By Melissa Anne Frank
Diversity has the power to make communities stronger. But in order for that strength to exist, there needs to be an integration between people. Our community has been divided for too long. After attending the Mizzou rally on campus, I was reminded of the fact that our entire community is missing this significant aspect in our lives.
I often ride my bike through downtown St. Cloud on my way to campus. I bike past people and say “good morning,” because that is the kind of person that I am. I was raised in this state, and I was taught that people in this state are nice. We say good morning to our neighbors, we are there for each other, and we create safe spaces for those around us…at least that’s what I was taught.
I am not blind to the world…I know that there are great amounts of injustice, intolerance, and prejudice, but I always thought that Minnesota was different, until I moved to St. Cloud. You see, I was raised in a very diverse neighborhood (North Minneapolis), and I saw the ways that my neighbors respected, and were friends with one another, even though they were from various backgrounds. As soon as I moved to St. Cloud, I could see that this town was not the same. In 1994, there was almost no diversity in this town, and as refugee and immigrant populations moved in people had a really hard time adjusting. I had hoped that would change, however, I think it has only gotten worse.
One day, as I rode my bike I said “good morning” to a woman, a stranger, just as always. She turned and looked at me with a shocked look on her face. She stumbled over her speech for a moment and said “good morning” back to me. Her voice matched the shock that I saw on her face. I smiled and kept biking towards campus, but that moment has stuck with me for a long time. Why was she shocked? Why did my “good morning” feel like something she had never heard before? She wore a hijab. I would like to think that it was just because I caught her off guard, but I know that is probably not the case. It saddens me to think that I was perhaps one of the first white people to acknowledge her existence that day, and maybe for a long time.
Where is our Minnesota nice? Why is it not extending to our neighbors? Xenophobia, fear, and hatred have crowded out what I thought was our greatest strength in this state. If I can encourage anything to my fellow Minnesotan’s, it would be this; we have nothing to gain by showing people that we are not open to integrated diversity. In fact, we have everything to lose. Instead of losing, I propose we win, because we can! We can win something so much greater. When communities are integrated there is greater tolerance and open-mindedness. People are proven to do better in situations where this exists. We must have these things in order to move ahead in the global economy we now find ourselves situated within.
“Xenophobia, fear, and hatred have crowded out what I thought was our greatest strength in this state.” Tweet This Quote!
Here are some ways that we can all help promote integrated diversity:
- Speak out against racist, sexist, heterosexist, gender normative, ageist, and ableist comments. When someone says something that is demeaning to the identity of someone else, call them out on it!
- Meet someone who is different from you. Say “hello,” ask them questions about their day, and respect the fact that their day may be different from yours.
- Learn about, and listen to, issues that concern other people. By learning about the injustices in our community and world, we can become more attuned to others.
- Think about the things that you say. Is what you are saying going to be derogatory towards someone else? If you answered yes, then maybe you should say something else.
- Dammit, be open minded! Think about the things you yourself believe. It is perfectly okay to challenge them! Just because you are friends with someone who is different from you, it doesn’t make you any less than yourself. We all have a place in this world, finding that place by letting go of fear and hatred will go much further to realizing that place.
I would like to leave with the words of Nelson Mandela. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Instead of forgetting our strength, I say we crowd out things like xenophobia, hate, and fear. We can no longer afford to act as though there is only one community worthy of living in St Cloud. Let’s prove to people that we are Minnesota Nice!
Melissa Anne Frank is majoring in both Women’s Studies and English Rhetoric at St Cloud State. Originally planning on completing an Associate in Arts degree, she discovered that her hunger for learning would not be satisfied with a two year degree. She plans on continuing her education with a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate. She is proud to be part of the Social Media team at the St. Cloud State Women’s Center, and she is passionate about equality for every person. Melissa also writes a personal blog called Musing with Melly on WordPress. Melissa loves reading, writing, video games, and spending time with her partner and two children.
Photo courtesy of cci.utk.edu