History, Minnesota, Politics, Race, USA

The Walker Art Center and the “Scaffold” Controversy

Social justice-centered censorship is sweeping the nation, and this past week, Minneapolis became the temporary epicenter.  The controversy stems from a piece of art that was set to debut at the grand reopening of the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden later this month.  The piece known as Scaffold is intended to represent a commentary on the use and abuse of capital punishment throughout the history of the United States.  Part of that commentary includes a reconstruction of the gallows used in Mankato, Minnesota, during the 1862 hanging of the Dakota 38—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.


The Scaffold structure has been met with massive resistance from both Native and non-Native peoples alike. That resistance came to a dramatic culmination on Wednesday afternoon with the joint decision to dismantle and burn the structure in a ceremony led by Dakota Spiritual Leaders and Elders. But while Scaffold’s run has ended before it ever really began, the conversation that is taking place in the Twin Cities and around the country is just getting started, and I personally am still trying to figure out where on these issues I stand.

Although artist Sam Durant intended Scaffold to be an awareness generating piece about the historic plight of Native populations, I understand the concerns about the unintended messages that the piece may also convey.  Chief amongst these is the structure’s location in the Walker Sculpture Garden—a less than solemn place with frolicking couples and children, mini golf, and a giant rooster and a cherry.  As one write-up puts it, “context matters,” and the context of the Walker Sculpture Garden may contribute to the trivialization of one of our State’s gravest injustices.

Another concern is the neglect of Native voices in the retelling of a story that is particularly impactful to indigenous people in this part of the country.  Sam Durant is a white guy from L.A., and while he has collaborated with Native groups in the past, this project was completed without any attempts at outreach to the Dakota peoples who the project is about. What is more, while in negotiations to obtain Scaffold, the Walker Art Center never reached out to Dakota groups in the community, which in hindsight, should have been a no-brainer considering the gruesome nature of the project and its intimate ties to that tribe’s history.

But all that said, I also understand a lot of the resistance to the resistance of the soon-to-be-burned structure.  Scaffold is a lot of things, but I don’t think it’s an example of genocide opportunism. A reading of Sam Durant’s near instant apology can quickly punch holes in that accusation.  The project’s actual intention was “to speak against the continued marginalization of these stories and people, and to build awareness around their significance.”  Misguided methods? Perhaps. But after reading the letter in full, Durant hardly seems like the kind of a guy seeking to exploit tragedy for personal gain.  Even the highly criticized “jungle gym” component of the project stems from a thoughtful albeit questionable attempt to comment on the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon so prevalent in communities of color today.

I also have to say that I got some respect for a fellow white guy doing his darndest to challenge oppression and privilege in the world, especially when he doesn’t have to.  As a member of the most dominant group in almost every major demographic category, guys like Durant don’t need to tackle injustice, because on a systemic level, they probably don’t often face it.  I’m not trying to paint Durant as a hero, and that kind of observation may sound tone deaf considering the gravity of the issue at hand, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Perhaps it’s also that ignorance to experienced oppression that leads to the blundering nature in which guys like Durant (and myself) try to address said oppression, no matter how pure his (my) intentions might be.  But while it’s not always the thought that counts, the thought still counts for something, and what Durant is doing is exactly what us white guys are supposed to do in fighting oppression and dismantling our own privilege—starting conversations in our communities, with our people, and trying to create change.

Cultural appropriation is often a term that gets tossed around to describe artists like Durant who try to tell stories that aren’t theirs to tell. But while misappropriation is certainly a thing, and perhaps applicable here, there also seems to have been a societal shift in what we define as tasteless or insensitive appropriation of someone else’s culture. Bob Dylan sang songs about both Emmett Till and Rubin Carter in the 60s and 70s, and I’ve yet to find an article that condemns him as a “racism opportunist.” On the contrary, Dylan is constantly recognized as an American civil rights hero who used his art to draw attention to repressed and silenced voices, even if the experiences of those voices were a far cry from his own.


Sam Durant is no Bob Dylan. Even if he thought that he was, he knows differently now:

“I made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who may not consciously know that it exists …However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular community. In focusing on my position as a white artist making work for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people.”

Hopefully Durant has learned from this experience as much as his statement seems to suggest.  Hopefully he remains encouraged, and continues to try use his position of power and influence to do good in the world. If there is any solace he can take from this catastrophe, it’s that his project still accomplished its intended goal—it started a conversation. It’s not exactly the conversation that he intended, but it’s an important conversation nonetheless, and no matter what side of the issue you’re on, or what your ethnic background is, or what your beliefs are regarding the myriad of –isms at play, there is understanding to be gained for those willing to listen and learn, especially considering the fact that no one in this conversation seems to disagree that injustice is something that we need to address.  If nothing else, Sam, thanks for that.


Recommended viewing to learn about the Dakota 38:


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Education, Minnesota

The Disbandment of the Forest Lake Police Department and Student Resistance

I’m home sick from school today.  It is the first sick day that I have taken on a school day in my three-year career as a secondary teacher with Forest Lake Area Schools.  I threw up in a garbage can after 5th hour yesterday, so you know it’s legit!  But even in my sickly, sofa-ridden state, I cannot help but feel moved and inspired by what is taking place in the school and community in which I teach.

The events I refer to started back in January, when Forest Lake Mayor, Ben Winnick, first floated the idea of disbanding the Forest Lake Police Department.  To take its place, Winnick proposed a cost-saving measure that would switch the city’s law enforcement services to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, potentially saving the city more than $300,000 annually.  The switch would also cost 23 Forest Lake police officers their jobs.

The idea was met with strong resistance from the community—resistance that last week culminated in a flurry of emergency meetings in which dozens of Forest Lake community members (high school students included) aired their grievances about the proposal.  The final meeting took place Monday night, when the Forest Lake City Council voted 3-2 to approve the contract with Washington County Sheriff’s Office, effectively disbanding the police department of the city of Forest Lake.

 Resistance only escalated from there.  At 1:15 on Tuesday afternoon, as many as 1,000 students walked out of Forest Lake High School, and went on to march all the way to City Hall in a show of support for their police officers.  While Monday’s vote was an ominous one for FLPD supporters, the decision ultimately needs to be approved by Washington Country, lending the protesters hope that further action can still halt this unpopular decision from taking root in their community.

