expensive suits congregating in board rooms across the city," reads the press release. "After detailed investigations we can assure the public that everything is fine, and these men are definitely not a threat to your very way of life or the economic system as a whole".

The Police were moved to respond after hundreds of calls from the public about gangs of old white men continuously hanging around board rooms, fondling wads of cash and mocking ordinary passers-by.

"They were all dressed the same, and I just thought they were acting suspiciously," said one mininum-wage earner who cannot afford to feed her family, "but I suppose if the Police say I should stop complaining, and instead get on my hands and knees and let these men use me as a coffee table, then they might accidentally dribble some nutritious saliva onto my face. Such are my pathetic dreams."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2012 [36 favorites]


Meanwhile, in western Minnesota,residents say, "There's a feeling there's something that's been lost," "We know it will never go back to the way it was."

I grew up in a small city near Faribault, just as Somalis began moving to town -- my school classes went from being all-white to including a couple dozen Africans. Aside from playing soccer with a family that moved next to me, I remember the Somali kids in my classes as being incredibly quiet; we'd look through yearbooks and go, 'who's that?' Maybe due to being a college town, I never noticed any real discrimination or worry, though -- the hick racists in my class seemed to reserve their hatred for the African-Americans, and I can't remember anyone being anything but (Minnesota) nice, maybe just curious.

I don't see this editorial as being anything more than an address to old, white, long-time Faribault residents -- the same kind who might give you a stink eye (but, who of course, would never say anything; this is the home of Minnesota nice!) for being from out-of-state, let alone another country -- that these people aren't to be feared, they're not the Muslim terrorists you heard about in connection with the war, nor are they the gang members you heard exist in the Twin Cities.
posted by Theiform at 6:33 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damn softball players, multiplying like the scum they are. C'mon, honey, hurry along and whatever you do don't make eye contact.

Clearly you didn't live in New York in the 70s.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:35 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


As I think about this - the one positive to this column really is that there's a lot that just can't be spoken, and resolving problems sometimes happens when you start speaking. We always say that's a Minnesota thing, but I'm not sure.

I think it's probably worse to have a lot of white people whispering about those Somali men hanging out on the sidewalk than it is to start saying "I see this conversation that white folks are having and let's have it in our regular voices". At the very least, this column sets a standard of "we are not going to whine and insult and be racist about this", even if the tone is more jocular-white-folks than I absolutely like.

Back in the nineties I remember some posters on bus shelters around town (before the city took the shelters down so that homeless people couldn't hang out in them, fucking city government)...anyway, there were these posters of three Somali women wearing hijab and abaya and looking and sort of pointing at the viewer and saying something gently poking fun at white Minnesotans for being stand-offish and making the point that these women were Minnesotans now too. I had mixed feelings about them at the time, because it seemed to be a soft/indirect way of addressing racism and yet I was also drawn to them because they appealed to what at least used to be this utopian Minnesotanness - this idea that we could as a state grow and change and welcome people while still keeping a thread of continuity and shared identity, and also that we were a place of refuge for displaced people, but not in a patronizing way.

I still think we could do that but it gets harder and harder, especially with the economic crisis.

Although there's also some real hope - Somali, Hmong and Mexican immigrants have been great for Minneapolis-St Paul and I think some white folks realize that, and as time passes I think more and more white folks are able to see Minnesota as a multiethnic state rather than a white state.

This is partly why we have to have reparations and truth-telling and apology about the theft of the land - part of what makes us Minnesotans together is that we live here in this beautiful and remarkable place. Even in the cities we have the lakes. But it's stolen land; all our Minnesotanness rests on that. Until we get that dealt with (by figuring out what Native Minnesotans want and need) we'll always be stuck, I guess.

