Sunday, May 31, 2020

An Observation about Minnesota

If a global pandemic wasn’t enough for us to handle, four Minneapolis police officers believed that there was nothing wrong with holding George Floyd down by putting a knee to his neck.  Why they thought they could treat an innocent black man worse than their own pets, I have no idea. 

Everyone is outraged.  The left, the right, the quiet, the loud.  I don’t talk about the problems of race in this country, mainly to help amplify the truths that need to be heard, but when it comes to the Twin Cities, here is my truth:  I wasn’t surprised.

Back in the mid-2000s, I was commuting to the Twin Cities for consulting work.  It was the first time in my adult life where I had spent significant time outside of my native Chicagoland, ending up going back and forth for two and a half years.

At the time I was figure skating.  The way practicing on the ice works is that rinks have scheduled times for figure skating, and you pay for the time you use.  In Chicago, you pay the rink directly, whether it’s a private facility or part of a public park district.

I started researching nearby rinks and ice times, discovering that at most rinks, you have to be a member of the local skating club in order to skate on their ice.  Apparently, the rink would sell the ice to the club, thereby guaranteeing a certain revenue, no matter how crowded or empty the ice would be.  I had just started an ice dance partnership with a man who lived in Minneapolis, and his club purchased ice from a small private college.  While I was already a full member of my Chicago skating club, I paid dues for an associate membership with his club so we could practice together.

However, it always bugged me that the system was the same for the public, park district rinks.  People pay property taxes for these facilities, so it seemed rather unfair to ask residents to pay an additional fee to a separate organization just to skate.  I spoke with my wallet, avoiding those rinks.

It became clear to me after a while that the entire system created an insular, clique environment.  While my home club had over 300 members spread across the northern Chicago metro area, each rink had a smaller club, some under 100 members.  My rink really just had open ice times where you could practice whatever, but some of these clubs had pages of rules.  One even wrote their bylaws to exclude certain skating levels to ensure their ice would be filled with the “right” skaters. 

As the months went by, I realized it wasn’t just the ice rinks that had this culture.  Ever hear of “Minnesota Nice?”  It’s when people are nice to your face, but because you’re not part of the culture, you’re not wanted.  There was even all this drama when a group of Somali refugees who worked as taxi drivers didn’t want to transport alcohol in their taxis because they were practicing Muslims.  Outside of my circle of friends and colleagues, I felt very much on the outside.

My partner lived in a suburb with a park district rink, and one Saturday morning when we couldn’t skate at our usual ice, we decided to go to his rink’s morning session.  Knowing that there was a club managing the ice, I reached out to a friend on the club board, to make sure we could do our ice dances on that session.  I got the okay, and we planned to skate as guests for one time.

The ice was pretty empty.  There was a young girl working on pre-juv moves and the two of us.  We paid to use the ice, told the monitor that we were working towards Adult Nationals in pre-bronze dance, and got on the ice.

Pre-Bronze dance is four of the first six compulsory dances.  Except for one, they are mostly forward facing and fairly easy to do while avoiding other skaters.  About 20 min in, a woman stood at the door, waving at us to come over, phone in her ear.

“I am calling the board president right now.  You cannot be on this ice,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked, “I read through the bylaws and reached out to a board member to double check.  We’re competing at Adult Nationals this year, and our normal rink is closed.”

As soon as I dropped the name of the board member, her tenor changed.  She turned away to chat on the phone to the president while I fumed, furious that my expensive ice time was being eaten away by this woman.  I mean, my partner paid taxes to upkeep this facility, so he has a legal right to skate there.  Finally, she turned back.  “The president says you’re okay,” she snapped, turning around and going back up to the bleachers.

No apology.  No kindness.  It reeked of xenophobia, that outsiders were not welcome, even residents who pay taxes to support the facility.

After we were done, I got in the car, fuming.  I thought about how we, two white, educated professionals were treated and wondered how that woman would have treated us if we were people of color.   While I considered complaining at a park district board meeting or to US Figure Skating, it just seemed like nothing would change, and I would be the outsider who didn’t understand the way things worked.  Even if the way things worked was wrong.

While I will speak my truth, I will also read and listen to yours.  Speak your truth.