Forest Lake High School did not sanction the students’ actions.  Students who chose to walkout should have been marked with unexcused absences and will be responsible to make up whatever learning they missed.  In my opinion, that’s what gave this protest teeth. Student willingness to stand up for what they believe to be right, in spite of whatever consequences they might face from their school and/or parents, provides a powerful undercurrent to Tuesday’s actions.  Cancelled classes and signed parental permission forms would have turned Tuesday into less of a walkout and more of a field trip, and field trips usually don’t create social change.

What is more, it is not the school’s place to take a stance on this issue.  The school expressed its support for the free speech rights of its student body, and that was all that it should have done. Certainly every one of us educators has an opinion on the issue at hand, but as one of my students put it, regardless of what our own personal opinions may be, we live in a democracy, and on this issue, it appears that the people have spoken.

As a teacher, I could not feel more proud of the student leaders who are so effectively using their voices to stand up for what they believe in.  Even if their quest proves to be unsuccessful, I hope that this experience leaves them feeling empowered, and that it encourages them to continue to act as the agents of change that they are proving to be, in Forest Lake, in Minnesota, in Washington, and in the world.

Tomorrow I will return to work and rejoin the student body who, during a difficult stretch of the year, have reminded me how special it can be to teach high school students—guiding them as they find their voice and identity in the world.  More than anything else, that is what us teachers are hoping to cultivate, and in the case of many of yesterday’s class-ditchers, it appears that, to at least a certain degree, our school is succeeding.

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Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Forest Lake Area Schools or anyone else associated with the district.

we love our cops

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Minnesota, Sports

Why Vikings fans are better than Packers fans

The regular season christening of U.S. Bank Stadium is finally upon us, and the opening opponent couldn’t be bigger. This Sunday, the much-reviled Green Bay Packers will make their way to Minneapolis to take on the hometown Minnesota Vikings in a Week 2 matchup of long time division rivals. Purple people like myself have been waiting a while for this moment. The stadium is an awe-inspiring architectural feat, and while I’m not crazy about how the politics went down, I can’t deny my giddiness towards the finished product. And with a football club that looks ready to take the next step, what better way would there be to break in the new building than kicking the crap out of my all-time least favorite team.

Annoying Packer fans will surely be looking to spoil it for us. Twin Cities-based Cheeseheads have most assuredly swept up their fair share of the tickets, and with a fanbase that travels as well as any team in the league, there is no doubt that plenty of lifelong Wisconsinites will be waddling their way into the stadium as well. If things don’t go the Vikes’ way, which would be less than surprising, “Go Pack Go” chants could very well become distressingly audible through our television set speakers.

This is why the Green & Gold believe themselves to be the greatest fans in all of sports. Their passion and loyalty is difficult to match, especially when it comes to an organization as unfortunate and undecorated as the Minnesota Vikings. But despite outward appearances and all the success and accolades that the Green Bay Packers have amassed on the Vikes, one thing that they don’t have is better fans, and they never will. Here’s why:

Let me start with a concession: The Green Bay Packers are the greatest football franchise of all time. I don’t want that statement to be true, but it probably is. This is Title Town we are talking about after all—home of thirteen NFL championships, four of which were Super Bowls.

Even when they’re not winning titles in Green Bay, they are still winning football games. The Packers are the third winningest team in NFL history, an unsurprising stat for anyone that has been watching football for the past couple of decades. Twenty-two of the Pack’s last twenty-four seasons have resulted in .500 football or better. For Vikings fans my age, that means that the Packers have been winning basically our entire lives.

And winning aside, the team itself is just fucking cool. They are the only professional sports franchise that I can think of that is both named after and located in suburban America—a refreshing phenomenon for those of us who didn’t grow up in one of America’s thriving metropolises. What is more, that suburb owns them. Their system of public ownership is one of the most unique arrangements in all of sports. The stupid certificates that they hang on their walls may be meaningless, but I’d still rather be the pretend owner of a NFL franchise than the real life bitch of a billionaire. At the end of the day, when it comes to storied franchises, there are arguably none more storied than the Green Bay Packers, even if you’re reading that story through purple lenses.

The Vikings story, on the other hand, reads more like a dark satire in which the protagonist accidentally kills himself. We’ve had some good runs, but none that have ended in anything other than epic failure. People tell me that the Vikings once went to four Super Bowls, all of which they unsurprisingly lost. Not that it matters to me anyway, considering their last visit to the big one was in 1977, nine years before I was born.

There have been times in my life where the Vikings have appeared to possess Super Bowl potential, but of course none of those years ended well either. From 1998-2009, we did make it to three NFC Championship games, but two of those ended in heartbreak so tragic that you couldn’t script it if you tried, and the other was a 41-donut blowout.

Other seasons have seen the Vikings rotate between uninspiring mediocrity and laughing-stock status, and in those seasons, us fans have seen some wild-ass shit. We’ve seen our stadium roof collapse in and our star wide receiver attempt to mow down a traffic guard.   We’ve had to learn terms like “love boat” and “Whizzinator” just to participate in team-related water-cooler conversation. We’ve witnessed two hardly believable flights down to Hattiesburg and followed the unfolding of an incredibly bizarre child abuse saga in which Adrian Peterson was at one point riding a camel. In a perverse sort of way, the Vikings have always been entertaining, but it has hardly ever been the kind of entertainment that us fans are looking for.

It is not likely that the Vikings will dramatically alter that legacy in 2016. Despite a 1-0 start, Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending injury has already tempered expectations for what looked like a promising season. A one-time dark horse candidate for the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings would now be lucky just to repeat as NFC North champions, but that seems like a tall order in a division with this year’s odds-on Super Bowl favorite. Even if next Sunday goes our way, this season, in all likelihood, ultimately will not.

The paragraphs above illustrate a lot of the reasons why Packer fans view themselves as “better.” They have a better team, better icons, better stories, better legacy…But while the success of their organization is indisputable, it is also that success that has turned Green Bay Packer fans into a bunch of spoiled little brats, brats who have zero conception of the tenacity and resilience that goes into creating better fans.

