Gee, I Wonder Why

One of the more interesting accusations to come out of the whole Shelbyville/Tyson/Somali thing is that the Somalis are rude, oh, so rude, you don’t even understand how rude they are, America, but my god the rudeness, and you know how we Southerners are, with our politeness and so the rudeness is even more galling to us and did I mention how rude they were rude rude rude and that’s why we hate them?  See, they’re rude.  Oh, and they refuse to learn English.

But, if you look a little more closely, and I’m not even talking using deep analytic egg-headed academic skills here, I’m just talking about paying close attention to what folks are saying, the complaint seems to be that the Somalis aren’t stupid.

Let’s just assume that the refugees from Somolia in Shelbyville have ears to hear and eyes to read.  Let’s assume that at least a few of them have access to the internet or know someone with access to the internet.  In other words, that they are people living in a mid-sized Tennessee city.

And let’s just for a minute, put ourselves in the position of someone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and internet access to research, who is trying to establish himself in a small community in the American South.

When you read the reporter from the local paper sayingWhen I began researching this story about the Somalis, I knew it would be controversial. We were aware that many in Shelbyville were having serious concerns about hundreds of Sunni Muslims moving here.” Catch that?  Already you learn that, before he even started writing the story, he had it in his mind that Somalis moving to town was a legitimate cause for concern.  And that many people in the city in which you live have these concerns.

Then, maybe you do a little research on this reporter and you discover his blog, chock full of his anti-Muslim beliefs.  Do you think you’re going to get a fair shake from him?

But, okay, even if the paper makes it seem like you’re not going to be welcome, let’s at least give the people of Shelbyville a chance, right?  I mean, it’s not like everywhere you look online you see people from Shelbyville saying

They refuse to be a part of the community or to respect the citizens here . . . that is all to it. Its not any issue with racism or us picking on some small minority . . . it’s the fact that we constantly have to deal with their rude behavior and them snubbing us as inferior and infidels while we are asked to bend over backwards for them. It is just getting old . . . (here)

or

these somalia ppl are HATEFUL,,,,,,,i JUST WISH THAT YOU HAD THEM. I am not a biased person, ,,,,,open to all,,,,,,,these are rude, crude, and hateful,,,,,,mean. we will rue the day that we invited them to our country. they hate us and our country.

or

ALL the hijackers- MURDERERS were MUSLIM!

MUSLIMS raise their fists and shout “Death to America”

MUSLIMS behead innocents in the name of ALLAH,

MUSLIMS “preach” peace yet all the suicide/homicide bombers are MUSLIM.

I leave you with this:

Not all Muslims are terrorists, but MOST TERRORISTS ARE MUSLIM!

And so on and you’re supposed to believe that you’re the one with the problem?

I ask you this, Tennessee.  If you knew that many of your neighbors hated you with this kind of vitriol, just how nice would you be?  Or would you maybe keep to yourself and limit your contact with folks you didn’t know and, oh, I don’t know, seem a little rude, as a defense?

It’s pretty hilarious, in a sad way, I have to admit.  I mean, you’d think it might occur to someone that the Somalis in your midst are rude to you because they know you hate them.  I mean, are they supposed to pretend like they don’t know?

It boggles the mind.

But!

But, the best part from Brian Mosley’s op-ed is this

It also doesn’t help that the most common image of Somalis in American popular culture is from the Ridley Scott film “Black Hawk Down,” which depicts them as brutal, wild-eyed fanatics slaughtering U.S. troops in the name of Allah and barbaric warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

Because what if the tables were turned?  What if the Somalis went to their local video store and rented some movies about the region of our country they were settling in?  You’re going to tell me that, if African refugees spent any time watching Gone with the Wind, or Mississippi Burning or O Brother, Where Art Thou orTo Kill a Mockingbird or Roots or any other movie ever made about the American South, you’re going to be surprised that they might be wary of having anything at all to do with white Southerners?

