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Swastikas in Minnesota: Without fuss, we lose

REUTERS/David Ryder
Make things nice by talking about and resolving the not-nice things.

Minnesotans ridicule Confederate monuments and KKK rallies. I’ve heard “backward” used when Southern racism makes news. Yet, Crystal Lake Golf Club awoke to a swastika the other day. In February, a University of Minnesota student left a swastika in a residence hall. Prejudice lies beneath the surface here. Worse, we avoid “fuss.” We want things to remain nice, even when they aren’t. We shouldn’t.

Jose Leonardo Santos

A “Minnesota Stand-Off” is two people waiting on either side of an open door, each politely waiting for the other to make the first move. We overlook snubs or insults, call them misunderstandings. We prefer mollifying an upset person over challenging them, portraying complaints as indicative of no problem larger than passing anger. I’ve analyzed this culture as quite adaptive. In our current situation, however, “Minnesota Nice” becomes dangerous.

“Nice” overlooks “not-nice” things, in two ways. As community problems arise, we insist the community is a good one. When someone behaves harmfully, we insist they are a good person. We focus on things we feel good about, ignoring what we don’t feel good about. We believe our and others’ identities (who a person is, places we love) are good. They likely are. So we avoid focusing on bad things that happen. A perfect route through snips at family picnics. Catastrophe for social problems.

Examples

Two responses capture this perfectly. Of the U of M incident, the student’s old teacher said, “He does not have a hateful bone in his body.” Her commentary was titled “Matt Gruber isn’t a Nazi, he’s just a moron.” Note her focus: Who he is, not what he did. His identity? Forgivable idiot, not dangerous bigot. So, the ensuing conversation is about whether or not he’s an idiot. Not about swastikas.

At the golf course, someone told the press, “You know, this is a great place, and we don’t want to make a big fuss over it, really.” Their fear? “Fuss” threatens nice places. The swastikas? Not a threat, since “kids” likely made them. And the kids, well, they’re just idiots, not bigots, right?

Search your personal experience and find many such incidents. We ignore problems to avoid fuss. We focus on who a person is (which we believe is good), not on what they did or what happened (which we know is bad). A father neglects his children? Don’t call CPS. He’s a nice guy. We’ve known him and his family a long time. The business owner who rolls his eyes, silently joking with us when foreign customers enter? That’s just his way. Why make a fuss about it?

Because without fuss, we lose. What is lost? We surrender the hope of a truly “nice” Minnesota for a convenient lie.

Asking ourselves questions

Instead, dig deep. How do we really feel about what happened? Do we care enough to keep it from happening again? Get past “He’s a good guy, he just needs our patience”; and “All places have their little problems, but this is a good place.” Try “How do we deal with damage already caused?” and “Can we keep damage from happening?” The first two are statements, intended to end a discussion. The last two are questions, which keep difficult conversations going.

“Minnesota nice” remains adaptive when things are, well, nice. There are swastikas on our golf courses and in our schools. People assault Minnesotans because of their religion. Bombs go off in our houses of worship. Make things nice by talking about and resolving the not-nice things. Ask Do we care? In a time when Americans beat and shoot each other because they are different, How should Minnesota respond? Start with your family and friends, and finish at the Legislature. 

Jose Leonardo Santos is an associate professor of social science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Metropolitan State University.

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Comments (22)

I agree with the author's

I agree with the author's sentiments.

But I wonder if he extends his concern to people that spray paint hammer & sickles on walls, wear T-shirts with images of Che Guevera or Chairman Mao on them, or wave the flag of the Soviet Union, or the Black and Red banner of Beuneventure Durruti's Anarchists.

Hate and division is born at both ends of the political spectrum. It seems unproductive to address it at one end, but make nice at the other.

