A few weeks back, the attention of the nation was riveted on Shelbyville, Tennessee because a local of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store (RWDS) Union at Tyson’s poultry processing plant voted to nix Labor Day, and instead give time off with pay for a Muslim Holiday, Eid al-Fitr, celebrating the end of Ramadan. For several days it was an ‘item’ in the blogosphere, made the Lou Dobbs CNN Show, and found its way into a New York Times report. The Tyson plant has a contingent of 227 Somali Muslims who migrated from refugee communities in Ohio and other points in the American Heartland to find work at Shelbyville. This occurred in the wake of Tyson’s prosecution by the Justice Department for employing illegal Hispanic immigrants.
Today, Janell Ross of the Nashville Tennessean headlined a story, “Cultures clash in Shelbyville.” It was a thinly disguised ‘twist’ of the facts regarding Tyson’s Somali workers. Ms. Ross’s story was laden with erroneous and conflated stats from the Shelbyville Imam Haji Yousuf and the Nashville Somali Community Center director, Abdirizak Hassan, himself a target of grant fraud investigations. Ross’s piece drips with angst over ‘bigotry’ exhibited by the locals against the Shelbyville Somali community, and socio-babble about anti-immigrant biases from a Vanderbilt University labor sociologist, Daniel Cornfield. Ross spends time on a core problem with Somalis, their lack of personal hygiene given their primitive origins . Not so funny when you realize that they are processing chickens that must meet OSHA as well as USDA cleanliness standards. They use their hands and not toilet paper, use sinks as urinals, “pour water over their private parts.” Ross would have us believe that personal habits as one Somali woman, Rugiya Bule, stated are private matters. “We are very , very clean…We have to wash our hands, otherwise we would be sick.” Should there be an e-coli outbreak from poultry processed at the Tyson Shelbyville plant, who might be at fault?
I have to call into question the figures given for the Somali population in the Tennessean piece. The Imam who is quoted in this article says ,"between 2,000 and 3,500 of Shelbyville's residents — or roughly 20 percent — are Somalian." The same man told me in December of last year there are only 250 to 300. At the most, there are 500 Somali refugees in Shelbyville. The Tennessean's numbers would mean that there are more Somalis than Hispanics, who make up a small, yet considerable percentage of Bedford County's population. It would also mean that if only 250 work at Tyson (the latest figures I have from Tyson are 227 Somalis) then that would mean that less than 10 percent of the refugees are working, and that is simply not the case.
Even the editorial photo in the Tennessean article doesn’t present the context. When Brian Mosely visited and interviewed the Shelbyville Imam for his Times-Gazette award winning series, he noted a sheet that separated the men’s from the women’s section at the Mosque. The Tennesssean article picture captures a young boy and his father and brother at prayer. Behind that is the sheet in question.
Another knowledgeable source had this to say about Abdulrizik’s conflation of statistics from both the Shelbyville and Nashville Somali communities:
Hassan claimed there are 6,000 Somalis in Nashville and Shelbyville. He claimed there were 5,000 Somalis in Nashville. I guess he lumped in Shelbyville . Generally, Somalis want to be perceived as having large and fast growing numbers in Tennessee. Their community leaders emphasize that Somalis are the fastest growing new refugee group of all. They use these statistics to convince grantors to give more money to the Somali Center in Nashville. Amazingly, no one ever challenges or verifies the statistics, at least not publicly.
To illustrate what happened in Nashville when Somali personal hygiene problems got in the way, a source relayed this anecdote:
There was a tenant firm in the same building that housed the Somali Community Center. The attorneys said that sharing the bathroom with the Somalis was terrible. The men didn't seem to be aiming at the toilet, the whole bathroom was wet, partly because they used the sinks to wash their feet. For some reason toilet paper was thrown around all over the bathroom. This and other Somali issues got too uncomfortable, so the law firm sought relief by moving out of the building. The building manager was aware that several other tenants had problems being in the same building with Somalis and refused to renew the rental contract for the Somali Center.
Ross’s paen of tolerance for primitive refugees from Jihad torn Somalia, doesn’t cut it with Shelbyville’s first Afro American elected Bedford County Mayor, Eugene Ray. In a Times-Gazette article about the local RWDS union re-voting Labor Day as an official holiday, Ray noted “ that a majority of the people Tyson serves are upset with it."
Most of them think that when people come to America, they should do as Americans do, instead of Americans changing and adapting things the way they do. In language, traditions and all of that.
The mayor said the county needs for people to be employed, but the Labor Day issue has had a major impact on the perception of Tyson Foods and the way they do business. Ray says the controversy is not a racial issue, but instead about an American tradition where many people take pride in Labor Day.
Ray went on to say:
The problems stem from the customs of the Somalis, not them (the refugees) so much, but the way they are used to operating in their country, which is more aggressive than most people that come here.
Their custom is to negotiate everything, but here you go into stores, you don't negotiate, you make your mind up if you want to pay for it or not.
They're here, they are part of the community, they are part of the economy, so it's not like you can just tell them to leave ... but Tyson is the reason why they are here, they are attracted by them, they come from different places to work here.
Tyson's got a big stake in this to help the community, to orientate the people (Somalis) to be kind, to be nice, to be polite.
Mayor Ray’s observations undermine the anti-immigrant bias against the Somalis as reported in The Tennessean by Ms. Ross. Ross had best check her facts before launching a story like this. Otherwise they appear twisted and lack credibility.