Packer fans may be as passionate and loyal as they come, but they have never had that passion or loyalty truly put to the test. I’m passionate about my team when they are winning too, but heartbreak hardens a person, especially when you experience it in the immense doses that you do when rooting for the Vikings. And how challenging is it to be loyal to a team that so regularly provides the positive reinforcement necessary for the continuance of that commitment? Live through 1998, 2009, and all the mediocre-to-terrible seasons in between, and maybe then you’ll have something to write home about.

And then there is the quarterback position, the most important position in team sports. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play football, and they are the only two quarterbacks that have started meaningful games for the Packers over the last twenty-plus seasons. You know how many starting quarterbacks the Vikings have had during that time? Me neither.  But I can tell you that that group includes names like Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder, and two separate stints of Brad Johnson, which is really all that you need to know.

It also says a lot about why Vikings fans are the way that they are, and likewise, why Packers fans are the way that they are. Last year’s post-season is a perfect example. A week after Blair Walsh’s infamous blunder, Vikings fans, recuperating from another spirit-crushing loss, were doing what we do every post-season: hitching our wagon to another team, preferably the one that would next be playing the Green Bay Packers. Hence, we were all Cardinals fans that weekend, and vociferously voiced our new found fanship on social media as they took on the Pack in a Divisional Round showdown. Bitter after a heartbreaking loss of their own, Packer fans struck back, chastising fans of the Vikes for their shameless celebration of schadenfreude. “Don’t you have anything better to do than root against our team?” they whiningly asked. “Isn’t it pathetic that your team is so terrible that you have to get your kicks by rooting against ours?” they complained annoyingly. No, we don’t, and yes, it is, but what those Packer fans don’t understand is, as fans of the Minnesota Vikings, that’s all we’ve got. That’s all that we’ve ever had.

Packer fans do not understand that in the entire history of the Minnesota Vikings, there has never been one single year that has ended in a Viking’s celebration. Every season in the Viking’s fifty-plus years of existence has either ended with an unsuccessful regular season campaign or a painful post-season defeat. We have no legacy to hang our hats on—no Super Bowl victories to revisit. At some point in every season, rooting for, or against, other teams is literally all that we have been able to do.

Packer fans pretend that they are different—that they are the league’s shining example of sportsmanship, too pure to participate in the sadistic ritual of reveling in another team’s misfortune. But it’s easy to be a good sport when you’re sitting inside of a trophy room packed wall-to-wall with proof of past seasons’ successes. If that room were as dust-filled and depleted as that of the Viking’s, perhaps they wouldn’t be so gracious.

Being a Vikings fan, on the other hand, is not easy. Being a Vikings fan is hard. Us Vikings fans have weathered some shit. It would probably be easier for us to just pack away our purple jerseys, pick a different team or a different sport, and put an end to all of our self-inflicted misery once and for all. But what makes Vikings fans great is that we don’t do that. We’re still here, still cheering on our club, still singing the Skol song in spite of all the reasons that our team has given us not to. We’ll be there this Sunday, we’ll be there next Sunday, and we’ll be there the Sunday after that. We’ll be there next season and next decade no matter how many blown ballgames, and embarrassing controversies, and season-ending injuries we endure. That’s because we are Vikings fans. We’ve been disappointed, heartbroken, and humiliated all our lives, but we always come back for more. That’s what makes us better. That’s what makes us the best.

Someday it will all be worth it. On that fateful evening when the Vikings finally lock down that first Super Bowl championship, all that stockpiled suffering that we’ve carried with us for years will be suddenly transformed into a sensation so sweet words won’t suffice to describe it. It will be an elation that can only result from decades of misery and hardship—a feeling that a privileged Packer fan has never and could never know. For once we will have something that we can truly celebrate. For once we will have a team that we can really be proud of. For once the Minnesota Vikings, as an organization, will be as great as the fans that represent it. And if that day never comes, well, we’ll still be wearing purple.

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Minnesota, USA

Taking on the man: A tale of two renters

Taking on the man is hard. The man has the money. The man has the power. The man built the system, and therefore, has the system always working in his favor.

Taking on the man is like a card game in which you don’t know the rules, the deck is stacked against you, and your opponent has already been playing for years. You can increase your odds of winning by studying the rulebook, but the buy-in is pretty steep, and the man is playing with house money and house odds. Sometimes, it’s just easier to not play.

deck stacked against u.jpg

But on the rare occasions when you choose to take on the man and beat him at his own game, damn does it feel good. Damn does it feel right. And every now and then, when the stars are properly aligned, that actually does happen.

My girlfriend recently took on the man. Over the past year, she and her roommate have been locked in a battle with their former landlords—a company named Minneapolis Real Estate—over a $1,500 damage deposit that came back about $1,000 short.

If you’d like a more detailed account of the whole episode, you can read it here in the statement that I wrote for their recent court case, but basically all you need to know is that my girlfriend and her roommate got totally screwed. They attempted to dispute the damages, but each effort was met by a company stiff-arm. The company rejected the letter outlining the initial disputes, they regularly and purposefully ignored phone calls, they refused to participate in conflict resolution, and on the few occasions when the girls were able to corner someone into a conversation, they were treated with the utmost condescension and rudeness.

This case looked destined to end like the majority of cases likely end between relatively powerful landlords and their relatively powerless tenants. Renters, by nature, are usually not powerful people, and landlords, as property owning elites, are. But to the girls’ credit, they persevered. Every time they reached a dead end, they got back on the highway, pulled out the roadmap, and searched for an alternative route. And when they finally arrived at small claims court earlier this week, the results proved that they had indeed reached their desired destination.

The court awarded my girlfriend and her roommate with $2,780—nearly all of the $3,070 for which they filed suit. While the money will obviously be appreciated, both the girls will tell you that the most gratifying part of the experience was the satisfaction they gained from being validated—the affirmation that they were indeed being treated unjustly, and that justice, at least in this case, was going to be served.