Folks, I don’t know if you know this, but fair or not, we don’t have the greatest reputation for nonviolent tolerance.

I don’t know.  From where I’m sitting, it’s very hard to see this as anything other than “How dare those people treat us how we treat them!”

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29 thoughts on “Gee, I Wonder Why

  1. Yes, they are supposed to pretend that they don’t know and that they think that white Southerners are the most wonderful people in the world, however they are treated. Southern communities are southern families writ large — lots of sick secrets that everyone knows and no one is supposed to talk about or act like they know. Pass the tater salad, Uncle Junkie…sure glad you could make it to the family reunion.

    I’m sure God didn’t mean that bit about welcoming the stranger in one’s midst. Because, you know, those Somalis can be rude and doing what God wants is supposed to be easy and straightforward, requiring no change or self-reflection on the part of His servants.

  2. B, I don’t think the author “had it in his mind that Somalis moving to town was a legitimate cause for concern.” Infact, the author simply stated that the newspaper staff was “aware that many in Shelbyville were having serious concerns about hundreds of Sunni Muslims moving here.” That’s not a validation of those concerns, however right or wrong those concerns are.

  3. Pass the tater salad, Uncle Junkie…sure glad you could make it to the family reunion.

    Normally I’d be offended at the Hee Haw-ish sterotypes of the South, but I’m still chuckling at that.

    Uncle Junkie Priceless.

  4. Beth, I think it works as humor because Bridgett probably has an Uncle Junkie somewhere up in the holler of her old Kentucky home

    Christian, I’m not buying it. I often post on the magnificence of my boob freckle. Others who’ve seen it attest to it at least being a boob freckle, if not being the most amazing boob freckle on the planet. People who see it want to kiss it and touch it and yet, even though major media folks in town read me (you, for instance), there have been no series in the Tennessean about it, no news coverage on WKRN.

    And why is that?

    Because somehow, no matter how much I try to make my boob freckle into a local issue, no reporters are buying it.

    So, I don’t believe that just because a vocal minority of folks are complaining that the Somalis are rude means that those concerns are founded. It is a validation of those concerns to even do a story on it.

    Seriously, can you not see how ridiculous that is? Somalis have a different culture and religion than most people. Yes. Duh. How is that news?

    It’s only news if you believe already that it’s a problem.

  5. I don’t have an “Uncle Junkie”, but enough “cousin junkies” to relate… at the root of all humour is an element of familiarity

  6. May I just point out that in my experience, southerners aren’t particularly polite? Their rudeness is passive-agressive rather than in-your-face, but it’s rude all the same. I mean, if some driver swerves in front of me without signaling, it hardly matters whether there’s a “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker on their car. Smiling and saying “ma’am” doesn’t make a person polite, whereas yelling “yo! lady! come back here, I got the umbrella you left on the bus, are you nuts?” just might.

  7. And may I also point out that the sad thing is that the immigrants who are going through all this will turn it into their own secret? In a few years they’ll be more settled, and get married and have some kids. Even the ones who are kids themselves now. And, if they’re like most immigrants to this country, they won’t want their own children to know about all the bad stuff they went through when they first got here; they’ll tell them about Americathewelcominglandofopportunity, and how the US is so great becauseanyonecanbecomeanAmerican. It won’t be a “no, we never, ever talk about that” kind of secret, but somehow the bad stuff will never get mentioned unless it can be turned into a joke or a triumphant anecdote.

    And the kids will be so busy trying to be Americans and not subtly different like their parents that they won’t ask many questions, and by the time the grandkids come along and do ask them, they’ll just be told that no one remembers much.

    I mean, I always knew that my grandparents were hated, reviled, excluded when they first got here, but I knew it as a historical fact, not as something that had happened to them. I’ve read the books and seen the pictures, and I know that within a short time after they arrived here, laws were passed to keep more people like them from coming. We even had that troll over here a couple of weeks ago lamenting that the laws were ever changed. But I never heard a story about it, the same way that while I was told how the whole family wanted to come here I was never told about what was so awful back home that it was worth sending a 15 year old girl a quarter of the way around the world all by herself to get away from it.

