By Myrle Cooper
In April 2010, 25 courageous Somali high school girls exposed bullying and maltreatment of Black students historically ignored in St. Cloud’s public schools. Their aggressiveness benefited every student of color in St. Cloud schools. (“[Superintendent] Jordahl resigns from district, cites politics as reason,” St. Cloud Times, 4/14/2010; “St. Cloud School board approves agreement ending discrimination complaint,” St. Cloud Times, 10/28/2011)
Last September, when Mahmoud Saffari, associate vice president for enrollment at St. Cloud State University (SCSU), was abruptly fired after mentioning low Black and minority student retention possibly caused by local racism, campus and community people of color protested. After Faculty and Staff of Color Caucus diplomacy, letters, meetings and rallies, SCSU’s president Earl Potter refused to reinstate Saffari. The Somalis girls weren’t intimidated by protocol.
Documenting, exposing and penalizing St. Cloud and SCSU for persistent racism began in October 1991. SCSU president Brendan McDonald was forced to resign in 1992. On October 6 and 27, 2011, the Color Caucus makes calls to news media reporters announcing demonstrations supporting Saffari, citing vague racism. Cathartic cries of wolf are safer than defying behavior expectations. The battle to save Saffari was lost.
Despite explanations to Governor Mark Dayton during interruptions at a groundbreaking ceremony, Potter remains unscathed. Masochistic Color Caucus members, several claiming to be veterans of 1960s civil rights battles (if only as spectators and theorists), couldn’t match the Somali girls’ effectiveness.
News media reporters expected to hear far more damning evidence of SCSU racism or minority employee double standards. (“Protest follows firing of SCSU administrator of color,” Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, 10/12/2011; “SCSU students protest over administrator’s dismissal,” CBS Minnesota/WCCO-TV, 10/27/2011)
Among Color Caucus members competing feverishly for the attention of bystanders, news cameras and microphones, none dared mention SCSU’s low Black student retention and graduation rates, even though all heard Saffari’s details and three had official Black graduation data previously sent to this writer.
Saffari’s team nearly tripled Black enrollment (2004-2009), but graduation rates didn’t even double. Among 685 Blacks enrolled in 2009, only 27-54 are likely to graduate in 2015. Why? Evidence suggests community racism. Despite undivided media attention, Color Caucus members choked.
Those accusing militants of “sabotaging” Potter’s diversity efforts are as naive as Nu Way Baptist church preacher Willie McAfee denying FBI data saying St. Cloud consistently tops Minnesota’s hate crimes lists: “To look at the [FBI] report and think St. Cloud has more hate crime than Minneapolis or St. Paul is stupid.”
Since most regional news sources already know St. Cloud’s racist reputation, a simply worded, three-question, multiple-choice response survey sample of St. Cloud’s residents of color citing racism would likely be published. Entrepreneurs searching Internet sources for reasons to locate in St. Cloud would probably be dissuaded (such as a couple of bioscience companies, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Vikings).
Sycophants claim a survey of Blacks and others of color would be skewed. Correct. When A.C. Nielsen and American Research Bureau assess Black television viewing preferences, Whites are logically excluded.
Well-designed silent boycotts could punish certain St. Cloud businesses like hundreds were in the segregated South (1954-1975). Major media sources would report periodic results based on demonstrated expenditures in other communities. Many St. Cloud-area Blacks might agree to selective shopping in Brainerd, Little Falls or Monticello, if not the Twin Cities.
Merchants, especially independents, might offer discounts as incentives. Chain stores could compete among themselves. Unlike their Southern counterparts, merchants might bend because fear may exceed possible inconveniences.
Suppose two or three Twin Cities-based adult and parent groups agreed to monitor St. Cloud’s hostile racial environment, acting as advisors and intermediaries for Black students poorly served by Minority Student Programs’ staff and Uncle Tom faculty members discouraging lawsuits and excusing racism. High school counselors, prospective students and news reporters would be invited to periodic sessions to hear excuses by Mayor Dave Kleis and SCSU President Earl Potter. Declined appearances would imply apathy or guilt.
City Hall and SCSU administrators assume students of color, particularly Blacks, away from home for the first time, can be naive, trusting and vulnerable despite St. Cloud’s well-known reputation for bigotry (i.e. hate crimes, homophobia, racism, rapes, sexism and xenophobia).
Lester Collins and the Council on Black Minnesotans, like the Council on American Islamic Relations, acted as “force multipliers” encouraging St. Cloud’s disparate Black factions to cooperate against racism. Fearing outside influences, the mayor’s office sent Collins a letter warning, “If the Black community wishes to move forward quickly, it should seek the path of least resistance first before it chooses to be confrontational.”
Bargainers with no power, hear/see/speak-no-evil house servants, and Stockholm syndrome victims facilitate St. Cloud racism. Somali girls were “confrontational” and triumphant. The Color Caucus bluffed.
Myrle Cooper is retired from SCSU but continues to closely monitor racism and expose a community resisting change. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.