“You know, our white American ways really are no more. We are the minority!” My hairstylist says matter-of-factly, efficiently snipping away as she chats.

I try to find a way to respectfully disagree that will not result in a tragic Flock of Seagulls situation, all the while knowing that my hairstylist is by far not the only “white American” feeling similarly these days. (White) relatives at family gatherings have expressed similar opinions, railing about everything from how Muslim immigrants in their communities cause traffic by daring to cross streets on foot or how the U.S. is now “full” and there is “no more room for immigrants anymore.”

Beltrami County’s recent vote to exclude refugees is one example of how opinions expressed at family gatherings can quickly gain momentum, catching prospective refugees in the cross hairs. The executive order giving the county the power to choose not to allow refugees to settle there was recently stopped by a federal court, temporarily making the county’s vote meaningless.

But if the executive order is allowed to come back into force, Beltrami County and other areas like it will have the opportunity to vote again.

Concerns leading up to the vote included the racial and religious identities of new potential neighbors. Beltrami County currently has 33,200 white residents, at 72.5% of the population. The second largest racial/ethnic group is American Indian and Native Alaskan alone at 20.4%. Perhaps, like my hairstylist, white residents are afraid of becoming the minority. Perhaps they’re just afraid of the traffic.

So could admitting refugees truly change the makeup of Beltrami County?

The U.S. plans to admit a maximum of just 18,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2020. That means that even if every single refugee admitted to the country settled in the frigid Up North, and every single refugee was a person of color, white people in Beltrami County would still outnumber the newly settled refugees by nearly 2 to 1. Fears of a flood of brown immigrants outnumbering white Beltrami residents is simply not possible.

There is something troubling, however, by fearing the same phenomenon — being a demographic minority — that you accept as natural that other groups will occupy. White Americans are not the minority. The tiny number of refugees allowed to start new lives in this country could not even outnumber a sparsely populated Northern county, let alone all the white people in this country. Fearing becoming the minority, however, should tell us as white people to look at how we treat people of color, especially in areas where they’re outnumbered.

We can do better, Minnesota. Better than blaming people for enjoying a nice walk, better than equating skin color or religion with unpleasantness and a disruption of “our” lifestyles, better than hate. We are a state full of people who shovel the neighbor’s walk when her back goes out, who bring over a hot dish when someone suffers a loss, and who say “yeah, sure, you betcha” to pitching in when someone needs a hand.

Fears about becoming a minority are not based in fact, and that means they’re a choice. You can choose to believe them, or you can choose to be the good neighbor you always have been.

Beltrami County, if the executive order is allowed to go through, you’ll have a second shot to vote. The choice is in front of you.

Oh, and for the record, Muslims don’t cause traffic.

 

Kayla Walker, of Savage, is a student.