Thursday, September 6, 2012

Meet some Somalis and Read my NYT comments

The speeches by Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton led me to submit comments on both. I also submitted a comment on a seemingly unrelated article by Gina Kolata about the latest advances in genome research.
Here are the URLs. In using the second one you have to go to reader recommended and then down to about 187 recommended.

 In all three comments I refer to Somali women in Somalia, here in Linköping, Sweden where I live, and in Burlington, Vermont where I usually spend 4 weeks in the summer. We who write comments must hold ourselves to 1500 characters for each comment, many thoughts cannot be fully explained. This became clear when “Chavito” submitted a good reply on one of my comments in which it became clear that my “Somali women stories” could not be fully understood by reading the comments alone.
 file this post to introduce you to the Somali diaspora here in Linköping, Sweden and to begin an explanation of the background for recommending that Michelle Obama get to know Somali women here in  Sweden and in America, maybe in Burlington, Vermont. I can only begin tonight but do so in case anyone (my Somali friends) looks at my blog tonight, Swedish time.

In Rochester, New York, where I was a professor, I knew African Americans (not defined here) but I of course never knew a Somali-born person and knew nothing of Somalia. We moved to Sweden in 1996 and one day several  years later, quite by chance, I found myself visiting the Red Cross Träffpunkten (Meeting place).

There I met my first Somali, and older male, named Mohammed. Soon after I met my second and I show him to you here in this picture taken September 6. His name (short version) is Abdi , and he is the Somali sitting second from the left around the table at Träffpunkten where we "Träna svenska". The woman is my Swedish colleague Gunilla. Refugees of all ages come to the Red Cross four days a week to practice Swedish with Gunilla and me and many others and/or to get help with their school homework. On this afternoon, we were simply discussing a wide range of subjects and, in the process, teaching and learning more Swedish.



 Now to the Somali women, whom you will never see in pictures. Consider the Black Book on the table. That book is the newest volume of my Book of Names-Namnens bok. Every time I sit around a table with such a group I ask each person if he or she is willing to write their name in one of the books and to do so both in Latin characters and in the characters of their first language, most often Arabic or Farsi/Dari (Persian in Iran and Afghanistan).

These books document that I have met in the past year or so more than 100 Somali-born girls, young women, and older women and a great many of their male counterparts. Until I started becoming acquainted with these people the only Somalis I knew anything about were Waris Dirie and Ayan Hirsi Ali.

Now, thanks to countless conversations with the Somali-born, I have been able to learn more and more and to learn especially about questions having to do with health and giving birth. In this I have been helped especially by being able to read the many publications of two Swedish researchers, Dr. Birgitta Essén M.D. and Professor Sarah Johnsdotter (Anthropologist).

So to close this for the evening (Thursday, 6 September) I refer to the public health issue that leads me to write in my NYT comments about Somali women.

In Somalia both the risk of a mother dying during the birth process and the risk of the fetus or new-born infant dying are among the greatest in the world. For the same women giving birth in Sweden the risk is reduced to being among the lowest in the world and the basic reason is Universal health care. In America we know that infant mortality places America far down the list that is topped by Sweden, and we know that a factor in this sorry story is infant mortality  among the people that American sociologists refer to as "African American". There is a large Somali diaspora in America and this means that there is a large Somali-born population giving birth in America. This is readily evident in Burlington, Vermont where there is a sizable community of Somali Bantu.

With these three groups of Somali born before me, I became interested in learning more about birthing risks for these people who belong to one or two ethnic groups (depending on how you place Somali Bantu) but who live in three different environments, Somalia, Sweden, and the USA. That led me to my recommendations concerning Michelle Obama (see the comments at the URLs above).

To be continued.


  1. I'm posting because of a comment you made to Thomas Friedman's column about his hometown in Minnesota. You said that Somalis in the US would have to declare themselves black, which is not true. In the US people have a wide range of responses on government documents -- including multiracial. The declarations are for statistics only and you don't necessarily have to indicate any race. I am a Caucasian, Danish, Scots-Irish, English American. If I wished to call myself a black American, which is usually written as African America, I could!

  2. Hi there ... I read your response in the NYT and want to say that it appears in this hyper mobile world old world ideas around issues such as race and societal integration are like squares trying to fit inside the round holes that are our new global cities.

    I am a white Australian Muslim [converetd 13 years ago] who is married to a Sudanese doctor [who grew up and was educated and taught in Arab Emirate Universities] here in Minneapolis.

    I also happen to be a demographer / geographer by trade and was confounded upon arrival 12 months ago by the way people are categorized here in the USA. Back in Australia, we have no problem asking people what their religion is and we get around this issue of racial profiling simply by asking people what country they come from when we do our census.

