Tom Austin is not a historian, a sociologist, or a political scientist.
Readers of this morning's Star Tribune opinion section will recognize as much, probably well before they reach the tagline of Austin's guest column, which labels him as the "CEO and managing partner of the F2 Group, a venture capital and private equity firm in Minneapolis."
And yet, somehow, Austin feels qualified to try his hand at both historical analysis and public opinion research. The results are very bad.
Austin describes his undertaking as follows: He spent the summer trying to speak with "virtually every homeowner who lives directly along Lake Calhoun, plus a couple hundred neighbors who live within a few blocks."
Let's stop Tom right here -- for good, we wish, but alas -- and recognize that he's just described a set of people who can afford to buy houses in one of the wealthier areas of the Twin Cities. They're going to be mostly upper-middle-class and above, and mostly white.
And, if their neighbor Tom Austin is to be believed, the vast majority of them suck.
In "surprising" results, exclusively reported by this investment executive with lots of spare time, only about "20 percent" of the 350 neighbors he surveyed support renaming Lake Calhoun, the popular body of water named for a South Carolina slave-owner who never visited Minnesota.
Among Tom's few neighbors who do support changing the name, a majority don't like the idea of renaming it "Bde Maka Ska," a Dakota Sioux phrase that means "White Earth Lake." There is "nothing inclusive" about Bde Maka Ska, Austin writes, and (channeling his neighbors) "American Indian activists seem to have hijacked the discussion."
And isn't that just like those Native Americans? To go around telling white people what to do?
Tom Austin continues:
These people raised a good question: What exactly have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to all Minnesotans? What is the heroism or accomplishment that we are recognizing in order to justify renaming the lake to Bde Maka Ska? Unfortunately, nobody had any answers.
Let's stop Tom here again, briefly, to just acknowledge how fucking awful that paragraph was.
If Tom Austin earnestly wanted to know about a "positive contribution," or "heroism," or "accomplishment" among the Dakota Sioux, he'd go read a book. Or talk to, you know, a Sioux Indian. Austin's survey says less about the Dakota and more about his neighbors, who apparently don't know anything, don't care to learn, but have strong feelings nonetheless. They and Tom Austin have this in common.
There's more. It's worse. (Emphasis ours, astonishing lack of empathy Tom's.)
Fortunately, I also met eight people who specifically supported the name Bde Maka Ska. This was an interesting group. With the exception of one person, they were angry at the "white establishment" and felt that we Minnesotans need to atone for history's wrongdoings. Ironically, none of them was able to provide specifics of what exactly we needed to atone for, other than "Calhoun was racist and we stole all of this land from the Indians."
It's around this point you feel like writing something of your own and submitting it to the Star Tribune, the general thrust of which would be: Not every word document some rich jackass sends you needs to be printed in the newspaper.
The other "80 percent" of respondents in Tom Austin's totally scientific study expressed various reasons for supporting the Lake Calhoun name. This crowd was "overwhelmingly disgusted" at the "time and energy"elected officials had spent on the lake name. If they were also annoyed at how much time and energy this weird guy confronting them was spending on the name, this fact did not make it into Austin's op-ed.
Many people, Austin says, "view Lake Calhoun as a brand," a "well-established" one at that, and Austin points to local businesses that have adtoped the name: "Calhoun Village, Calhoun Beach Club, Calhoun Sailing Club, Calhoun Square."
Yes. Who will think of the sailing club? The city's caving in to these Native American activists, but where are the activists rallying for the Calhoun Beach Club?
Austin's column ends on an upbeat note about "introducing myself to 350 neighbors" and learning, golly, they almost all think just like him. For some reason Austin did not mention his intentions to replicate his door-to-doory survey in Little Earth, East Lake Street, or north Minneapolis. We at City Pages await with anticipation the results of those follow-ups.
According to Austin's well-curated Linkedin page, he possesses an "uncanny ability to 'ask the right questions at the right time.'" Let's do what Tom Austin did not do for Native Americans, and give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's say he's correct.
Now, would be the right time, Tom, and the right question is: "What the fuck was I thinking?"
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