MYTH: Somalis get free cell phones

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me why all Somalis get free cell phones, this would so be me right now:

Money, man rolling in

When someone tells you something like “all Somalis get free cell phones”, that should make your brain hurt – for so many reasons.

1. Logic

Why in the world would every single Somali person get a free cell phone? From who? What are the qualifiers? Do baby Somalis have cell phones? No? Well then, what age do Somalis get their blessed free cell phone? If someone pays for the phone, who pays for the plan? And so on, and so on….

2. Reason, by way of research

God bless the internet. If we hear a rumor that just doesn’t seem right, we can bring ourselves right over to the great WWW in the sky and do some good, old-fashioned research.

By way of my research this past year, I learned that the number of things that our Somali neighbors get for free is ZERO. If you have believed this in the past, or still believe this today, the reason is simple: you are lumping every single Somali person into one category, instead of seeing the spectrum that is in every single micro-community. (I know, I know…I used the word “micro” and that makes me sound like a Social Justince Warrior and may bring up visions of a certain local radio stations new beer, Micro-Agression Ale, (yep, it’s a thing) but, please, for the LOVE, choose to get over it.)

So, back to the idea of spectrum. While some of our Somali neighbors are refugees (not just from Somalia or Kenya, mind you!), some are immigrants (big difference), and most are American citizens. Understanding this is step #1 in beginning to see our Somali community as a spectrum.

For any of our neighbors that come to America as a refugee, they receive a stipend of around $1000 upon arrival to our country. Refugees also receive a loan for their travel expenses that they must pay back. Here ends the list of things that refugees get solely because they are refugees. After a couple months in the country, refugees are able to qualify for the same government programs that you and I can qualify for – again, solely based on need, not status as a refugee.

3. YES YOU CAN dig deep for the nugget of truth within the rumor

Most rumors that travel far and wide have a hint of truth to them. Here’s the nugget in this rumor: there is a government program to help low income folks in MN obtain a cell phone. If you are mad about that program or think it shouldn’t exist, fine. Talk to your local lawmakers. But – and this is a big but – you will be lying to yourself if you think that all Somali folks would qualify for this program. Do all of our Somali neighbors need government assistance? No. Do some? Yes. Do all white people need government assistance? No. Do some? Yes.

*CURE FOR THE RUMOR MILL SURROUNDING OUR SOMALI NEIGHBORS*

Hooray! There’s a cure! We don’t have to blindly repeat rumors about our Somali neighbors. Not ones about free cell phone, not even about free cars. Not ones about a cross-necklace-hating, hijab-wearing, Muslim employee at Scheels (or Shield’s if you’re really into pressing SHARE without reading first), Wal-Mart, Aldi, or Sam’s Club. The cure is this: start seeing your Somali neighbors as PEOPLE. People don’t all act the same, dress the same, follow their religion the same, or have the same socio-ecomomic status. People are people are people and that’s about where the similarities end.

Be smart, Central MN. Friends don’t let friends pass around embarrasing rumors.

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About the Author

Natalie Ringsmuth

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Natalie grew up in Central Minnesota and received her Music Education degree from Concordia College in Moorhead. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. She now works as Executive Director of #unitecloud, a non-profit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in Central MN and is a trainer with the CARE (Community Anti-Racism Education) Team at SCSU (St Cloud State University). She is a member of multiple boards, including the St Cloud School District 742 board, the United Way Community Impact Team, and the United Way's education initiative, Partner for Student Success. In her spare time (haha) she loves to spend time with her husband and 3 children, making music and playing games.