    Immigrants get treated so badly that it makes them ashamed of their stories, so they don’t tell them. So that we forget to prepare to make things easier for the next batch.

  8. I deal with African immigrants every day. On a rudeness scale, the w. africans would mop up the floor with the somalis. Especially those from former french colonies. Those guys are assholes. The somali culture is largely influenced by their arab co-religionists. Hence the seemingly aggressive and confrontational way they are percieved. Spend some time haggling with your various Semites and you’ll find the somalis to be relatively meek.

  9. B, I have yet to see you issue a press release about your boob freckle. As you know, it’s not a story until you tell it, and seeing as I’m the only one here that reads blogs regularly, and automatically filter out boobs, the newsdesk has no idea about your alleged boob freckle.

    What I advise you do is to embed a picture of your boob freckle into a concise press release and fax it to local media with a link to the version online. Make it a multimedia experience. As always, I’m here to serve.

  10. I leave you with this:

    Not all White Tennesseans are violent, racist, a**holes, but MOST VIOLENT, RACIST, A**HOLE TENNESSEANS ARE WHITE!

  11. Those guys are assholes.

    Rudeness doesn’t impress me. When the Maligned Brown Immigrants of the Day bomb the shit out of my neighborhood and burn my baby girl alive with some DU or some Willie Pete, or maybe decapitate my wife with an M2 for the crime of not noticing their makeshift checkpoint while she’s driving home, then I’ll be impressed. If rudeness is all they’ve got, then they’re at the end of a long line of assholes.

    That said, most of the Somalis and West Africans I’ve met are no more or less rude than members of any other ethnic group or batch of immigrants. It varies from person to person, situation to situation.

    To NM: that is a wonderful, stimulating comment. For some people, the hatred and exclusion has only recently calmed down a bit, never mind how many generations they are removed from their ancestors’ ‘immigration.’ If I were a Somali or some other foreign brown person trying to make it here (and by “here” I don’t just mean Tennessee), I’d be stupid not to have a protective chip on my shoulder.

  12. Beth, all my uncle junkies are dead (because, well, you know…they, uhhh…had “weak hearts”) but the apple didn’t fall far from the tree where the second and third generation is concerned.

  13. The thing that bugs and disheartens me is how easy it seems to be for people to side with fear and anger. I don’t really have anything more profound than that.

    As for press releases, if that’s all it takes, I’m closer to the verge of world domination than I knew.

  14. Except that even with all of your talent, you still write pretty shitty press releases. Learn from Hobbs. Quote yourself. Insult their intelligence. You, my dear, have much to learn.

  15. Thanks, CS. And I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the prejudice goes away in a single generation. (It didn’t for my own family. But my parents, who had been brought up to consider themselves as Americans who were as American as anyone, felt entitled to complain about it and sometimes tell those stories, in ways my immigrant grandparents simply never did.) And skin color obviously has a lot to do with how quickly or slowly that happens, and anyone who is (now or still) at the receiving end of the antipathy is going to expect it.

  16. Oh, we southerners are great at sidewalk politeness: “how are you Ray Bob?”
    Ray Bob responds with a sad tone, “Well Momma is dying of the sugar, and daddy is on drunk again. I got to get two teeth out…”
    Southerner Number One interrupts Ray Bob, “Great to hear that. Gotta get to the Church singles group. Mandy is single again and hot to trot. Have a BLESSED DAY!”

    Surface politeness. But we are an awfully judgemental lot down South.

  17. Oh, we southerners are great at sidewalk politeness

    That’s been my experience to. And does anybody else find the “country wave” (you know where you casually wave at every stranger that passes by on the road) to be about the most pretentious thing imaginable?