    This leaves the data summary work to demographers who are obliged not to stereotype on the archaic basis of racial color but instead work to identify trends within communities. When communities are allowed to identify themselves stories start to be told about the enormous diversity within them, the true challenges they face, the victories they are winning, and the achievements they are making.

    For instance, you make reference in your NYT post to Somali girls being boisterous [something I know because I visit the Karmel Mall ( often here in Minneapolis and see this often] and the group of teens seeking help to further their education.

    Statistically, if you dump these teens into a categorically of being black, their efforts and failures and achievements get lost in a sea of data that represents the dominant ethnic group within this "black" label.

    In my own experience with my Sudanese wife, her community are highly educated and outcompete successfully many other migrant and local "white" groups for medical placements. Now if they were able to identify as Sudanese and Muslim, it would become apparent that they are a group vastly different to their Somali counterparts who are again vastly different to their African American counterparts.

    But alas, they all have to identify themselves as black in all government forms and I cant help but think not only does this make their story invisible, but it also makes them an easy target for classic negative racial profiling. And it is this racial profiling that influences the opinions of the larger society which in turn dictates a skewed and negative viewpoint amongst the politicians who seek to represent these views. The result ... another barrier for non-white residents of America trying to make an honest go of it here.

  3. Oh for an interesting perspective on Muslims of many different colors from another Global city: Sydney - have a look at and delve into the articles written by some of the local women writers ... I am sure you will be surprised.


  4. I glanced at this, plus the comments, TRULY one of the naive and possibly mentally stunted perspective of 'race'.

    Just absolutely race and gender obsessed to the point of blindness.

    Sorry, but race, ethnicity, and religious beliefs DO matter. If there are problems FOR or WITH a particular group, how would you know who needs help and who needs to be told to stop doing something wrong.

    Data IS RELEVANT. People who pretend race is never a factor are just displaying a different form of bigotry or racism.

    AND also YES, TYPICAL AND TRUE SWEDISH STYLE, the information distributed as FACT is completely false and ignorant when it comes to data collection from census takers in the U.S.

    WRONG, wrong, WRONG, wrong and just American hating bigotry most foul.

    I LOVE how bigots say they're not bigots CAUSE LOOK I know a black guy. Idiot.

    I moved to Sweden almost 3 years ago and was horrified to discover that they are naive to the world, ignorant to the truth, and viciously hateful against Americans - true bigotry - the information they reference as 'reasons' why it's 'valid' to 'im not a bigot i just hate americans' generalize and accuse 355 MILLION people of being this way or that way based on things that aren't even true.

    YET for some reasons if I were to generalize about a MUCH SMALLER group or population, again, I would be viciously attacked for MY intolerance.

    THE MOST INTOLERANT people who demand tolerance of others, true retarded hypocrite style.

  5. oh yeah, the guy on the left looks ethiopian, but I guess they wouldn't qualify for 'asylum'. BUT then again you're talking about a country so stupid they allowed a Ugandan (maybe, because they have no idea where she came from originally) to live in Sweden for 10 years because she 'said' she was Somalian.

    I saw her photo and she looks so different from any Somalian, she most definitely should have been given a DNA test or something else to prove it.

    She then took lavish world vacations on taxpayer money, then moved to England after 10 years because she 'couldn't be bothered to learn Swedish' and swindled the UK out of over a million british pounds.

  6. I have just discovered that I have been lax in not checking old posts to discover that in 2013 people are visiting and here posting racist remarks. At the moment I do not even know how to remove them. So in 2014 I will find someone who can help me get this blog technically up to date. I will remove BunBun4Life as soon as I learn how to do that.

  7. Concerned Citizen, AnywheresvilleMarch 19, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    I've made many comments on the NYT forums about your misconceptions about US health care. Our system is not perfect, but we certainly do NOT leave poor women without care. You seem not to be aware of Medicaid for the poor, which covers everything from prenatal and delivery to well woman and baby care 100%, even birth control and sterilization. Or the excellent WIC program that gives pregnant women, new moms and babies FREE food. Or that US hospitals are the best in the world!

    Where US black mothers have poor outcomes, it is not from lack of social services. It is from poor lifestyle choices -- drugs, smoking, poor eating habits (despite FREE food), partying, poor priorities, promiscuity, STDs and almost zero family planning (despite FREE birth control). Believe me, we've thrown TRILLIONS of dollars at this problem, with little result. You can lead a horse to water, but blah blah blah.

    Also: BunBun has some points. I do not think he is a racist.