Editorial: Stop using racist language to describe Riverside Plaza

It’s common on campus to hear Riverside Plaza referred to by names like “Little Somalia.” It needs to stop.

Cedar-Riverside has always been home to a community of immigrants. The history dates back to the late 19th century when Swedish immigrants populated the area once called “Snoose Boulevard.” 

Now, Cedar-Riverside is home to a large population of Somali and East African immigrants, who brought with them their own cultures, as the Swedish did before them. 

Since the 1970s, Riverside Plaza has been a neighborhood staple. Eleven modernist, brutalist-style buildings stand in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s Riverside Plaza, all designed by Ralph Rapson (yes, that Rapson). But the apartments aren’t only known for their European-inspired designs or their subsidized housing options. Instead, they have been referred to by students on campus as ‘Ghetto in the Sky,’ ‘Little Somalia’ and, most infamously, the ‘Crack Stacks.’

Clearly, these nicknames are extremely problematic. Cedar-Riverside is well known for having a largely immigrant population, and Riverside Plaza is know to be associated with low-income housing. Students who can afford to attend the University of Minnesota calling Riverside Plaza the “Crack Stacks” exposes a power dynamic and unquestionably showcases class and racial privilege and prejudice. It also implies that when communities of color do drugs it’s a “character flaw” while other groups of people aren’t viewed as harshly for recreational use. 

Calling the Riverside Plaza apartments anything but their actual name is racist. The act of associating people with lower-incomes with an illegal drug is incredibly classist. In the 1980s, crack cocaine was most prevalent in minority communities and was policed disproportionately. During Ronald Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, the Anti Drug Abuse Act was passed, which allowed for a heftier penalty for crack cocaine than an equal amount of powder cocaine (called the 100-to-1 ratio). This led to heavier policing and targeting of people of color. Associating a community of immigrants from Somalia and other East African countries with the “ghetto” or crack is racist. It shouldn’t be thrown around in casual conversation, or said, ever. 

Yet these names are still being thrown around carelessly by students at the University — about 60 percent of which identifies as white on the Twin Cities campus — and those outside of it. 

Students of color or those who come from low-income backgrounds should not have to feel like their safety and acceptance is jeopardized on campus. 

We as students should be conscious of the language we use while discussing the communities around our campus who are, quite frankly, a part of our student experience. We should be welcoming of all ideas and cultures as we thrive on opportunities for innovation and the embracing of new ideas. It is important for our campus and surrounding communities to be interconnected. Excusing the racist remarks and laughing them off lets people think that these comments are harmless when they only perpetuate hurtful ideals.