Last week I went to a bar in West Fargo, ND for conversation. A radio station – FM 107 – was broadcasting from the bar so beers were $1.07 each. Wings were half off so I got a big plate of wings and a beer for $7.07. I decided as I drove to the bar that I would try to steer conversation toward a topic that I find deeply perplexing: the idea held by a number of white Americans that minorities have it easier in this country than they do.
The first conversation was easy to start because the TV directly in front of me and my first conversant (wearing a long-sleeved John Deere t-shirt) featured a segment on Colin Kaepernick; it was pretty easy to strike up a conversation with John Deere about race after a few comments about Kaepernick’s NFL career.
“Seems like it’s tough to be black, political, and an athlete,” I suggested eventually.
“Maybe,” said John Deere. “But I’d trade politics for the women Kaepernick can get.”
My next opportunity came twenty minutes later when a salesman wearing khakis and a blue button down sat on my right. Button Down was tougher and more circumspect about politics – likely because in sales he learned to keep his politics to himself and deftly parried most of my openings. He did suggest ruefully, however, that “any minority with half of their act together can get college paid for.” It’s tougher for white Americans to fund college, he suggested, and they may have to work a little harder for a college degree.
By the time a third conversant, wearing a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt, sat close enough for conversation, the bartender was starting to grow a little suspicious of me and, out of a protective instinct for her customers, hovered a little closer to monitor what was going on. Vikings focused quickly on the funds that go toward supporting refugees in Fargo. With very low unemployment, Fargo has accepted large numbers of Somali, Bhutanese, and Nepali families fleeing unrest in their countries and a number of local politicians have raised questions about resources going to educate, feed, and house these families. Vikings conceded that refugees support the economy by taking jobs at hotels and convenience stores others don’t want, but thought that “our kids would do better in school” if we didn’t have to pay for teachers for the New Americans. He also promoted the notion that refugees are getting “lots of things for free” while he and his family have to work for them.
My sample was hardly scientific. In fact, three guys sitting at a bar in West Fargo on a Thursday at 3:00 in the afternoon by themselves are representative mostly of guys who drink in bars on Thursday afternoons in West Fargo. And my questions and conversation were leading. But it didn’t take too much to get them to share how they feel about advantages they perceive that minorities and refugees enjoy and it was clear that they feel less at home in their world than they used to.
It’s not difficult to guess that they broadly support Trump’s immigration policies and likely his recent decision on DACA to deport over 800,000 Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children and have been living here for years. Sending them “home” is a problem since America is the only home they’ve ever known. For many Americans, #MAGA is really a nicer way of saying #MAWA (Make America White Again).
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll reflects the idea that increasing minority populations are disquieting to Republicans. “More than three-quarters of Democrats, but less than one-third of Republicans, said they felt comfortable with societal changes that have made the U.S. more diverse.”
I did little to share my views or help the guys at the bar understand the positive impact that refugees have on our local economy. I missed an opportunity to take some small steps toward helping them consider that while they believe to varying degrees that minorities have an easier time in the U.S., progressive values and policies will do more to help them, their children, and friends than Donald Trump will. I also wanted to gently point out that the German, Russian, Polish, and Norwegian ancestors of all three of these men were similarly threatening to the established residents on the prairies of North Dakota and Minnesota 150 years ago. I guess I need to head back to West Fargo this week.
Besides, I forgot to text a picture of my tab to my son who lives and works in Washington, DC.
Wings and a beer in the swamp cost easily three times what they cost on the prairie.
— Carl-Martin Nelson, Content Director, http://www.TrumpAccountable.org
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