  18. The country wave is a subtle and nuanced for of greeting. The number of fingers raised from the steering wheel indicates the level of acquaintance. One finger means stranger up to the full five finger family member wave.

  19. I actually like it. Us guys have been doin “the nod”, especially to another guy in a truck, for years. But the practice of waving at strangers as you pass has to be a good one, right? Its a brief acknowledge that we see you, and we wish you safe passage.

    I don’t see the pretentiousness. BTW, i don’t look like most around here, and i get my share of waves and nods.

  20. Oh my goodness, when your wife’s hot relative gave me the wave and nod as he stole your tractor… well, let’s just be clear that I’m not at all opposed to that kind of greeting. In my fantasies, he was saying “I see you, and I wish I weren’t busy stealing this tractor because I’d much rather spend the afternoon smothering you in smooches.”

  21. What Mack said. If you fax the newsdesk some hand written letter with polaroids of your boobs, it’ll go in the crazy file.

    If you type it up, quote yourself a lot and tell the producers how stupid they are if they don’t see the importance of a story, you’re in. We’re a lazy lot that love a good beating… and lots and lots of pictures.

  22. There are — and Brian covered them last December in his award-winning series — some legitimate concerns that a small community must deal with when faced with an unexpected and unplanned influx of non-English-speaking refugees. There are ESL teachers, translation services, and what have you. That doesn’t mean the refugees don’t have the right to move wherever they like; but it does mean that their presence creates issues which must be addressed, costs which must be incurred, problems which must be solved.

    At the same time, Brian’s series explained that the Somalis are, in fact, refugees, who have escaped from very real threats in their homeland.

    It’s very true that many in my community have reacted badly to these challenges, and attempted to assign blame. It’s also true that cultural differences, and the stress of what the Somalis have been through, have led to perceptions of rudeness. Many of our community leaders who wanted to reach out to the Somali community, or to communicate vital information about health and safety issues, ran into the same problem that Brian faced when he researched his series last year — they didn’t know who to talk to in the community, and no one they approached was even willing to talk to them. (On more than one occasion, one of our local officials has called Brian to ask for his suggestions and input on how to get in touch with the Somalis.) As a direct result of Brian’s series, the TIRRC has tried to get a little more involved, and that has resulted in a little better communication, although there still seem to be communication problems.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to take someone’s two-year-old blog entries and use them to claim that he or she is incapable of writing a fair and balanced news story. Every reporter has preconceptions, opinions, biases. We’re exposed to the people and personalities who make news, and we’re only human, and we’re going to form opinions about them. Good reporters try to be aware of these opinions and make a conscious effort to keep them out of their stories. Until someone invents the JournalBot 5000, that’s the way the process works.

    There are differences of opinion among scholars of journalism ethics about how transparent a journalist should be in terms of sharing his opinion outside the reporting process. Some, especially traditionalists, feel it’s a bad idea which can distract from and undermine intrinsically good work being done by the reporter; others feel that, within certain parameters, it’s a sort of disclaimer which helps the reader or viewer to judge the fairness of what is being reported. But those opinions exist, whether the reporter shares them or not.

    I’m not on the same page as Brian on some issues, including some of the issues which tie into this story. But I would hope that if both of us were to write a story on one of those issues, both stories would be fair and balanced. Journalism should be judged on its own merits — and that’s harder to do if you don’t live in the community which is being reported on.

  23. Yes, it must have been hard for places like Milwaukee to deal with 60% or more of their citizens speaking German or a Scandanavian language in the late 1900s. And man has it destroyed New York to have pretty much every language still spoken on the globe with an entire section of Gotham all their own.

    We are a nation built by generational waves of non-English speaking fURRENERS. Only about 20% of Americans have any Anglo Saxon genes. We are a mongrel nation and I for one trumpet mongrel pride. Bring on the Somalis. I bet they work hard and will start businesses, and pay taxes. And one day, one of them will cure cancer, or be the first AMERICAN on the moon, or stand in a firing line against our nation’s enemies.

