Hate, racism, xenophobia and general bigotry are nothing new. They are not regional, and they are not confined to the Southern states. Minnesota, for instance, is usually perceived as a more liberal place to live. However, the increase in bias-related incidents on the University of Minnesota campus, and the murder of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights last year, among other things, show that prejudice and hate are no strangers to the North. But, that’s just in the city, right? Things like that don’t happen in small towns – Especially not when we’re all Minnesota Nice! Right?
Wrong. In the Twin Cities, there are marches and rallies against hate and bigotry. In our small towns, hate and bigotry are considered small talk.
Spewing xenophobic rhetoric in public is just being polite – It’s how you make conversation here.
Last week, I was working an overnight shift at a local gas station. A white man came in, a regular, who appeared to be in his mid- to late- thirties. He’s usually pretty talkative with my coworker and me, but he was unusually quiet. My coworker asked him what was on his mind, which launched him into a loud, aggressive rant.
Apparently, he had just come from the grocery store, where a Muslim woman had cut in front of him in line. He proudly bragged to us about how he yelled at her, “What am I, a f*cking third-class citizen to you? Oh yeah, that’s right, I am under your Sharia law”. He went on to gloat about how he followed her to her car, berating her and demanding that she go back to her country. This man was proud of his actions. This man felt comfortable enough with his bigotry to brag to strangers about it, one of them a person of color. He just assumed we would validate him, and my coworker actually did.
This is not an unusual conversation in my hometown. This was not strange, nor was it out of the ordinary. This is everyday life in the rural towns around here. Later that night, when I was going through my register, I came across a one dollar bill that I hadn’t noticed earlier. It had been stamped with red ink to boldly read: “NO MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS IN USA!”.
Hate is so normalized in these rural towns that neither of these incidents were even noteworthy. I didn’t show my coworker the one dollar bill because it’s likely she would have laughed and posted a photo of it on her Snapchat. When I clocked out and came home the next morning, I did not tell my family about either incident. It’s likely they would have sided with the man spewing hate speech in public, and the anonymous person who had stamped their bigotry onto their money. Hate is so normalized in these rural towns that as a black woman, feeling unsafe because of my skin color feels routine.
The normalization of hate in rural towns is dangerous. It perpetuates a dangerous message. Being proud of harassing a woman and following her to her car because she’s Muslim should not be encouraged or celebrated. Racists should not feel comfortable and safe, while racial minorities are afraid to go get groceries. The normalization of hate in rural towns needs to come to an end- before it gets worse.