New dimensions in racial tensions

A cafeteria food fight turned into a riot at South High School in Minneapolis in February last year. 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 was all the excitement about? The Star Tribune discreetly reported that parents and students ascribed 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 were unable or unwilling to get to the bottom of the story.

Fortunately, the British press was not quite so inhibited. The (London) Daily Mail reported that the fight was “between Muslim and black students.”

Given that the Muslim students were Somali, I would say that should have read “other black students” for the sake of clarity. The Daily Mail added 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 also quoted 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 remain unable to get the basics of the story straight. The “racial tensions” return to the news in the Star Tribune article by Alejandra Matos on last week’s settlement of the federal complaint arising from the food fight. Matos reports:

The Minneapolis School District settled a federal complaint saying that it failed to stop the harassment of black and Somali students at South High School during the 2012-13 school year.

The settlement, signed by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson on Sept. 25 and released Friday, will require the district to take action in 13 different areas and submit monitoring reports to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“We welcome this agreement and hope it will lead to an educational environment free of harassment based on race, religion or national origin,” said Ellen Longfellow, the attorney for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

CAIR filed the complaint in March 2013 with the Department of Education after a cafeteria fight involving 200 to 300 students erupted at South High School in February of that year. Students said the fight marked a boiling point in growing racial tension at the school.

Who’s zoomin’ who? Like a perpetrator following the advice of counsel, the Star Tribune still declines to answer. The Daily Mail must have had the story right. Native born black students are harassing Somali students, and apparently vice versa.

The “racial tensions” between black and Somali students in the Minneapolis high schools are 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. The funny thing about these “racial tensions” — they’re not based on race.

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.

But why is the Star Tribune so shy? How are we to account for the Star Tribune’s continuing failure to report who is harassing whom at South High School? The Star Tribune is still too “tense” about “race” to get the important story under its nose straight for its readers.


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