It's been a nice facade we've put on all these years. A bunch of stoic Scandinavians and Germans living and letting live, lending a helping hand, looking out for their neighbors, smiling and saying "hello" to everybody. You betcha.
That wasn't exactly the truth. If you paid close enough attention, you knew Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota and western Minnesota weren't all they were being marketed as. If you kept your ears open in the small-town bars or metro hangouts or pretty much anyplace, you heard enough racial slurs and off-color jokes to fill a book. But the comments stayed there, in the shadows, and everybody continued to think this was the friendliest place on Earth.
"Everybody is so nice here!" is the compliment we liked to hear the most. It made us so proud. They liked us, they really liked us.
The Band-Aid started to be peeled back a few years ago when some in the media began to target refugees and immigrants as a problem and, with Facebook and talk radio at our disposal, we began to hear some of the ugliness that previously hadn't crawled out from under the rocks. More recently, a city commissioner and a county commissioner began to question the cost of refugees to the almighty taxpayer-hey, they were just innocently asking questions and most certainly not playing to a base of racists and xenophobes-and the warts were exposed some more. And then North Dakota and rural Minnesota voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump's white nationalistic platform.
Still, we just smiled and humbly accepted all the accolades coming our way for being one of America's hippest and friendliest places. We are so cool. And people like us so much!
Now, our ugly white underbelly has been fully exposed. Emphasis on white. The Band-Aid has been ripped away before we counted to three. The facade has crumbled.
This area is filled with as many racists, Islamophobes and ignoramuses as any place else.
We can thank the incident involving Amber Elizabeth Hensley and three Somali-American women for teaching us this, finally and without question. Hensley was caught on video telling the three women, among other pleasantries, "We're going to kill every one of you (expletive) Muslims." The three Somali-Americans were not innocent, by their own admission, having been rude and calling Hensley "fat." But nothing they said matched the vitriolic threats spewed by Hensley.
The video went viral, became an international story and now people are seeing Fargo and North Dakota in a different way. Shaun King, a writer for the New York Daily News, exposed his 700,000 Twitter followers and 1.5 million Facebook friends to the story. North Dakota Nice, to some, has become North Dakota Nasty.
But Hensley's venom is only part of the story and maybe not even the worst part. That award might go to some people's reaction to Hensley. A large number of people calling talk-radio shows or commenting on Facebook agreed with her, cheered her, made her a victim, made excuses for her. Some said horribly bigoted things.
And many put their names to their comments, unafraid to wave their ignorance before the world. The shadow that once cloaked this area's bigotry out of public view is gone, apparently voluntarily. Do they feel emboldened by Trump's election? That's one theory.
"They should never be allowed to breathe the air in America!" somebody named Rob Grossman wrote on Valley News Live's Facebook page. "Send them back to the desert where they can have Sharia law and marry 12 yr old girls."
It was the same on WDAY-TV's Facebook page, as evidenced by the writing of Jodi Stockert: "Notice how the Sheet people slide your change to you so they don't have to touch us infidels?"
Send them back? Sheet people? Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free can take a hike, it seems.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd did a nice thing to facilitate a meeting between the women and a photo posted on Facebook shows Hensley with her arms on the shoulders of two of the Somali women. It was a positive piece of police work from our local peacemaker.
"Perhaps we can all take a lesson from what was an ugly unfortunate interaction and how even despite words being said that cannot be taken back, forgiveness and understanding can still be achieved," Todd wrote on the post.
With all due respect, Chief, read some of the things that have been written on social media regarding the incident. Maybe these women can get along and understand each other. But how about those hundreds or thousands of others? The Band-Aid's been ripped off. We are who we are.