It reminds me of what I'd always thought of as a cliched Ursula Le Guin story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". This state has so much potential and yet it's built on this terrible secret.*

*Although I've always wanted to rewrite that story so that a group of people decides that they aren't going to put up with this terrible secret anymore and they don't walk away, they fix things, even if it's no longer privileged-person-utopia.
posted by Frowner at 6:37 AM on July 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


Came here to make a Baseball Furies joke, found that my work had already been done. Leaving now.
posted by Scientist at 6:38 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't remember the name of the documentary, but it's about the Lost Boys of Sudan, and it showed the boys/men moving in groups on the sidewalk of some small midwestern town. Some residents found them threatening and the boys were mystified and sad. IIRC they were advised by their sponsors not to congregate like that. It must really add to your homesickness when an activity that is perfectly normal for you is considered abnormal and threatening by others.
posted by desjardins at 6:46 AM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


*Although I've always wanted to rewrite that story so that a group of people decides that they aren't going to put up with this terrible secret anymore and they don't walk away, they fix things, even if it's no longer privileged-person-utopia.

That would be the lesser-known "The Ones Who Come Back To Omelas At The Head Of A Tank Column."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


White Minnesotans, they're not great with diversity. Which is a tough nut to crack because Minnesota is becoming increasingly diverse, and the Twin Cities are becoming home to significant populations of Somalis, Hmong, and Latino people (and has been home to Native Americans since before there were Twin Cities, knaamean?).

I've picked up on a ton of slow-burning discomfort, tension, and all that confusing feelings that lays a veneer over racism and shitty conflict between cultural or racial groups.

So while it's easy to problematize this piece from your desk chair, I think it's more important to see it as an attempt to translate some basic and fundamental cultural things to longer residents of the area, to head off some cultural conflict.

And that is a good thing.
posted by entropone at 7:18 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't remember the name of the documentary, but it's about the Lost Boys of Sudan, and it showed the boys/men moving in groups on the sidewalk of some small midwestern town. Some residents found them threatening and the boys were mystified and sad. IIRC they were advised by their sponsors not to congregate like that. It must really add to your homesickness when an activity that is perfectly normal for you is considered abnormal and threatening by others.

God Grew Tired of Us

A very interesting documentary and available on NetFlix instant in the U.S.
posted by gyc at 7:19 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I grew up in MN but have lived on the East Coast for twenty-some years, so I have watched the Somali arrivals from afar.

I can't yet decide whether, if they weren't Muslim, they would be more accepted, in the way that the Hmong were in the 1980s. Was the accident of a lot of Muslim immigrants arriving from Africa just when America got fearful about militant Muslims from the Middle East just an accident? Or would these people still find themselves outside their new society even if they were (or were perceived as) animist, Christian, or something else entirely?

I would prefer not to think the latter, but I don't know.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:20 AM on July 2, 2012


I can't yet decide whether, if they weren't Muslim, they would be more accepted, in the way that the Hmong were in the 1980s.

Did you feel like Hmong people were more accepted? I didn't move here until 1992 and at that time I did see a lot of racism against Hmong people. (Which kind of persists, although definitely white folks have cathected onto Somali and Mexican people as sources of otherness now.)

I don't think it's mostly that Somali people are Muslim. I think that's used as a proxy to justify people's racism and their discomfort. Although there was quite a lot of anti-semitism in parts of Minnesota until quite recently. (Is that gone? I don't encounter people saying anti-semitic stuff on the assumption that as a gentile I too will agree with them.)

I think people feel threatened and resentful and hateful and uncertain (in varying degrees) and pin that on Islam because it's an easy explanation. I say this because I've heard anti-Islam remarks from people that just don't make sense with their other beliefs unless you assume that they just want - on some level - to be racist and Islam is what's there. It's hard to explain.

Also, I think that among progressive white people there is some savior-complex stuff - even if people keep a lid on it. People view Islam as oppressing women (which, you know, there are certainly some conservative sexist Muslim men around who do lousy stuff, but conservative misogyny isn't unique to Muslims in Minnesota.) and can't get their heads around the historical ways that women become empowered, and how it's never via someone else charging in and imposing their way of life. And I think a lot of progressive white people are blind to any gendered ways of being that do not match what they are used to, so they do not perceive the many empowered Muslim women and non-sexist Muslim men who are actually around them, because those people do not look like South MPLS hippies. This is kind of where I feel like thinking, talking and processing could help people - in this specific instance, I think that certain types of white folks mostly just need education and reinforcement of education, that they are not emotionally attached to their bad ideas.
posted by Frowner at 7:37 AM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


The only picture I could find that featured Somalis standing outside. Can't think of anything that looks less threatening.

