‘East African accent’ is offensive

At second glance, the University police chief’s description is disingenuous.

by Guled Ibrahim

In recent public safety alerts, the University of Minnesota Police Department has consistently utilized the phrase âÄúEast African accentâÄù as a descriptor of criminal suspects. But what does this phrase entail? Is its use necessary? The use of the expression is at best superfluous, leaving many perplexed as to why it is used so often. The e-mails, sent by the UMPD on Feb. 23, 26 and March 20 all contain the suspect descriptors, âÄúa black male, between the ages of 25 and 30, with short, curly hair.âÄù This is the particular set of information University police Chief Greg Hestness should have had in mind when he announced, âÄúWe seek to fulfill our obligation to provide our community with required information,âÄù in his March 24 letter to The Minnesota Daily. However, the same e-mails from the aforementioned dates needlessly contained, âÄúThe suspect(s) spoke with an East African accent, [or] spoke to each other in a foreign language with an East African accent.âÄù Is every victim a linguist? Do they have a linguist on site to determine whether the suspect enunciated the English language in an east, west, north or south âÄúAfricanâÄù accent? The use of the phrase East African is distasteful, offensive, unnecessary, and it is by nature stereotyping. The expression presents a two-pronged dilemma for certain members of the University community. First, it condenses the diverse region of East Africa to a single ethnic people. Second, it burdens the Somali minority with those implications. Chief Hestness explained in his letter that the UMPD is âÄúopen to description suggestions,âÄù which at first glance reads as an encouraging prospect. But is it really? What the statement likely meant to say is, âÄúWe are open to being provided with a politically correct method in which we can openly marginalize a people.âÄù The suggestion is not one to take seriously. Now let us think of a polite way to curse. Guled Ibrahim Somali Student Association president