Last I checked

The folks you mention aren't advocating the assimilation of the philosophies you note as public policy, they are expressing dissatifaction with our capitalist system by means of shock value. There are exceptions I'm sure, but in the grander scheme, out and out communists are a minute fraction of liberalism in the modern day.
Your conservative fellows in the white supremacist/nazi community very much plan to enact their agenda in the public sphere, they would exterminate minorities TODAY if given the opportunity. They are true believers, they need to be as the odious views they espouse are generally unacceptable amongst the general population. To be open with them, to go so far as to brandish their symbols in public, without diguise, belies the zealotry behind their movement, and the danger it poses. The most dangerous being that this is now the base of conservative power.
In summary, as is usual, the false dichotomy you present is simply a lazy attempt to deflect the shame those on the right SHOULD feel for incubating this filth, for letting it overrun your "movement" That Conservatives seem to be so hard pressed to put forth even the mildest condemnation of such groups and practices, and when doing so, cannot refrain from tempering even this meek disdain with continual "what aboutism" and comparison to virtually any opposing groups that might deflect attention from the virulent cancer that is conservative hate, speaks volumes as to the moral rot that underpins the whole of conservatism.

false equivilence

You are comparing racist graffiti committed as an act of vandalism to a t-shirt with a freedom fighter's picture on it? Seems to me that in the USA hate and division started over there at the slavery/racist/xenophobic end of the spectrum and any hate that follows is mostly in justifiable response.

"A freedom fighter's

"A freedom fighter's picture"?

Do you know what Che Guverra did? Do you think Cuba is a free country?

There in lies the problem we are faced with in America today, I think. We can't agree on the most basic of moral constructs.

This author has brought fresh

This author has brought fresh air to our "Minnesota Nice" discussion of racist actions, where people emphasis the person's identity rather than what they have done.

As a white woman with fifty years of Minnesota residence, I want to emphasize here that all the so-called "Minnesota Nice" excuses made for swastika painters and other neo-Nazi vandalizers and would-be terrorizers would never be tolerated in Minnesota if the persons involved were people of color. They're white. Only whites who fear a lose of hegemony would do this kind of thing.

Let's not let Curtis turn this discussion into a false debate about economic theories (capitalism versus communism or socialism). We're talking white people versus all the rest of America, with lots of hatred and threats of violence thrown at non-whites by white terrorists. Racism. And terror based on it.

Hello Constance, my concern

Hello Constance,

my concern has nothing to do with economics whatsoever. I'm referencing the estimated 60 million people that Stalin killed, and the hundreds of millions of Chinese people forced into slave labor by Chairman Mao, and the millions made prisoners and tens of thousands killed through and by Che Guevera & his cohorts.

Indeed, let us not veer off into any false debates.

I'm sorry you find it so easy to pit white Americans against "the rest of America". Im sure living with that kind of animosity cannot be easy. May you find peace.

Disjointed and muddled!

Mr. Senker:

Allow me to make the following animosity-free statements ....

While you disavow any concern with economics "whatsoever", you have nonetheless ventured into an area of political economy which espouses communist philosophy and practice. You denounce communism in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. You've brought up areas of concern such as "slavery" and human rights. That is all well and good.

But the thread of the original post is concerned with the aggressive (militant or violent) right-wing groups that are inflaming passions on all sides, and Minnesota and its people are not paying serious heed.

You seem offended by any criticism of the status quo. And your reaction is to lash out at communists in foreign lands (and maybe here). However, the glaring fact is that you have ignored the elephant in the room: neo-nazis and "white" supremacists who are running amok in this country now!

We should denounce all vandalism and violence as a rule. But in this case, the aggression seems to be tilted toward one group more than the other.

Thank you.

Hello Henok,Neo-Nazis

Hello Henok,

Neo-Nazis glorify the destroyed regime of the German Reich. Neo-Communists and Anarchists glorify regimes, some destroyed and some active today. None of these regimes are viable here, yet there are those that wish that were not so; they all deserve to be denounced, and with equal ferver for they are all guilty of crimes against humanity.

All those regimes had economic aspects, but that is not what anyone is interested in. It is the brutality.

I disagree with your assessment as to who is guilty of more vandalism and violence. The Neo-Nazis and KKK were able to cobble together a few hundred knuckleheads from all over the country; one time. While Charlottesville included a despicable act of cowardice that resulted in a death, their antics are usually restricted to acts of petty vandalism and the ocassional public display of their regalia.

Leftist Antifa, Communist and Anarchist knuckleheads seem not to have any problem gathering that many to run amok in any large city in the country at a moments notice. Their protests almost always feature arson, destruction of property and assault.

You're right, Henok, we should denounce all of them, and equally. I do.

