#istandwithmyneighbors

Friday I had the pleasure of grabbing a bite to eat with my friend Natalie – you might remember her from HERE.

With all of this past week’s drama in our quiet little city we had much to talk about.  For those of you not familiar with what has been happening in central MN you can read more about it HERE, but in a nutshell, some of our local Somali students, parents & community members stepped out to have a peaceful protest regarding how ongoing cultural/racist incidents had been handled by the school and a general discord between somali and non-somali students. Specifically, some somali students have been recipients of assault & harassment (one student had fruit thrown at her on stage during a cultural assembly, another student was spit upon her face, and finally a picture of a Somali student in a wheelchair was placed on Snapchat with an allegation that she was affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organization).

 

#Istandwithmyneighbors
Photo courtesy of St Cloud Times

 

What ensued from the original article was a hailstorm of hate and xenophobia. To be honest, I was flabbergasted. I know from working in the local healthcare industry that there is a general dislike of our Somali neighbors, but never in a million years would I have ever guessed that the people in my community were capable of the hate filled, apathetic reaction to such terrible crimes against children. Because essentially that is what we are talking about folks, our kids. As a parent, my heart instantly ached for those mothers unable to comfort their kids let alone fully protect them in a sea of ignorance & loathing. What would I do if my children faced these types of situations merely because of how they dressed or what we believed?

 

Fighting Hatred #istandwithmyneighbors

 

Second, I was amazed at how many people were willing to be that open and honest about their hatred in a public forum. These were people who were willing to voice their opinions in front of friends, neighbors, and employers without a second thought and maybe worse, believing that everyone would agree and back them up. Sadly, the majority did. One Somali woman even questioned why there is such hatred for her community- I have no answer and nothing I saw was able to really give her a good one. The census seemed to range from believing that the Somali population is just living off of our government money & taking all of our good jobs to being the perpetrators of a white & Christian genocide. Some believe the government is to blame, others the Lutheran Social Services, and one man went so far as to blame the Jews (don’t even ask me how he got there). There was a general feeling that the somali community wanted special treatment and handouts. Personally, I feel like respect and a safe learning environment is a pretty standard request.  Others complained about the lack to assimilate and be more “American”. Never mind that our ancestors were some of the first to wage war on culture and create a genocide of the native american people, the first TRUE Americans (that was their version of “assimilation”). Never mind that I have yet to ever meet anyone that had their “good job” taken from them by an immigrant. I have yet to hear anyone bitch about not being able to get their dream job at Electrolux or a meat rendering plant because they were beaten to it by immigrants.

 

One woman even shared that a fellow churchgoer went so far as to say that even though she knows that Jesus preaches that we should love our neighbors, she just couldn’t, WOULDN’T do it and would deal with the consequences on judgement day. Yikes. Slowly, I began to wonder how many of these people would call themselves Christians? I dare to say that I think it would be a large number. How many of those that were supporting the Somali community with love and respect would call themselves Christians? I would assume far less. Odd isn’t it that those taught to love are the ones spewing hate?

 

Fighting Hatred in a Small Community- #istandwithmyneighbors
Courtesy of All India Mission http://www.allindiamission.com

 

Fighting Hatred in a Small Community- #istandwithmyneighborsAlways amazing, Natalie stepped forward after the article was published and spent the entire day in the daunting task of peaceably and calmly trying to educate folks and bring them back to the issue at hand. Sadly, this is a wound that has gone a long time in our city without being truly addressed and now it’s infected. Damn near gangrenous. But despite being personally attacked (verbally) and called all sorts of names, she has continued on. Her husband even joined in on the fun with this photo that has now gone locally viral on Facebook. The St Cloud Times even ran her recent blog post. You can read it HERE.

 

I won’t kid myself. I don’t think there is anything I can do to change the minds of the majority of these hate mongers by writing this blog piece. However, I do hold out hope that maybe, just maybe together we can change just one. I know that sometimes life seems shitty and unfair and it’s easy to assume that the somali family down the street is getting some type of handout. I think we are guilty of making many assumptions everyday rather than educating ourselves. For instance, do you know why Somali’s are here in the U.S.? It’s sure not because they thought our cars were nicer and they wanted to get fat off of big Macs. It wasn’t because their dream in life was to work at a chicken rendering plant and have people shout hate filled messages at them from cars. Nope. Many are refugees:

 

ref·u·gee
ˌrefyo͝oˈjē/
noun
  1. a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.   “tens of thousands of refugees fled their homes”
Keyword- forced. Those who are not refugees are likely legal immigrants and first generation immigrants. It’s likely that if you look just a little ways back in your own family line you will see that your ancestors were immigrants leaving a poor country looking for a better life or fleeing due to religious persecution. Doesn’t sound that different.  I also know that sometimes this world can be a really scary place and that things like Sept 11th and the recent ISIS activity is enough to make you feel like hiding.  I know that it’s easy to wonder if these terrorists are among us- truth is they might be. They might look like ‘you expect’ (aka Muslim) but they might look like Timothy McVey (Oklahoma City Federal Building) or Dr. Bruce E. Ivins (Anthrax letter attacks).
The VAST majority of muslims in our society want all of the same things you do: peace, respect, education, food, shelter, and the chance to make a better life for their children. Just because scary shit happens doesn’t mean we can just throw a label on people. I can’t hate ALL men because some rape; I can’t hate ALL christians because some bomb clinics and kill in the name of Jesus, just like I can’t hate muslims because some group of vigilantes is doing horrendous acts in their name. It’s just not fair.
Fighting Hatred #istandwithmyneighbors
What I can do is try to empathize. I can try to imagine, truly imagine, how hard it must be to leave everything behind, sometimes even family and start someplace new. I can try to image what it would be like to say goodbye to my mother, father, sister or brother and not know if I will ever see them again. I can try to imagine life inside a war zone- every day. I can try to imagine sending my children out into a new world that is trying desperately to change them, corrupt them, and spews hatred at them. I can try to imagine being somewhere else and not knowing the language but desperately needing something but finding people unwilling to help me or even look at me; wanting to take classes, but not being able to because of not enough access. I can try to imagine what it is like to be born here like everyone else around me but hated nonetheless. I can try to imagine being hated just for being me.  And once I’ve done that, once I’ve wallowed in the pain of that and really started to get the smallest, tiniest glimpse of that, then I can remember to break through it all with love, respect & tolerance.
Fighting Hatred- #istandwithmyneighbors
Image courtesy of http://loubis-and-champagne.tumblr.com

Now it’s your turn.

 

If you stand with your neighbors share your photos on twitter, FB and instagram: #istandbymyneighbors or #unitecloud
Feel hate or fear in your heart?
Educate yourself. Meditate on where you think it comes from. Get out and meet someone of a different race/ethnicity.

Need some resources?

Teaching Tolerance- Immigration myths
Immigration Policy Center- Top 10 myths about immigration
Refugees International- Somalia Fact Sheet

Christian? Read these:

1 John 4:20
Proverbs 6:16-19
Matthew 22:37-39
Leviticus 19:17
Ephesians 4:29
John 13:34-35
1 John 2:9
Matthew 7:1-29
Luke 6:31-36
1 Corinthians 13:13

6 Responses

  1. Lori

    Great post. I can’t imagine my child being in this situation – it would be devastating to think they were hated just because of their dress or beliefs. And if people really sat down and tried to imagine themselves on the “other side”, they too would realize we all want the same things.

    • Kelly Meyer

      Thanks, Lori! I often wonder if more would change is we were better at remembering to use our parental heart before we acted. If we stopped to think, “What if someone said this to my child?”- even if we are addressing another grown man or woman!

  2. Gay Ellyn Gunsbury

    I teach ESL – English as a Second Language – to wonderful, beautiful people from Somalia. They work hard to learn English, learn everything from food names and money values to how to get places in town via Metrobus. Most switch busses twice to get to get their children to school and to class by 8:30 a.m. across town. Their atrocities from home humble all. Fathers killed in front of their very eyes. Mothers raped and wailing in front of them. Divisions of families with uncles or aunts to flee from the country and strife we will never know.
    They are assimilating the best they can into our community. How would we do the same in Somalia? Welcome them. They are our neighbors. They need to be our friends as well. Get to know them and they will change your life, freedom and privilege you take for granted.

    • Kelly Meyer

      Gay, thank you so much for sharing this. I wish there were a way to help people to step outside of their comfort zone and hear these stories for themselves. To drop their fear and assumptions and take the time to get to know others before judging them. Congrats to you one helping out! I’ve often wondered about teaching ESL classes, but have been intimidated by the idea of “teaching”.

  3. Corie

    Absolutely wonderfully worded article!!! You have a gift for writing. Thank you for standing by our neighbors!!!!