Every so often I take the Broad Street Line to Broad & Erie and then catch the 23 bus to Mt. Airy. There's usually a 10-15 minute wait and Broad & Erie and although most of the people are gathered just for the bus, there are also people just hanging out in the street. A few entrepreneurs offering DVDs, taxi rides, or loosies (sp?). The point is, that section of the city feels alive in a way my neighborhood, nice and friendly as it is, often doesn't. People are mostly inside and there doesn't appear to be the same practice of gathering outdoors. Even just a few blocks down, where the houses are much smaller and everyone has an open porch (many of the porches on my block are now enclosed) I often see people hanging outside or even in the street. Not sure if there's anyway to get that kind of interaction going again, but I'd love it if there was.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:46 AM on July 2, 2012


Maud Hart Lovelace wrote about the Lebanese Catholic community in Mankato (and how its long/term residents interacted with them) at the turn of the last century in 3 of her Deep Valley books.

One of the plotlines of Emily of Deep Valley is about how she helps them assimilate into American society.
posted by brujita at 7:48 AM on July 2, 2012


I don't think it's mostly that Somali people are Muslim. I think that's used as a proxy to justify people's racism and their discomfort.

I agree. People believed they feared Obama because he was Muslim/"A-rab". But they really feared him because he was black. Not that either fear is rational anyway.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:49 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'm white, so maybe I'm not sensitive enough - but I did grow up in a neighbourhood where the Somali community were concentrated in Toronto and worked at a donut shop whose customers were about 80-90% Somali men - but I thought it was a good article. It effectively explained how congregating outside was simply normal Somali socialising (as it is in Jamaica as well), and compared it to people hanging around in bars, etc.

That said, given the climate of MN, I was very surprised that the men were congregating outside. In Toronto, the main meeting place are coffee shops, so that people can get out of the cold in winter. It sounds like this MN town needs to create a few piazza-like places for the summer, so that the sidewalks are less crowded, but also some entrepreneurs should open more coffee shops / donut stores. I'm sure they would do very well.

One other thing the article doesn't talk about: Somali society can be very gender-divided. We had almost no Somali women coming into our coffee shop (except the doctor who woul come in wearing an extremely elegant business suit and matching hijab - a perfect counter example to the idea that women wouldn't chose to wear hijab, she was so confident and independent). If they are like Jamaicans, then one of the main reasons that the men are socialising in public is that their wives have kicked them out of the house so that they can visit with their friends.
posted by jb at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


of course - the gender division combined with my boss's own sexism (she would only hire women) meant that we had the weird situation of an all female staff and 90% male clientele - maybe common in some places, but not for most donut shops.
posted by jb at 8:01 AM on July 2, 2012


I wonder why there are lots of Africans in Minnesota and almost none in Wisconsin (that I'm aware of). There is a significant Hmong population here, but they're mostly invisible to white people. The ones I've known largely keep to themselves; my Hmong classmate was specifically forbidden to socialize with non-Hmong, so we had to sneak around as if we were lovers (we weren't). I think Asians are considered "okay" by whites in a way that Africans are not, because east and southeast Asians have largely been academically and financially successful and Hmong get put in the same psychological box even though their socioeconomic status has not fared as well. I'm guessing many people have a hard time physically distinguishing Hmong from, say, Chinese. So too, African immigrants are lumped in the same box as African-Americans, even though African immigrants have much higher educational attainment (the highest of all immigrant groups according to a wikipedia article that I can't link since their servers are down).
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deathalicious - is your neighbourhood Anglo or another Northern European ethnicity? I don't know about the rest of Europe, but Anglos/Brits tend to have an socialising- inside culture, traditionally (kitchens, pubs). It's just as natural for us to pull inside our houses as it is for people from other cultures to congregate on sidewalks, etc. Me, I socialise on the Internet or in friend's houses, but my parents and grandparents definitely went down to the local bar & grill and met up with friends regularly there - it was the Canadian equivalent of a local pub.
posted by jb at 8:08 AM on July 2, 2012


Frowner, I don't recall as much...revulsion toward the Hmong as I have overheard directed at the Somalis.