What the Commies Think

"Neo-Communists and Anarchists glorify regimes, some destroyed and some active today." It is possible to be a communist or Marxist, neo or otherwise, without "glorifying" any regime. I've known plenty of Marxists who reject the ideas put out by so-called Marxist regimes.

By definition, anarchists don't "glorify" any "regime."

"You're right, Henok, we should denounce all of them, and equally. I do." You can't prove that by what we read here, sir. It's criticism of the right-wing that seems to get your denouncin' demons hoppin.'

"It is possible to be a

"It is possible to be a communist or Marxist, neo or otherwise, without "glorifying" any regime."

Ah. So there are "revolution free" Marxists. Oookay.

Well let's stipulate I'm speaking of the Communists that arrive at protests, in America, rallying under the flag of the Soviet Union, wearing the images of dead Communist thugs, despots and mass murderers.

"By definition, anarchists don't "glorify" any "regime."

So American Anarchists are not doing it right. Tell them to put Buenaventura Durruti's flag away.

Don't know how many times, or how many ways I have to say it RB; I denounce right wing and leftist violence, hatred and extremeism with equal ferver. The inability of leftists to make the same declaration is, well, awkward.

If you support the leftist "by any means" crowd, thats fine. I just think you should own it proudly.

Ah, Indeed

"Ah. So there are "revolution free" Marxists. Oookay." Yes, it is possible to regard oneself as a Marxist on the basis if a study of economic and social history. There are many who have done that, and who continue to do that.

Buenaventura Durruti was an anarchist, not a "regime." Dictionaries say there is a difference, and I see no reason to argue with them. A little more research tells me that he was an anarcho-syndicalist, a distinction few of the self-proclaimed anarchists on the streets today might understand.

"Don't know how many times, or how many ways I have to say it RB; I denounce right wing and leftist violence, hatred and extremeism with equal ferver." You may say it as much as you like, but refusing to denounce right-wing extremism and violence without a detailed catalog of leftists to denounce makes that claim ring kind of hollow.

Without having to teach a

Without having to teach a seminar on the Spanish Civil war, let me simply observe that Durruti was an Anarchist; Anarchists were a part of the government in power before the war started known as The Second Spanish Republic. During their time in power, Durruti and his ilk carried out a violent and bloody pogram against Catholics; killing and church burnings ensued.

During the war, the Durruti Column, marching under the same black and red banner we see in leftist protests here today, was credited with a long list of atrocities.

When you carry his flag, you support his cause and when you emulate them, as Anarchists in America do, you inherit his legacy.

When one acts as a public apoligist for them but lacks the, um... commitment, to stand with them I guess one falls somewhere in between.

You Don't Say!

I don't know who's acting as a "public apologist" for them, but those guys sure don't sound like a regime. Without having to teach a seminar on how to use a dictionary, "regime" means a government, not "a member of a group that was part of the government in power." It would be like calling the Republican Party a "regime."

"When you carry his flag, you support his cause and when you emulate them, as Anarchists in America do, you inherit his legacy." I suppose you do. How many people have anarchists killed in the United States lately? Have they been running over a lot of people in Virginia (I know, you think that was bad, but look at those other guys!)?

Fascinating thread!

I've been reading this thread and find it quite fascinating! While they can be difficult, such discussions have great potential to lead to understanding.
One thing I'll note: As the thread developed, it became very involved in a discussion of identity groups (terms that were used include Right-wing, Communist, Anarchist, etc). Since there's disagreement about those group identities (Are they good people/bad people?), the debate ends up being about those identities and the histories around them.
As the article pointed out, it's sometimes helpful to focus instead on behaviors. What are the actions we object to (regardless of the group identity of the people committing the action)? What harm results from those actions? Can we do something about the harm done? Can we take steps to reduce such harm in the future?
Just a thought!

Not sure where's best to put this comment so it might be read by everyone involved, so placing it at beginning and end of thread!

As Curtis well knows, it

As Curtis well knows, it isn't me who's pitting whites against the rest of America.

It's the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and erstwhile KKK who are doing it. The animosity starts with them, and I refuse to equate my reistance to that hatred as another hatred.

I am in peace, even if my country isn't.

