What is it about the sight of Muslim families in traditional attire, going about daily life, that so incenses people like actor James Woods? The latest assault on Minnesota’s diversity came earlier this week, when seemingly out of nowhere, an especially ornery Woods decided he’d stir things up a bit. He tweeted out a brief video of families enjoying the rides and hubbub at the Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe. Many on that particular day happened to be people of color, with many of the women wearing colorful hijabs and floor-length abayas typical of traditional Muslim dress.
The video was accompanied by this message from Woods: “This is the #MallOfAmerica. I would suggest getting your Christmas shopping done early. Oh, wait …” The video was shot by someone walking through the crowds, recording unsuspecting families in the act of — gasp! — having fun. It pans slowly across dads holding their youngsters’ hands, children running to rides, moms with strollers. The same scene one might see on any given day at one of the largest malls in the country. The difference? They weren’t white. They dressed differently. And for this, their attempt to seek out a fun day with their children became national fodder for hatemongers who seek to demonizing others for their own malevolent ends. Though his star has faded significantly from his heyday in the 1980s, Woods still has about 1 million followers on Twitter, giving him a megaphone for his xenophobic views.
The result was 10,000 retweets and nearly 14,000 likes, along with responses like this one from @Karensue37, who said “All the doors need to be locked while they are all inside. I don’t care what happens next!” Or another who said, “I’m so sorry. My prayers go out to the ppl of Minnesota.”
But there were other responses, like this tart one from @babsbeatty of St. Paul: “Thanks, but keep your prayers. We love our Muslim neighbors. Just elected 2 to the MPLS city council.”
Minnesota is still sorting out how to knit together an increasingly diverse state. There have been and will be rough patches as new Americans jostle against more established ones. Minnesotans are becoming accustomed to having mosques as well as churches and synagogues in their communities. Immigrants who were in refugee camps not long ago now own businesses, attend school, seek elective office and, yes, occasionally seek out amusement parks. Minnesotans should be proud of the chance they have afforded these families for a fresh start. When differences and troubles arise, as they have and will, Minnesotans will work through them. And when troublemakers like Woods try to inject hate in our midst, we trust the people of Minnesota will defend all those who call this state home.