For example, there were Hmong kids on my soccer teams (I recall them, from age 8, as being short and strong-legged and completely tireless), and a couple of them at my private, JROTC, Catholic high school (Cretin) -- one of whom, Ming Nguyen, was one of the top JROTC officers. But the Hmong were also a pretty inward-looking community. Not a lot of the first generation were ordering from Green Mill when I was delivering pizzas, you know?

Also: I think that's used as a proxy to justify people's racism and their discomfort.
The newest wave of immigrants always gets the stick, while the previous wave stays silent (glad for a respite?), and the previous immigrants are the angry ones. *shrug* I have been told stories by my mom of "No Irish Need Apply" signs in St. Paul not that many decades ago, and of course that's long before I discovered this fantastic bit of doggerel.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:08 AM on July 2, 2012


There was considerable discomfort regarding Hmong moving into neighborhoods, especially en masse. It was even fictionalized: Gran Torino was based on the screenwriter's experiences in the Twin Cities, where the script was originally set.

I think anti-Hmong animosity was muted or less visible because the Hmong moved, in large part, into working poor communities, like Frogtown in St. Paul. But there were real, and significant, cultural clashes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2012


How in the world did so many Somali immigrants wind up in the Twin Cities, of all places?
posted by notyou at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have watched the Somali arrivals from afar.

If you're in Afar, wouldn't you be watching the Somalis departing?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:25 AM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


How in the world did so many Somali immigrants wind up in the Twin Cities, of all places?

Good Question.

You see Minnesota is more welcoming than people think.
Also no mention of Fairbault is complete with out mentioning the fantastic
Cheese Caves!
posted by The Violet Cypher at 8:31 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, The Violet Cypher. If you don't mind, I'll blockquote a bit of that for the edification of the click-averse.
“In the beginning the U.S. federal government assigns people,” said Samatar.

To qualify as a refugee, there is a process. The U.S. State Department ultimately decides where refugees will live, but it has to do with the voluntary agencies, called VOLAGS, that contract with the State Department.

Minnesota has very active ones like Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota. Those agencies agree to help the refugees get settled, to learn English, find housing, get health care, and begin a new life.

They “are known to be welcoming, and they invest a significant time of labor and resources, to help people find some comfort here and hope,” said Samatar.

It’s the same reason this is a population center for Hmong refugees. The VOLAGS make the initial wave happen. But just because people are relocated to a place like the Twin Cities, doesn’t mean they’ll stay.
posted by notyou at 8:36 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having spent about ten years living there and having had some lovely opportunities to travel in the state, that is the most Minnesotan thing I've ever read. And I mean that with a lot of love and a little aggravation (less at the letter than at the situation). Minnesota is a lot more diverse than people think, especially but not exclusively in the Twin Cities, and while I'd love it if loving that fact came effortlessly to everyone, it doesn't. Anybody who's basically saying "Stop being concerned about something silly and get to know the people who live in your community" has my support, even if treating that irrational worry kindly might seem to tacitly excuse it, you know?
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:37 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


these people aren't to be feared, they're not the Muslim terrorists you heard about in connection with the war, nor are they the gang members you heard exist in the Twin Cities.

OK, but are they those pirates I hear so much about?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on July 2, 2012


jb: "Deathalicious - is your neighbourhood Anglo or another Northern European ethnicity? I don't know about the rest of Europe, but Anglos/Brits tend to have an socialising- inside culture, traditionally (kitchens, pubs). It's just as natural for us to pull inside our houses as it is for people from other cultures to congregate on sidewalks, etc. Me, I socialise on the Internet or in friend's houses, but my parents and grandparents definitely went down to the local bar & grill and met up with friends regularly there - it was the Canadian equivalent of a local pub."