I’m really happy for them, but I also unfortunately doubt that most like cases have similar endings. My girlfriend and her roommate were extraordinarily organized, having spent hours on the phone and computer exploring their options, saving and copying all relevant documentation, and even gaining entry into their old apartment in order to photograph the so called “damages.” Over a nearly 12-month period, the girls put in a lot of time and endured a significant amount of stress and frustration playing out a process that never guaranteed them anything for their efforts. It would have been very easy to just give up—to take the money they were originally afforded and chalk up the lost dollars to the inevitability of being screwed by the man every now and then. Luckily, they didn’t do that, and luckily, that didn’t happen.

The man isn’t always a landlord, nor is he always man. He can be a boss or a business owner, a police officer or a politician—any person or people in a position of power who use that power to do not-nice things to the people below them on society’s totem pole. Taking on the man can be a tall order—a task in which one must tread carefully and cautiously, maintaining a healthy dose of both optimism and realism. Hopefully this story can provide some of the former to those out there engaged in their own battles with the man—inspiring them along the way to hopefully winning their fights.

Of course, there’s no shame in having to give up and living to fight another day. Not everybody has the time and resources and knowhow to take the man on in every situation, and even when they do, the man will still probably win more often than not. That’s what makes him the man, after all. But know that the man doesn’t always win. The man has his kryptonite, and that kryptonite is justice. In cases where an injustice has been done, there are means for justice to be sought. The man still cuts the deck, and usually has an ace showing, but for those with a basic understanding of the rules, a decent hand, and a willingness to play the game, don’t count yourself out too quickly. You never know, you might get lucky.

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Minnesota, Sports

How much does it cost to watch the last place Minnesota Twins on a Tuesday night following a nearly 3-hour rain delay?

Last night, my buddies and I walked into the Freehouse, one of my favorite Minneapolis establishments, to grab some drinks and food and continue our social outing. It was a little after 10:00 PM when we arrived, which is why we were surprised to see the 2nd inning of Minnesota Twins baseball in progress up on the television. This was not a replay, but a live game taking place a few blocks away at Target Field following a rain delay due to the most epic storm to hit the Twin Cities thus far this summer.

The stadium was barren. At any given camera angle, there appeared to be more players on the field than fans in the stands. This shouldn’t be very surprising. The Twins are by far the worst team in the American League, and a game against the struggling Oakland Athletics is hardly a draw for fans on any night, let alone on a Tuesday post-rain delay. But we were out, we were thirsty, we were hungry, we had money to spend, and we figured, perhaps, for once in our lives, that money might actually buy us a few bargains down at Target Field.

We were wrong.

$17. That is the floor price for tickets to watch two terrible organizations play a meaningless game of baseball in an empty stadium at fucking midnight. No bartering allowed. And for Target Field and the Twins organization in general, this is an unequivocal embarrassment.

Since Target Field was built on the promise of increasing revenue and, consequently, organizational success for the Twins franchise on the field, the Twins have made the post-season exactly one time—their first season in the new stadium back in 2010. Since then, the Twins had put together back-to-back-to-back-to-back horrible seasons, a trend briefly bucked in 2015 when the Twins contended for a playoff spot well into September before ultimately coming up short. At the time, that run created a lot of hope. After the historically bad start to the 2016 season, that run now feels like a distant memory.

Attendance has reciprocated performance. As beautiful as that stadium is, it has failed to compete with the ugliness on the field. In 2015, Twins attendance numbers dropped for the fourth consecutive season, a trend they are unsurprisingly on pace to continue in 2016.


Which is what made last night such a great opportunity for the Minnesota Twins to finally do something good—an opportunity to make up for some of its organizational failures, to open up the gates, to partially apologize to the taxpayers who funded this beautiful ballpark, to generate some positive publicity for the organization for the first time since Opening Day. With one generous gesture, the Twins had an opportunity to say to their fanbase, “We have really failed you, and we acknowledge that. Come enjoy a cheap game on us. You’ve been loyal, and you deserve it. Spend the savings on our vendors, and try to enjoy yourself as much as possible on this unique night of baseball.”

But like the Twins have done so many times over the past six-and-a-half seasons, they blew it. Instead of appeasing a resentful fanbase, they sent us away even more resentful than before. Instead of my buddies and I walking away from Target Field after a rare Twin’s win, a few domestics, and a renewed sense of good will towards our struggling franchise, we returned to the Freehouse more frustrated than Joe Mauer during one of his many batting slumps.

I live four blocks away from the stadium and have yet to attend a game this year, and after last night’s experience, that trend will likely continue through the season’s end. It’s not because I hate the Twins. I’m a loyal fan. It’s not because of a begrudging attitude towards the organization either, all though last night was annoying. It’s because the Twins don’t give fans like me a reason to come out.

The Pohlad’s have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue off of the construction of Target Field, a project mostly built on public money. Yet the Minnesota Twins still rank 20th in the league in payroll, a factor that partially explains why the on-field product is so underwhelming—why the Twins consistently fail to compete with AL teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees, or even small-market divisional opponents like the Tigers and the Royals. This wasn’t supposed to happen in the post-Target Field era, but nevertheless, it has.

I’ve been to Target Field enough times now. It’s a beautiful stadium. I love it. I’m glad we built it. I’m glad we have it. But I’m also over it. At $17 a ticket, Target Field alone is not enough to draw me out on a Tuesday night after a rain delay to watch one of the most unwatchable teams in baseball. I need a team worth watching, or I need a cheaper ticket.

My experience last night felt like a personal ‘fuck you’ from the Minnesota Twins to their fanbase. I don’t know if it was out of a lack of awareness or a lack of respect, but either way, that is not the message that you want to send to loyal fans that have stuck with the Twins in spite of the organization giving them so little reason to do so over such a sustained period of time. The Twins continue to baffle me at almost every organizational level, and as much as I’d like to think that the tide will soon turn, that the Buxton’s and Sano’s and Berrios’s of the world will soon right this ship and make Target Field a local destination worth coming out to, with everything that I’ve seen from the Twins over the last several seasons, I think that I’ll reserve that good will until they can prove that they actually deserve it.


