Tense about race in Minneapolis

A cafeteria food fight turned into a riot at South High School in Minneapolis yesterday. The school’s security officers were insufficient to the task. Police officers dispatched to the scene sprayed mace and placed the school on lockdown to get a handle on the situation. Three or four students and a staff member ended up in the hospital.

What’s going on? The Star Tribune discreetly reports that parents and students ascribe the hostilities to “racial tensions between Somali-American students and others.” Who might those others be? For some reason, the Star Tribune’s two reporters seem to be unable or unwilling to get to the bottom of the story.

The British press is not quite so inhibited. Let’s go to the (London) Daily Mail. The Daily Mail reports that the fight was “between Muslim and black students.”

Given that the Muslim students were Somali, I would say that should read “other black students” for the sake of clarity. The Daily Mail adds a little further down in its story: “Some members of the South High School community said that the violent incident was the culmination of ongoing tensions between the eight per cent of Muslim students of Somali de[s]cent and the 20 per cent who are African Americans.” See also the local CBS news report (quoting a South High student: “I know it’s a pride thing between Muslims and black people. They want their pride back for something. I don’t know.”) and the local NBC news report (“students claim this brawl was more than just a food fight, telling KARE 11 racial tensions have been boiling between Somali and African-American students for some time.” On the other hand, the CBS story quotes another student: “A big riot. It was all types of races.”)

Speaking of “racial tensions,” I do believe someone is tense about race, even if it is apparently not the students at South High. I think it’s the folks at the Star Tribune, who seem to be unable to get the basics of the story even with the two reporters they have on the case.

I assume the Daily Mail has the story right, despite the derivative nature of its account. The tension between black and Somali students in the Minneapolis high schools is an old story. Indeed, I wrote an op-ed column about tensions between Minneapolis’s black and Somali high school students that the Star Tribune published in 1997.

If white students were harassing Somali students, I believe that Star Tribune would (rightly) have the story, calling (wrongly) for indoctrination in the glories of “diversity.” Indeed, I think that’s what set me off back in 1997.

There is evidence of absence in the Star Tribune story about yesterday’s incident. My guess, and it is a guess based on the Daily Mail and local televisions news accounts, is that the Star Tribune is itself a little too tense about race to get the more complicated story under its nose straight.

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