In this article, I examine how the politics of representation following September 11, 2001 attacks on the US impact the experiences of Somali youth in educational spaces in North America. This research draws from a discourse analysis of representations of Somalis and Somalia in North American newspaper articles (n=82) between August and October 2011 and 51 interviews with Somali youth between the ages of 14 and 30. It also draws from ethnographic fieldwork for 16 months (July 2010−October 2011) in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto, Canada and Minneapolis-St. Paul, USA. This includes participant-observation at Somali youth events, organizations, centres, homework programs, mosques and after-school and weekend Islamic schools that provide spaces of learning for Somali youth outside of public/private schools. In this article, I argue that the representations of Somalis in the media as either perpetrators or victims of violence are gendered and have variously politicized Somali men and women within the current ‘War on Terror.’ As a result, Somali youth are targets of routine forms of structural violence, expressed in discrimination and marginalization as well as interpersonal forms of violence, including bullying. I examine how these forms of violence are both carried out and resisted in educational spaces and how they variously affect Somali youth’s experiences in school. The article shows how Somali community educational spaces provide spaces of belonging and a space to learn the skills needed to challenge representations of Somalis and Somalia in the media. Somali youths’ experiences of violence and within educational spaces reshape their identities.


The research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship, The University of Western Ontario Graduate Thesis Research Award, and Regna Darnell Graduate Award for Fieldwork in Anthropology. I would like to thank Randa Farah, Andrew Walsh and Sherrie Larkin for earlier comments on this work. Thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Thank you to the Somali youth and their families as well as the Somali and Muslim community organizations and centres that participated in this research.



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