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Minnesota, Race

Protest, Privilege, and Paying Attention

Black Lives Matter sure knows how to piss people off. Just when Minnesotans had begun to settle down from the highly-publicized 4th Precinct occupation and the highway shutdowns and marches that accompanied it, Black Lives Matter held its second annual MOA invasion, disrupting the days of those last-minute shoppers attempting to put the final checkmarks on their Christmas lists. As if that wasn’t enough to re-rile people up, Black Lives Matter also staged a simultaneous demonstration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, causing multiple delays for Christmas-time commuters.

The comments section of the Strib editorial linked here illustrates the kind of responses that you would expect. People were not happy, and it’s easy to understand why. Yet, while I believe there are fair criticisms to be levied at these types of inflammatory protests, particularly of their utility in advancing the Black Lives Matter agenda, I also feel that the vast majority of the criticisms that I see and hear fundamentally misunderstand the reason that Black Lives Matter holds these types of protests.

Whether or not you agree with the protest methods of Black Lives Matter, you’ve got to admit that they keep people talking. People say that there are better ways for Black Lives Matter to draw attention to their cause, but the fact is that when BLM isn’t forcing us to talk about their issues, we have proven that we don’t talk about their issues. BLM was the talk of the town during their occupation of the 4th Precinct, but how many Minneapolis-based BLM headlines have you seen since that occupation ended? People also say that these protests just distract from the real issues at hand or that these protests alienate potential supporters, but again, when have you ever heard someone say, “Thank god we finally got rid of those pesky protestors. Now we can finally focus our attention and energy on disassembling the systemic racism that is plaguing our nation!”

It’s not surprising that racial justice is not at the forefront of most people’s minds. If you’re not affected by racial profiling or police brutality, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about those things. Likewise, if your children don’t attend under-funded schools and your family and friends aren’t packed into over-crowded prisons, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about those things either. That’s because if you’re not a victim of systemic racism, you don’t need to think about it.


And that’s another important feat that these protests are meant to accomplish: the interruption of privilege. Ignorance is a form of privilege, and when it comes to the issues for which Black Lives Matter is fighting, ignorance is certainly bliss. But for many Black Americans, ignorance is not an option. They don’t have the privilege of ignoring these issues because they are forced to live them. Their holidays aren’t interrupted once a year by mall marches and airport protests, but are forever interrupted by the multitude of issues disproportionately plaguing Black America—impoverishment, imprisonment, crime and murder. There are many disputable elements when it comes to the questionable case of Jamar Clark, but one thing that is not disputable is that his family is hurting this holiday season.  And his family is far from the only one.

Which is why Black Lives Matter targets places like the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Not because those people have never experienced disadvantages or discrimination or hard times or loss, but because many of them probably have experienced far less of those things than the people for whom BLM is advocating. Because even though most mall shoppers and airline passengers are likely unprivileged in some aspect of their lives, most are also likely quite privileged in many aspects of their lives. At the very least, they can afford to shop at a nice mall and fly on an airplane.

I saw a story featuring one shop-owner, a self-proclaimed sympathizer of the Black Lives Matter cause, who was frustrated with the protests. She supported the protesters, and agreed that the protests should be carried out, just not at the mall, because retailers and shoppers “didn’t do anything” to deserve to be targeted. I think that she’s right. They didn’t do anything, and that must have really sucked for innocent retailers that lost business or commuters that missed flights.  But I also think that she is making Black Lives Matter’s point for them.

People “not doing anything” is exactly what Black Lives Matter is trying to change. People “not doing anything” is exactly what allows systemic racism to persist. And Black Lives Matter will not win their struggle if “not doing anything” is what people continue to do, and that sucks too.

For as big and powerful a voice as Black Lives Matter has become, they still represent many people whose voices are ignored. What is more, whatever power BLM has accumulated over the past year-and-change pales in comparison to the power held by the various institutions and systems that they are fighting, institutions and systems that in part accumulated their power due to the centuries of racial oppression that they helped to establish and maintain. Black Lives Matter will not win those battles alone. They need the support of everyday mall-goers and airline commuters across the nation if they are ever going to be successful in creating true systemic reform.


And that’s where I think these protests are worthy of criticism, because I am not sure that they are accomplishing that goal. They do keep people talking, but mostly because people are angry at Black Lives Matter, not angry with them. They do interrupt privilege, but while people are certainly aware of the interruption, I don’t think they are anymore aware of their privilege.  The strategy is sound, but the implementation is failing.

Ultimately, what Black Lives Matter needs is for everyone to think like Mike Griffin from Minneapolis, an airline commuter whose December 23rd flight was delayed due to the protests:

“While I’m delayed an hour and a half to get back to my family for Christmas, I know there are several Black families mourning the loss of innocent Black men. My mom is a little bit annoyed, but she’s going to see me this holiday season.”

But how you get more Minnesotans to think like that, I have no fucking idea…

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Minnesota, Race, USA

I’m a Black Lives Matter supporter, and I’m frustrated

I am a vehement supporter of the group Black Lives Matter. Some people mistake this to mean that I support everything that every member of every chapter of Black Lives Matter says and does—that I have some explaining to do every time a Black Lives Matter member makes an outlandish remark or chucks a bottle into a crowd of police.  Not so. What it means is that I support the movement’s overarching cause, the termination of an injustice that I believe to be real—the discrepancy between the value that we as a society place on white lives and the value that we place on black ones.

But as much as I support their cause, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the methods the movement has chosen to achieve its goals, particularly in my hometown of Minneapolis as it relates to the shooting death of Jamar Clark. I’m certainly not alone in this sentiment, but while most peoples’ frustrations stem from the types of protests the Minneapolis chapter of BLM has been conducting—from blocking traffic on 94 to camping-out outside the precinct—my own personal frustration has less to do with their choice of protest and more to do with the narrative they have built those protests on.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the highway shutdown. It wouldn’t be the first tactic that I would choose from the long list of non-violent resistance methods, but I think that interrupting privilege and forcing people to pay attention is an important component to the BLM gameplan. And while I’ve heard several legitimate criticisms of this tactic, such as the hypothetical ambulance on its way to or from an emergency, I think this criticism is also somewhat illustrative of the essential claim to the Black Lives Matter cause, as it places more importance on the life of that hypothetical victim in the hypothetical ambulance than the life of the victim who was, in reality, already killed.

