My small act of good today was helping a coworker (Ann) move a mattress (because I have a truck), and in so doing I got a view of Minneapolis I’d never seen—from the 29th floor of a downtown building. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for 15 years now, and it’s weird but it still feels a little foreign to me. South Dakota is my home state, and if someone asks where I’m from I always stutter between Minneapolis and SoDak.
The queen-sized mattress was pretty heavy and after carrying it 20 seconds I just wanted to lay down on it because I am out of shape. Ann's son was helping me and he was in really good shape because he works in a gym, which made me look and feel even worse. I was wheezing a little.
In return for my help, my coworker generously donated some money to an organization we both agreed on, called Ka Joog, which provides community-based, culturally specific programs to Somali youth and their family. Minneapolis has the biggest Somali population in the country.
When Trump visited Minneapolis during the campaign, he insulted the Somali population here by labeling them, as he does with every group he maligns, as bad. People and things are either bad or good with him, rather than the human truth, which is that there is all kinds of in between and the story is never so simple. But it’s hard to tell a complicated lie, and it takes mental energy to learn truth, so he keeps it dumb.
Ka Joog literally means to help kids “stay away” from negative influences such as drugs, violence, radicalization, and other behaviors that can be detrimental to their development and future. So while they’re making sure refugees that come to Minneapolis become part of a community, and thereby become far less likely to radicalize (which is what people are so worried about), the administration just goes around insulting them. What a great organization to donate to.
Anyway, I should tell you that this coworker, Ann, used to be my boss, and about 9 years ago she hired me at the U of M. I’m eternally grateful for that. It changed my life for the better, and I’ve been growing as a person ever since, because I’m challenged by people and new ideas almost daily (I would say I am 6-8 times better of a person now than a decade ago). At the time, I was in a tough spot, working for an airline that didn’t value me at all, at a job I didn’t give a damn about. When you’re from South Dakota, you tend to transfer value to yourself from your job, so I felt like garbage most of the time because my job was mostly garbage.
While we were driving to get the mattress, Ann was saying to her son that she still remembered what I said in the job interview 9 years ago when I was asked about my experience working with diverse people and cultures and how I thought that experience would prepare me to work in a multicultural setting like a university. She said I wasn’t the most qualified person for the job, but my answer to that question sealed the deal for her. I don’t remember my answer, I was nervous as hell and there was a committee of 5 people interviewing me. She said that my answer was simple. I said that I was from South Dakota, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with diversity. “I’m white, and most people there are white, too. But I’m open minded, and get along with people.”
She said it was refreshing not to be bullshitted. It sounded honest, and I think that’s what it was. I literally don’t think there was a single black person in my entire 1-8th grade experience. I was afraid of black people. Part of me still is, but every time I meet another person who doesn’t look like me, it’s just like, “huh...he/she actually is a lot like me.”
This was 30 years ago now that I was in grade school, and South Dakota, like the rest of the world, has changed and will continue to do so. The world is global, and you can build a wall but someday it will just look like the wall in China—a tourist attraction where a hundred years from now (or more likely a dozen years) people just shake their damn heads at the monstrosity of it all.
It’s interesting to me that a lot of people who are freaking out about immigrants and refugees in America are doing so abstractly, with limited personal experience. My brother and I were talking about this the other day. He was worried about all the violent criminal immigrants in America. He lives in a town of 4,000. It’s a great town—I’ve visited a dozen times, but there is literally only 1 black person in the town. About 150 are Hispanic. 15% are Native American—people who saw us as immigrants not that long ago.
More than 61% of immigrants (undocumented and legal) live in 20 big urban areas like LA, NYC, and Chicago. Those cities went overwhelmingly for democrats, because I think people in those cities realize that immigrants and different kinds of people aren’t anything to be afraid of. Capitalizing on the fear of the unfamiliar, though, will definitely get you votes.