Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time for Courageous Dialog (2)

Today's Times contains a dialog on whether the people who raise questions about immigrants in this community and how we accommodate immigrants in public schools, are motivated by racism or other venality. I expressed my views on this topic a few weeks ago in a post called Time for Courageous Dialog. Yesterday, Dick Andzenge broached the subject of whether immigrants expect too much when they ask for religious accommodations. That set off another intense and sometimes highly charged discussion as well.

I wanted to raise the flag one more time for my own view, which is that these issues are more likely to divide us if we don't talk about them openly and with a good will. One of the reasons that they fester in our community is that we fear that discussing them will result in a diatribe of name-calling. As my post argues, if we don't discuss these issues, and confront them openly, then we will leave the public forum exclusively to the people who get their thrills out of creating division and hostility.

This is not white-cloud -- and people who have concerns about immigration, or diversity issues, are not automatically racists. Nor can we attribute the views of one or two Somalis to all Somalis. It is racist to accuse all white people in St. Cloud as subscribing to the views of a few crazy people, just because they are white. It is racist to accuse all Somalis of supporting a particular cause, just because some Somalis do.

I know, for example, that many Somalis in this community were appalled when CAIR brought their charges against the District. Many of them spoke to me personally and said, how can we express our disapproval of what CAIR is doing. Yes, I believe that most Somalis strongly support the idea that they should be allowed to pray when their religion calls upon them to pray, or fast when their religion calls upon them to fast. But it is not at all clear that most Somalis wanted CAIR to make this a legal issue, and I would caution people against assuming that just because a legal group in Minneapolis has one client who brings a legal claim, that therefore every Somali thinks that their employer should have been sued.

These issues are matters of public significance. I get questions from citizens about them all the time. Often, the citizen expresses some reluctance to raise the issues that concern them, because they don't want to give the impression that their motivations arise from prejudice or hatred. The people who ask me these questions about what we are doing and why are typically fine people who haven't an ounce of prejudice in their veins. Sometimes white parents are concerned that we might be less strict with Somali students than White students. They have a right to express these concerns, and we cannot respond by saying that therefore they must be racists.

The one thing that I have discovered for sure, is that when I talk to Somali parents they are largely concerned about the very same thing that non-Somali parents are concerned about. They want their children to learn English as soon as possible. They want us to maintain a high level of discipline for all children, and they want discipline to be strictly meted out equally to all students. Sometime minority and immigrant parents are concerned that possibly we are more strict with minority and immigrant students than white students. They too have a right to ask these questions and engage us in dialog. We demean and destroy that dialog if we immediately jump to name calling.

In and among the group of people asking these questions, may on occasion be a lurking racist, but we have to stay off of that and work on doing the right thing. If a person asks a fair question, its still a fair question, even if they are asking us for the wrong reasons. We need to confront these questions by answering them with courageous dialog.

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