I also don’t have a problem with the precinct camp-out. If an institution is a purveyor of injustice, then that institution deserves to be a target of the protests fighting to eliminate those injustices, even if many of that institution’s members are providing the admirable and essential societal services that most police officers do indeed provide.

Where I do have a problem with #Justice4Jamar is that both of these protests have been based on a version of the Jamar Clark story that, in all likelihood, is not entirely true. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has gone all-in on an improbable counter-narrative that, in the long-run, will greatly reduce its credibility, as well as its ability to gain widespread support.

In the BLM narrative, Jamar Clark is an innocent victim, facedown on the ground, handcuffed and helpless, when he is shot in the head by Minneapolis Police. The last part of this narrative has been confirmed to be true. However, other evidence suggests that the rest of the narrative is not. It suggests instead that Jamar was not innocent nor handcuffed nor helpless. That he was violent towards his girlfriend, violent towards the police and paramedics attempting to provide her treatment, and that it was his own actions, his own reaching for the weapon holstered on the belt of one of the officers at the scene, that ultimately led to that officer using the weapon against him.

Right now, we don’t really know. We have our own versions of the story in our heads—what we believe, what we don’t—but as the investigation continues, the larger truth still evades us. Even when that “truth” comes outs, when the official version of the story has been released, it will still likely be comprised of incomplete and contradictory evidence. And no matter what the official version of that story says, I understand why people, specifically those associated with Black Lives Matter, will still be skeptical of the version produced by the very institution they are protesting.

But what I’m fairly certain about is that, upon its release, this official version will put to rest many of the claims that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has been purporting about Jamar Clark’s death, claims that have played an integral role in the controversial protests that the movement has been conducting.

In a way, we’ve seen this movie before. It played out one year ago in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, when unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Much like the Jamar Clark case, the immediate details were murky. We knew the end of the story, but we didn’t know how we got there. Many narratives were created to fill in the blanks, but the narrative adopted by the newly created Black Lives Matter movement, and the nation as a whole, was the narrative of “Hands up, Don’t shoot.”

In this narrative, Michael Brown and a friend were walking down the street when they were stopped by police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson noted that Brown matched the description for a convenience store theft, and tried to question Brown on the matter. An altercation occurred. Brown took off running. Wilson gave chase. Realizing that his attempts at escape were futile, Brown stopped, raised his hands in the air, and prepared to give himself up. Wilson then shot Brown six times, killing him on the spot.

It is easy to see how this story inspired a national outrage. “Hands up, Don’t shoot,” chants rang out in marches and rallies across the country, even making appearances in rap concerts and NFL games. The problem with the chant is that it wasn’t exactly true.

According to multiple eyewitness accounts, Brown did not have his hands up. Instead he was aggressively charging at officer Wilson when the six fatal shots were fired that ultimately took his life. Furthermore, prior to the shooting, Brown robbed a convenience store, assaulted an officer, and tried to grab an officer’s weapon. In other words, “Hands up, Don’t shoot” was more than misleading, it was a lie.

I suspect that #Justice4Jamar may be heading in the same direction—that the shutdowns and sit-ins and marches that have been conducted in Jamar’s name, will ultimately have been built on a narrative that inaccurately reflects the final moments of his life. I also suspect that once this narrative has been discredited, the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter will be discredited as well, just as it was in Ferguson.

And as a BLM supporter, that pisses me off. It pisses me off because it undermines all the other crusades against racial injustice that are built on real narratives, narratives without exaggerations or fabrications, narratives that are just built on good, old-fashion, real-life, institutional racism—narratives that are built on the truth.

While “Hands up, Don’t shoot” and #Justice4Jamar have succeeded in bringing much needed attention to the Black Lives Matter mission, not all press is good press, and when the Jamar Clark headlines are turned on their heads just like they were in the Michael Brown case, that publicity will only be used to discredit the movement on a larger scale.

This is the last thing that Black Lives Matter needs. There are already enough people out there who deny the existence of systemic racism, who don’t understand the inherent ignorance in #AllLivesMatter, and who continually cite black-on-black crime as the reason that the Black Lives Matter movement is bullshit.  How is the movement supposed to challenge these falsities, much less win these people over, if it completely destroys its own credibility?

The ironic part is that the unembellished narratives of both the Michael Brown and Jamar Clark cases have aspects that maybe should be a part of the injustices that Black Lives Matter is trying to combat. Brown and Clark may not have been saints or martyrs, but they are still two unarmed men who did not deserve to be shot in the head. If these narratives were used correctly, if these narratives were used truthfully, they could provide powerful support to the larger battles Black Lives Matter is fighting against the excessive use of police force and the targeting of black bodies. But once these narratives have been corrupted with even the slightest hint of dishonesty or disingenuity, it discredits the whole narrative, and becomes ammunition for the opposition.

So please Black Lives Matter, don’t make the narrative of #Justice4Jamar more than it is. The fact that another unarmed black man was killed by a police officer is significant enough. If it comes out that Jamar was indeed handcuffed, then yes, by all means, go fucking nuts—shut down highways, occupy precincts, rally, march, and boycott…But until we know for sure,  don’t treat that narrative as truth. Continue to demand the truth, but don’t create your own version of it. Because if you create your own version of the truth, and that version turns out to be anything less than truthful, you will lose the support of a lot people. And that’s a shame, because the support of a lot of people is exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement deserves and needs.

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Minnesota, Sports, USA

Why the Cubs and their ‘woe is me’ fans can suck it

Tonight begins the ALCS with Joey Bats and the Toronto Blue Jays taking on the returning American League Champ Kansas City Royals. There is a lot of intrigue around this matchup, especially considering the benches-clearing brawl that ensued the last time these two teams shared a field. But sports nation in general seems to be more looking forward to tomorrow night, when the new look New York Mets host the Chicago Cubs, a franchise looking to break out of a century-long slump of championship-less seasons, the longest drought by any North American professional sports team.

This factor has put a lot of people in the Cubbies’ corner, much like how folks from around the country got behind the Boston Red Sox of 2004, as they battled to bury their own impressive 86-year streak of World Series-less seasons. Everybody loves a good underdog, and no team seems to fit that mold better than the “lovable losers” themselves from Wrigley.

