Challenging the media stereotypes of Somali-Americans

In 2016, HBO announced it would air the TV series “Mogadishu, Minnesota.” The series, which was created by Somali rapper K’Naan Warsame, was supposed to depict
 a Somali family living in America, including a “gangster,” “thug” and others, according to reports—as well as my least favorite, a Somali-American teenager figuring out how to hang onto his religion and culture in the Western world.

Some Somali people were 
upset with the show, according to published reports. When producers came to the Twin Cities to film the first episode, some community members protested, claiming the show would stereotype Somalis as terrorists. HBO ended up canceling the show.

As a Somali teenager, I wasn’t too fond of what was reported to be in the series either, given the fact that some media showcase Somali-Americans as terrorists, savages, Neanderthals and pirates. I vividly remember being in seventh grade and overhearing a student stating that Somalis all lived in Minneapolis and couldn’t use soap.

These attitudes about Somali-Americans are false, and the problem with all of this prejudice is that it clouds people’s visions of the Somali community. 
Sure, there have been a select few members of the Somali community who have had ties to terrorist organizations, but mark my words: a select few. They cannot and do not represent a rather peaceful and energetic group that I’ve experienced first-hand.

For example, Ilhan Omar is a Minnesota legislator who broke through the prejudice in 2016 to become the first Somali-American Muslim elected to office. Or take Halima Aden, a St. Cloud college student and model who has expanded people’s viewpoints on fashion after gaining national attention for modeling in a hijab and a burkini.

Ilhan Omar speaking at an event with supporters behind her
Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (center), who was elected in 2016 as the first Somali-American legislator in U.S. history. (Submitted photo)

These are real representatives of the Somali community, and not what you may see dramatized on Fox News. We live our lives, just like every human being here. Young Muslims attend school early in the mornings. Adult Muslims go to work for hours on end or go off to college to listen
to lectures.

Everyone goes home to their families to do chores, help each other out with homework or cook.

A good fraction of why these views on Somali-Americans exist is that people are afraid of difference. One may call this xenophobia, which is defined as a fear of those who are from foreign countries.

And it seems like stereotypes progressively take up more of the recesses of the brain, clawing onto it so people cannot see anything else about a select group— whether it is African-Americans innocently walking this earth, given glances from passersby fueled with fear who cling onto their children (“Stay close to me, Johnny. That man could hurt you!”) or us females looked down upon by some members of the opposite gender.

The world is built on stereotyping one another. As award-winning Lebanese-French author Amin Maalouf puts it, “Taking the line of least resistance, we lump the most different people together under the same heading. Taking the line of least resistance, we ascribe to them collective crimes, collective acts and opinions.”

But I believe that if we work together and challenge media propaganda, then we just might be able to stop it.