It's actually one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US, supposedly. Both of my neighbors are black and one of them has an enclosed porch. There are plenty of white people here too though. I would say everyone on the block is middle class or so. A lot of people seem to meet up in their backyards for BBQ, especially in the summer.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:53 AM on July 2, 2012


I have no idea how much of an impediment to walking such "congregation" represents, but sidewalks' primary purpose being pedestrian travel is a cultural norm that immigrants should respect. I doubt the Somalis realize they are upsetting anybody's day but the proper City response should not be implying native white residents are ignorant racists, but rather educating the immigrants about cultural norms regarding public pathways.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how much of an impediment to walking such "congregation" represents,

...and yet you kept typing.
posted by Floydd at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Minnesota has very active ones like Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota. Those agencies agree to help the refugees get settled, to learn English, find housing, get health care, and begin a new life.

See, this is one of the things that I like about Minnesota. There are certainly a lot of white people here who do have that whole savior/helper complex that's very "lookit me I'm a good person" and patronizing, but there are also people here who have worked through that and really do act with sincerity, generosity and an awareness of how US policy creates many of these refugee situations. (As with Hmong people especially.)

I have no idea how much of an impediment to walking such "congregation" represents, but sidewalks' primary purpose being pedestrian travel is a cultural norm that immigrants should respect. I doubt the Somalis realize they are upsetting anybody's day but the proper City response should not be implying native white residents are ignorant racists, but rather educating the immigrants about cultural norms regarding public pathways.

I actually do have an idea! I live in a neighborhood with many, many Somali people and I even live on a busy street with lots of Somali businesses, cafes and so on where people congregate. I would wager that my street is as busy as anything in Faribault (not to impugn Faribault; I love Faribault and drive down there every year to visit the woolen mills' factors store, the A&W, an orchard I like and the house I would totally buy if I could handle the commute.)

Anyway, I have lots of experience with groups of Somali dudes standing on the sidewalk, and unless the standing culture of Faribault is way different from Minneapolis, it really is not that big a deal. It is not some kind of kee-razy traffic-blocking thing; it's just people standing around. You know, the way they would in the suburbs if they were leaving a party and sort of congregating and chit-chatting before getting into cars. What's more, I have only ever observed standing and chatting when there actually wasn't much pedestrian traffic, because just like anyone else all these guys respond to regular social cues. I would say that I walk by a group of Somali men chatting multiple times every single week! And never once have I felt impeded in my walking. I think that folks who do feel impeded are projecting, and they need to stop that.

Also, frankly, although sidewalks are for walking, they're also part of just random public space.

What no one is saying is that having lots of people out and about is good for neighborhoods, a la Jane Jacobs. There's less crime, kids are safer, if someone needs help there is someone right there - like if someone has a heart attack or hurts themselves or even just needs directions. If there are groups of Somali guys hanging out and chatting, hey, that's one more disincentive for someone to steal my bike.
posted by Frowner at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


For me the number one measure of the success of a public space is that people feel naturally inclined to congregation and socialize there. It is good for the soul and it is good for the hood.

This is why I hate so much of post war urbanism, suburbs and city governments attitudes. The streets are for moving from point a to point b as quickly as possible. Cars rule. The accepted place to congregate is the shopping mall, a private place were every expression of joy, every act of socialization, all art and music are forbidden unless someone is making money.

Looks like these Somalian men can put up with and make work crappy urbanism. Maybe other people should follow.

I think I have a good angle to sell this: there is no safer street for kids than the one that is being watched by the whole community.

A public place gets top score if people feel safe and welcome enough there to have a lunchtime nap while peopla walk and talk and eat and sit around. I have lived in places were people leave hammocks bundled up in the trees in the street median to hang up and use during lunch. It was so good.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 9:58 AM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think I have a good angle to sell this: there is no safer street for kids than the one that is being watched by the whole community.


Yeah, but a bunch of black men hanging around! They must be dangerous!
posted by gyc at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many Somalis have also relocated to Maine, particularly in the Lewiston-Auburn area. They moved there for the same reason a lot of people move to a place...low crime rate, decent schools, cheap housing.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2012


Bunny: I think anti-Hmong animosity was muted or less visible because the Hmong moved, in large part, into working poor communities...