But I fucking hate the Cubs. I hate their team, I hate their fans, and I hate everybody that is rooting for them over this last half-month of baseball. Here’s why:

I don’t care how many years it’s been since their last World Series victory or how big of an asshole Steve Bartman is, the Cubs are not an underdog. You cannot be an underdog when you are a team from the third biggest city in the United States in a sport that has no salary cap.

It’s no coincidence that the city of Chicago ranks third on the list of cities with the most pro sports championships. Cities like that always have the advantage. They have more money, more media attention, and more appeal to make players want to play there.

Which makes the ‘woe is me’ Cubs fans all the more annoying—the intolerable pity parties that they throw at the end of every season where they get together and cry and bitch and moan about how sorry and unlucky they are, how they’re cursed, how the decks always stacked against them. You can be sure that if the Cubs follow suit and lose again this year, their pity party will get full coverage from First Take and SportsCenter.

The 2004 Red Sox were the exact same. They viewed themselves as these scrappy, bearded little underdogs trying to take down the evil, hegemonic Yankees.

They were right about the Yankees. I fucking hate the Yankees, too. But at least the Yankees fans know who they are. They are the privileged, they are the elite, and they don’t pretend not to be.

But so is Boston. As a matter of fact, do you know who had the second-highest payroll in baseball in 2004, right behind the New York Yankees? You guessed it, Boston. Moral of the story: you can dress yourself up as a working-class Irish asshole all you want, but you’re still as bought-and-paid-for as every and any clean-shaven Yankees player.

Chicago Cubs fans are no different. They think of themselves as underdogs because they don’t win. “We’re cursed,” they say. “Everyone is out to get us,” they say. Not so. I’ll agree that it is pretty amazing that their team hasn’t won a World Series in 107 years, especially when they play in a city like Chicago. But that is not because they are cursed. It’s because they suck.

And I would know a thing or two about sucking, just like I know a thing or two about losing, pity parties, and curses. That’s because I hail from a city with a real curse, and it’s not a fake curse from a fucking billy-goat. It’s the curse of living in flyover territory.

The Twins have two World Series championships, the last one taking place in 1991. And while 24 years isn’t exactly a drought to write home about, you know how long the drought has been for the rest of our Big Four franchises, the Wolves, the Vikes, and the Wild? Always. Forever. We were born in a drought, we live in a drought, and if everything else remains equal, we will die in a drought. For three of our four franchises, it has never rained and it’s possible that it never will.

And even though the Twins two World Series wins sound pretty epic, my generation is too young to remember them. I know they exist, but I never experienced them. I’ll tell you what I did experience though: the six NBA championships that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won in the 90’s, the three NHL Stanley Cups that the Blackhawks have won in the last six seasons, and the 2005 World Series won by none other than the Chicago White Sox. All this happened, may I add, while my clubs were rotating between moderate relevancy and laughing-stock status.

So suck it Cubs fans. Cry all you want about your Cubs if they let you down again this year, but don’t pretend that you’re an underdog. Don’t pretend that you know what it feels like to live in true sports misery. Don’t pretend that you live in Minneapolis, or Cleveland, or Kansas City.

There is a silver lining. If the Cubs win and the streak is over, maybe people will finally shut the fuck up with wondering aloud at the beginning of every season if this is finally the year that the Cubbies will take home the World Series title. Then we can focus on the true underdogs in sports, the ones that really have the decks stacked against them when it comes to being consistent contenders, let alone winning championships. Fuck the Cubs. Go Toronto. Go Royals. And, Go Twins.

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Every protest is a nuisance in its time

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is at it again in Minnesota. This Sunday, prior to the Minnesota Vikings first home game of the season, BLM will be holding a rally they are calling #BlackRail to protest police brutality against the Black community, and more specifically to protest the beating delivered last month to 17-year-old Marcus Abrahams during a confrontation with Metro Transit Police near the fairgrounds where he had been working.

People are pissed, not so much about the beating, but of the audacity of the BLM movement to interrupt yet another hallowed event on the Minnesota calendar. Looking at the #BlackRail twitter feed, it is clear that this protest has inspired the same vehement opposition inspired by their protests of the past, and has evoked the same types of comments that, while objecting to these protests, simultaneously demonstrate the very need for their necessity. Comments that express the need for these protesters to find jobs. Comments that label these protesters and the victims that they stand up for as criminals or thugs. Comments with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter. Comments that prove that racism is still a huge problem in this country today, and that the conversations that groups like BLM are trying to start are conversations that desperately need to happen.

But not everyone who opposes these protests is an espouser of racist rhetoric. Some people are just annoyed, annoyed by the fact that their day is being interrupted for a problem to which they themselves do not contribute. They are just minding their own business. They are just going about their day.

This has been the case with every major Minnesota protest put on my BLM. The Mall of America protests bothered people just trying to do their Christmas shopping. The State Fair protests bothered people just trying to enjoy a corn dog. But you know what’s worse than long lines at the mall and cold corn dogs? Dying. And I think this is what many of the frustrated often forget.

I also think that those who write-off BLM as a nuisance are forgetting their history. Movements and moments that we celebrate today pissed off a ton of people in their time. Look at the Civil Rights Movement. The freedom riders complicated the days of people just trying to get to work. Those that sat in on segregated counters disturbed people just trying to enjoy their lunch breaks. And the March on Washington probably interrupted the vacations of families who had saved and planned for that vacation for months and years. Yet it is those tactics that made the movement successful, not just in pissing people off, but helping people to see the light.

That success did not come easy. Challenging the status quo is hard work, especially with so many people living comfortably within it. Pissed off people rose up then against the Civil Rights Movement just like pissed off people are rising up now against BLM. But those people of 50 years ago are not remembered very kindly. They are the people in your history textbook holding the signs that say, “Race Mixing is Communism,” “White Power,” and “Who Needs Niggers.” They are the people who stood against the tide of progress.

Which raises the question, how will those who stand against the goals advocated for by groups like Black Lives Matter be judged by history? 50 years from now, after the tide of progress (hopefully) has washed away much of the racial injustice and systemic racism that exists today, how will those people be remembered? I don’t think it is going out on a limb to say, “Not well.”

