More than a food fight at South High—Continuing conversations about racism

On Valentine's Day, police broke up a fight at South High that started during the lunch hour and that at least some Somali students characterized as racial, according to the Star Tribune report. At the Twin Cities Daily Planet, our mission is to help community members connect and communicate about issues that matter to them. Racism is a real issue in the Twin Cities—as elsewhere in America—but it's also a very complicated issue.

The South High fight started in the cafeteria, apparently with some food thrown, and escalated to involve more than a hundred students, police, Mace, and injuries that, while described as "minor" by police, resulted in four people being taken to the hospital. 

The school district's official statement said that the school "placed on a precautionary code yellow lockdown due to a food fight that escalated into a physical fight."

"The incident took place during third period lunch. It began at approximately 12:45 p.m. and lasted 15 minutes. Staff members responded immediately to the incident and followed proper security procedures. The school resource officer and Minneapolis police responded to the matter. 

"Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Public Information Officer Bill Palmer said two school resource officers on site were unable to handle the escalating situation and called MPD for backup. Upon arrival, police attempted to disperse the crowd but were unsuccessful. Police then formed a skirmish line, a method used during crowd control situations whereby officers link arms to form a barrier. When students failed to respond to police requests to leave, officers used a chemical agent. Mace was sprayed into the air above the crowd, not at any individual. Several students complained of the effects of mace."

In January, Washburn High School responded to a racial incident, when a few students hung a dark-skinned doll from a stairwell and then posted photos on the internet.

We've discussed racism in several articles and columns recently. Frequently, when racism is the topic, we get comments suggesting that there's just too much talk about racism and we should all get over it. (We also get a lot of racist comments from neo-Nazi and white power groups, including some too vile to publish.)

Racism still exists, and no amount of Minnesota Nice can cover up that fact. Anti-racism efforts deserve as much coverage as racist incidents. Strong leaders in our communities, including leaders in the Minneapolis Public Schools, are making great efforts to combat racism and to build connections instead of walls.

We will continue to publish articles about racism — and about the efforts of people in the community to combat it. Some of our recent articles include Sheila Regan's articles on a student-organized anti-racism group at South High and on the public forum at Washburn High School, and Julie Landsman's reflections on race in the cities and schools that ends with this plea:

For now I wish that when I suggest change in the way we do things, here in our city, in our neighborhoods, I will no longer be told, “That will never happen.”  Perhaps the next person I speak to will say, “How could we do that, how can we interrupt business as usual? “

We hope people in the community will talk, with each other, in person, and in the Daily Planet, about the hard issues of race, discrimination and disparities. 

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Mary Turck's picture
Mary Turck

Mary Turck (maryturck [at] gmail [dot] com) is a freelance writer, editor, teacher, and lifelong activist, and former editor of the TC Daily Planet.

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Racism or culturalism?

It is interesting to note however that in this incident the "races" were both black.  This was a black american vs. Somali conflict.  So it sounds to me that unless you start thinking about "race" in ever smaller groupings (like the Somali break between themselves and Bantus) this is reall y not a race thing at all.  It is a cultural conflict.

Labels And Complex Issues

I think one way we shove things aside to save the trouble of actually dealing with them is to hang some sort of  threadbare label on them. There are dozens of them, but "racist" is a well-used one.  What does the label do but sort people into familiar groups that won't actually listen to each other.  Not being anywhere near these problems, I  still am certain they have more dimensions and orgins than race. In fact, if race is involved at all, it is probably in providing a familiar way to mentally structure events.  We-they is as old as organized human society, far older than civilization.  And it may provide some sort of seeing, but it also has a way of excluding anything that ill fits the structure chosen.  We need to recover all that information that categorical thinking finds inconvenient.  Did some individual insult another or hurt their feelings. Did some action follow that and create hostile groups?  Playwrights have tried to show us these sort of things at least back to Greek times.  It may be tough to get individuals to brave the embarrassment of admitting where the seed was and how it germinated. But labeling and name-calling is really, almost 100 percent of the time, a dead end.  Every body ends up with more "history" and more resentment based up their deeply held prejudices.  Police know PR too.  They can't give false information, but their professional views may distort, too.

Those involved need listening ears of people they trust who can maintain some objectivity and think through practical measures to cool tempers.