    How has Tennessee fallen so far behind the rest of America? I remember that dumbass Bush telling liberals to not be on the wrong side of History. Well looks like my fellow Tennesseans are on the wrong side of history now!

  24. I don’t think I expressed any value judgement, positive or negative, about non-English speakers coming here. I simply said that immigration creates issues — and it does. I can show you where the ESL teachers show up in our school system budget, or where translation services show up in our judicial budgets, or what have you. Many of the issues cited by the anti-immigrationists are completely bogus, but you can’t possibly say that there’s no impact at all.

    And part of my point is that Shelbyville is a small town — comparisons to Milwaukee, much less New York, aren’t fair. Frankly, if 60 percent of the population here spoke the same foreign language, it would probably be easier to deal with than the current situation, because there would be economies of scale.

    Laws and expectations are far different today than they were during earlier waves of immigration. No doubt, that’s a good thing — but it also means that today’s schools, courts and government agencies are legally required to provide accommodations to non-English speakers that I suspect the schools of that earlier age were not. Again, I’m not in any way saying that’s a bad thing — I’m only saying it creates issues that need to be addressed, costs that need to be paid, what have you — and when my co-worker said that there were “concerns,” that’s the type of thing he was talking about. It wasn’t a code word for “send home all the foreigners.” It was a code word for “how are we going to pay for all of this?”

    When we first developed a large Hispanic population, the Times-Gazette became the first English-language newspaper in the state to introduce a regular weekly Spanish-language section. That section was later dropped, for business reasons. The advertising and readership weren’t enough to support it. Part of that is because our content was weak — the freelancer who coordinated the project for us favored international news over local news, despite our pleas to him to include more translated local content. Part of it was because, rather than look for a Spanish language section buried once a week in the middle of a daily English-language paper, the Latino community preferred a regional Spanish-only newspaper published in McMinnville. But the point is that we made an effort to reach out.

    Your sarcasm and condescension was unnecessary, and gets in the way of real dialogue on what is an important issue.

  25. John, I appreciate that it’s not fair to judge someone’s ability to do his job based on blog posts he made two years ago. But I also know that you must understand why people would be a little WTF? about it–from the Somalis who must wonder if he can be fair towards them knowing his disdain for their religion to those of us out here who who find it’s weird that he’s willing to dog Christy for seemingly not being upfront about her biases, when it’s not like he’s running around disclosing his.

    But, but, but. Let’s not get distracted. Your reporter and his biases and whether they are an issue is just a small facet of a larger problem–granted, an interesting facet because it gives folks something to argue about that’s easier than facing the larger issues.

    And the larger issues are, as you’ve pointed to, how do you provide and pay for the programming you’re legally required to make available to folks, how do you do that when folks in your community are hostile towards newcomers, and–the big one–what do you do about the folks in your community who are so hostile and maybe even dangerous?

  26. John,

    My apologies if I seemed to attack you. But I went to this guys blog and he refers to left-wing control of the media and all that other jazz that silly Fox News folks do. He also has some pretty far right ideas expressed in previous posts.

    And, actually, the same example of Milwaukee and New York holds in small towns across the Midwest during the early 1900s. How do you deal with it? Like all past Americans with any sesne: accept them into yoru community despite their differences. If they break the law, then come down hard on them. If they don’t pay taxes, make them do so.

    However, you can’t attempt to say that your fellow Shelbyville residents are just a bunch of sweet people reacting to Somali hatred. Maybe the Somalis don’t like white Tennesseans because they point at their new brown brothers in the grocery store and giggle, or mock them. I bet they get harressed constantly just going about their business.

    You are also talking about people who come from a failed state where all sense of law and order broke down. Many of them have watched family members tortured to death. Some of them have been tortured, raped, etc. Maybe they aren’t the sweetest people ever, but they are here and won’t be leaving.

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