I’m not trying to compare yesterday’s racism to today’s. Thankfully, in most of the United States, such direct and honest racism is considered unacceptable. Today’s battle is more against the subtle stuff, the systems and sayings that don’t explicitly advocate for racist goals, but nevertheless achieve racist results. These are the battles that Black Lives Matter are fighting.

So next time that even the thought of a Black Lives Matter protest inconveniencing your day enters your mind, and you feel that frustration and anger starting to creep in, pause, and think big picture. Think about the march of history, where we’ve been, and where we’re hopefully going. Think about who’s helping us get there, and who’s standing in the way? Who’s rolling with the tide, and who’s pushing back against it? And then take a deep breath, and relax. Realize that even if Black Lives Matter is making some people’s day suck a little bit, their cause is a worthwhile one, because they are fighting for people who have it a lot worse. And whatever you do, don’t get pissed off, because even though mall patrons, and fair-goers, and Vikes fans are not the people gunning down unarmed Black men in the street, their annoyance with Black Lives Matter’s persistence to advocate for justice is still problematic.

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Minnesota, Race

Fuck Lake Calhoun

Yesterday marked one week until the beginning of the NFL regular season. In a previous blog post, I detailed some of the icky-ness I’ve been feeling in recent years towards the game of professional football. Another thing that could have easily made that list was the franchise notoriously known as the Washington Redskins.

You don’t need to be a scholar of critical race theory to recognize the word “redskin” as a racist one. It just sounds racist. And though I’ve read varying accounts of where exactly the word “redskin” comes from, it definitely sounds like something invented by a racist white guy with little knowledge on subjects such as social constructs and the biological effects of melanin. Even if it wasn’t (although I bet it was), there is no doubt that in addition to any positive connotations the word may have acquired throughout its historical journey, the word also has roots buried deep in the soil of ignorance and race-based oppression.


As the football season continues to ramp-up, discussion surrounding the controversial name will surely ramp-up as well. But winding down with the summer is a somewhat similar name-related controversy that deserves more attention, and is also much more pertinent to the people of the Twin Cities.

The name is Lake Calhoun. For most Minnesotans, the name is synonymous with suntans and cycling, parks and paddle boarding. But for those with a historical knowledge of the man to whom the lake pays homage, the name has a very different connotation.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) is one of the most decorated politicians in the history of our country. During his lifetime, he served as a vice president, a senator, a secretary of war, a secretary of state, and in 1824, was even a candidate for president. He was also one of our nation’s leading crusaders for the right of a white person to own a black person.


Battling back against the rising tide of abolitionism in antebellum America, Calhoun even went as far to call slavery a “positive good,” claiming that the black race “came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations…[grew] up under the fostering care of our institutions…to its present comparatively civilized condition.”

Clearly this guy was a complete and total piece of shit. Yet, although he may be one of the worst, Calhoun is hardly the only American whose legacy continues to be heralded today despite his horrible record as a human being. Our cities, and classrooms, and streets, and currency all pay homage to the names and faces of some of the most prolific slave-owners and Indian-killers in our country’s history.

And while it might take a bit more convincing to get people to turn their backs on the likes of Washington and Jefferson, the case against Calhoun is a relatively easy one to make. He didn’t lead a revolution or write a declaration of independence. He was a crotchety old civil-war-southerner whose primary claim to fame was his advocacy for the rights of minority states to enslave minority people.

So why does the name remain? Efforts to change the name began more than a decade ago, and a recent petition started just last June has already gained thousands of signatures. What’s the hold up?

Part of the problem is bureaucracy, as local government has struggled to determine exactly who amongst them would hold the power to act on such a proposal. But if you search the topic on social media or browse the comments sections of some of the related articles, it becomes quickly apparent that many Minnesotans just don’t support the proposed name change.

Their argument is not so much a defense of Calhoun as it is a defense against what they perceive to be a never-ending onslaught of political correctness. They are sick and tired of the relentless mob that cries foul at every semi-insensitive or inappropriate utterance.

They also worry about a domino effect, a fear that by giving in to one list of demands we are launching a process that will lead to the inevitable disintegration of our collective backbone. Gone will be the days where one can make a controversial comment without being subpoenaed by the apology police. Banished will be the names of any person, place, or thing that could be misconstrued as crude when viewed in a particular cultural context.


I can empathize with that sentiment. We as a society are often too politically correct for our own good. I would even argue that a certain amount of political incorrectness is both necessary and healthy. Sometimes the truth is offensive, and when that is the case, semantical tippy toeing will not lead you to it. Some cases of political incorrectness are worthy of defending. However, I do not think this means that every crusade for righteous political correctness should stop.

Calhoun was an unequivocal bastard. He doesn’t deserve that lake. The word “Redskin” is blatantly racist. It shouldn’t be commemorated on a sports jersey.

These are fights worth fighting, and they don’t stop being fights worth fighting just because some liberal douchebag corrects your pronunciation of “Iran.” They are fights worth fighting because the cause is real. The effects of Calhoun’s racist ideology are still causing suffering to African-Americans living in the United States today. Native Americans are still subject to harmful stereotypes and still reeling from the tragic effects that those stereotypes have had on their people. And the fact that both these names still exist show that our country has not even come close to coming to terms with its racist past, and that it never will if it can’t make these types of rectifications.

Maybe “Calhoun” and “redskin” don’t offend you. That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unoffended white person. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unoffended black person. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unoffended “red” person. What matters is that it does offend some people, most importantly significant groups of black and red people who have historical and social reasons to be hurt by those words. That’s why those names need to change, and I will always support the right of people to fight back against words that they consider hurtful.

Still, at the end of the day, these are just words. Changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Mde Maka Ska, a Dakota name meaning “White Earth Lake,” will not end the systemic oppression of black people in the United States, nor will it give the Dakota their lake back. The elimination of the racist “Redskins” trademark won’t eliminate stereotypes and discrimination against Native American people, nor will it disappear the centuries of cultural genocide to which they’ve been brutally subjected. But they are steps in the right direction, small steps, but steps that need to be taken if we ever want to get serious about taking those much bigger steps and addressing those much bigger problems for real. Thankfully, it sounds like that may be starting to happen.


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