By Kalia Abiade
Local school and law enforcement officials are keeping close watch after a lunchtime brawl between Somali students and African American students at a Minneapolis high school last month.
Reports indicate that more than 200 students became entangled in the fight until police broke it up with chemical spray. Three students and one staff member at South High School were taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries. Classes resumed the next day, but security was increased and the school was on lock down.
While it remains unclear exactly what triggered the lunchroom clash, many say the episode underscores ongoing cultural tension between Somalis and African Americans in Minneapolis. Some students pointed to smaller conflicts in the recent past and say they are not surprised.
David O. Stovall, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told a reporter in 2010 that the source of this type of tension is often the result of a lack of understanding.
Though African immigrants and African Americans fall under the umbrella of “black” in racial categorization, their cultures and histories have many differences. Often, African Americans are unaware of the turmoil immigrants and refugees have faced before coming to their new communities. Likewise, immigrants may not always fully appreciate or understand the racial and historical context they are stepping into.
The issue “is our inability to communicate our history, to engage our histories,” Stovall said.
Far-right activists have used this incident to attack the Somali community on two fronts: immigration and religion. “Bringing huge numbers of Muslim Somalis into the United States and depositing them in places like Minnesota may rank as one of the worst policies of the last three years and the growing violence is only the tip of the iceberg,” Daniel Greenfield wrote for David Horowitz’s online FrontPage Magazine.
Other anti-Muslim activists have used this incident — and particularly a statement from the Minnesota chapter of CAIR — to intensify the disdain and panic already well-established within the anti-immigration movement. School and law enforcement officials have not placed blame on either group of students, yet that has not stopped commentators on a number of anti-Muslim blogs from blaming the Somali students and, further, accusing them of being motivated by radical Islam and belonging to Muslim gangs.
“This incident actually has nothing to do with racial tensions, and everything to do with religious tensions, which are, as always, Islamic in origin,” Pamela Geller wrote on her blog Atlas Shrugs. “This fight was just more of the poisonous fruit of importing whole Muslim communities under the Refugee Resettlement Program.”
The tone of these bloggers and most of their commenters illustrate their inability — or an unwillingness — to understand racial and cultural nuance and to operate under any mode other than irrational fear.
Leaders from the African American community and the Somali community in Minneapolis, on the other hand, say they’re using this incident as a wake-up call and they have pledged to work together to begin the healing process.
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Abdimalik Mohamed acknowledged the need to address cultural tension, but he reminded listeners that high school skirmishes are not uncommon and he struck a hopeful tone. His organization, Ka Joog, attempts to bridge cultural gaps for Somali youth.
“At the end of the day … these are kids. We forget at times. Kids do fight. Kids get into altercations,” Mohamed said. “And then sometimes the people who fight become best friends.”