Wait, aren't the Somalis also moving into working poor communities?
posted by wenestvedt at 11:04 AM on July 2, 2012


There seem to be a lot if Somalis in Cedar Riverside, downtown Minneapolis, south Minneapolis, and the first ring suburbs, rather than clustered on the neighborhoods just outside St. Paul. Additionally, there are about 150,000 Hmong in the Twin Cities, and maybe twice that number in regards to Somalis. Somalis seem to have mych higher visibility in Minnesota -- if you go to the southern end of Nicollet Mall, you'll find Somali businesses with this sort of public congregating that the article discusses.

Somalis just seem to be more visible in MN, and so conflicts between them and the larger community are magnified and reported on more. But I remember when the Hmong started arriving, there were a lot if similar problems that just didn't attract this sort of attention.

Also, the Somalis are, often, Muslim, and so are a magnet for attention in a way that the Hmong aren't.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2012


That said, given the climate of MN, I was very surprised that the men were congregating outside. In Toronto, the main meeting place are coffee shops, so that people can get out of the cold in winter.

I don't know Faribault, but here in the Minneapolis I also see lots of Somali guys hanging out in coffee shops. It is, however, Summer right now.
posted by Area Man at 12:11 PM on July 2, 2012


Why do leather clad bikers congregate in trees in the forest?
item
If you're seeing very small ones, I think you're actually confusing them with fruit bats.
posted by ambrosen at 12:14 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know Faribault, but here in the Minneapolis I also see lots of Somali guys hanging out in coffee shops. It is, however, Summer right now.

I remember a couple of months back seeing the outside patio of a Starbucks near Cedar-Riverside full of African-looking men, which I thought was a bit weird since it was fairly windy and chilly that day, and now it makes sense.
posted by gyc at 12:49 PM on July 2, 2012


That starbucks is the hangout for all the Somali cabbies, that's why it's always full.
posted by Think_Long at 1:09 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I read and comment on this thread, I realize how difficult it is to talk about this stuff without being otherizing. Like, I am talking about Somali guys as if they're some strange exotic group instead of, you know, my actual neighbors.

Honestly, it is such a facet of white supremacy that people seriously need to have a whole conversation about, whoa, these people standing around chatting on the sidewalk, as one does. Who here has not chatted on a sidewalk?

America, I can't stand my own mind!
posted by Frowner at 1:47 PM on July 2, 2012


Although there was quite a lot of anti-semitism in parts of Minnesota until quite recently.

This does not match my experience at all. Most people I've known (east coast folks that moved to the cities or the south-eastern parts) have been almost unreasonably complementary, like they're describing a fantasy world where everyone is super helpful, but it's impossible to get a bagel of any quality.

However, the people in that state do keep sending Jews to the same US Senate seat over and over and over and over and I guess that could be a mark of contempt in itself. I wonder if that is some kind of record.
posted by Winnemac at 2:11 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


20 years ago, many African American neighborhoods in the SF Bay Area featured lots of people hanging out in front of their houses, all along the street. I don't recall seeing that in a long time.
posted by telstar at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Minneapolis was known as a particularly anti-semitic city decades ago. It had the reputation as being perhaps the most anti-semitic city in the United States. Hubert Humphrey and others worked hard to put an end to that, and I think they were largely successful. I'm sure there is still some anti-semitism in the city and elsewhere in the Minnesota (as is true of many places in the United States), but "quite a lot" of anti-semitism until "quite recently" is a major overstatement. I think Royal Ross is, in his way, carrying forward the work of Humphrey and his generation.
posted by Area Man at 3:01 PM on July 2, 2012


Minneapolis was known as a particularly anti-semitic city decades ago.

Very true. The original Mount Sinai hospital here was founded because Jewish doctors were being turned down for positions at other local hospitals. There were moderately serious issues with housing discrimination, too, I'm told. This would have been roughly about 1950, around the time Gentleman's Agreement was released.
posted by gimonca at 5:09 PM on July 2, 2012


This is a great discussion and a great article, thanks for posting. Frowner, I always love your contributions to the discussion.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:33 PM on July 2, 2012


I live in Minnesota, and I also wanted to thank Frowner for the great comments. Also, that Q&A is literally the most Minnesotan thing I have ever read.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:56 PM on July 2, 2012


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