You have pit them against one

You have pit them against one another in your mind, Constance. That is the only place where the accusation has any validity.

I see it as no different than those who say all blacks are on welfare, or all South Americans are criminals. The broad brush is a flawed idea when applied to anyone.

Had they been killed

By anyone but communists (and therefore not represent a talking point in advancing your Libertarian agenda), you wouldn't care a lick. How many have died by fascist hands (conservatism no matter how many mental gymnastics you delude yourself with), how many dead in American expansionist genocide, how many dead from American chattel slavery, how many dead from American hegemonic imperialism? Better yet, find me a captialist economy, anytime, anywhere that did not underpin its original success on stealing riches from some weaker foe.

Matt, I have to admit to

Matt, I have to admit to being completely at a loss to understand your point.

I have been arguing the idea that extremists from both political sides should be rejected. Insofar as they have been guilty that would include fascists, whether you are from the camp that assignes them to the left or the right. (The truth is, Fascism has several forms)

But then you go on to denounce, well, everyone. Is there a group that you think regularly persues a humane path, and is free of guilt, or are we talking about straight up misanthropy?

Fascinating thread!

I've been reading this thread and find it quite fascinating! While they can be difficult, such discussions have great potential to lead to understanding.
One thing I'll note: As the thread developed, it became very involved in a discussion of identity groups (terms that were used include Right-wing, Communist, Anarchist, etc). Since there's disagreement about those group identities (Are they good people/bad people?), the debate ends up being about those identities and the histories around them.
As the article pointed out, it's sometimes helpful to focus instead on behaviors. What are the actions we object to (regardless of the group identity of the people committing the action)? What harm results from those actions? Can we do something about the harm done? Can we take steps to reduce such harm in the future?
Just a thought!

Not sure where's best to put this comment so it might be read by everyone involved, so placing it at beginning and end of thread!

I am shocked by his teachers comments

I agree with the author Jose Santos completely! If a person of color had done the equivalent act, that person would be vilified, but here we have this anti-semite, Matt Gruber, posting swastika's and his German teacher from high school, Katherine Mugge, defends him, calling him a moron, but not a Nazi.

There is virtually no excuse for Matt Gruber's actions, especially for a young man who studied German and German Culture for five years. He clearly understands that the Swastika is a symbol of hate and is meant to inspire fear in Jews.

Ms. Mugge should not be allowed to teach if she defends neo-Nazi actions.

Hear Hear!

Thank you Professor Santos! This is one of the best little pieces I've read in quite a while.

In my own way I've been working with the same issue but I've framed as an inclination towards "comfort zones". That space without fuss... is the comfort zone that so many liberals want so desperately to cling to or return to. I've actually been encouraged to see so many people step outside their comfort zones for a changes and make a fuss since the election. I don't want people to get hurt, but as you point out, comfort zones (fuss-free zones as it were) that might make sense at a family picnic can literally kill a free society.

I think it would interesting to explore the role that comfort zones and fuss-avoidance have played in promoting the "centrism" that has increased inequality and promoted economic disparity over the last 3 decades. The "compromises" that liberals have made with extremists under the guise of "centrism" could be characterized as a form of "fuss-avoidance".

What side of the ....

political spectrum is in power has power and can act with that power as they will. Czarist Russia was no picnic. European Monarchies were no free lunch. And as power is exercised in this nation federalistic Capitaism has not been good for many many people. Whatever nation state exercises Imperalism is cruel. No such thing as benevolent government of any kind where the executive can exercise absolute control. National Fascists are a recently despicable lot. They cannot be defended anymore then other in power group who cruelly rules the roost. To do so is denial, obfuscation and delusion. The goals seems to be liberty, fraternity and equality. What we have seen in recent marches is an attempt to abridge all of those principles for others. Should a group whom initiates negative action affecting those for others have those as a rights ? No ! They have given up that opportunity. Is it helpful to take "vigilante" action to defends other having those rights maybe not but maybe so if there are no ther means of defense. Can law enforcement be corrupt, bias or negligent ? Yep. We can turn to the courts to see examples of any or all of the three at play. These are challenging times. Begin by challenging your own views to reflection. That is what I see happening to the right side of the spectrum. Absolutely no reflection !