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St. Cloud, we have a problem. And it’s costing us dearly in respect, dignity and treasure.

Our problem is not refugees.

It’s not even an image problem, although we most certainly have one of those. If you don’t think so, Google “St. Cloud” and click on the first New York Times article near the top.

Our real problem is that there are too many cowards in our midst.

Yes, we said it: Cowards.

Cowards who blanch at the idea of Somalis “just walking around” on a public trail.

Cowards who cost local businesses thousands of dollars by overreacting to a mismarked security vehicle out of fear of sharia law — which isn’t coming for us. It just isn’t, and only cowards believe it is.

Cowards who festoon their pickup trucks with loud mufflers and confederate flags to strike fear in others as they attempt to cover their own inadequacies.

Cowards who are too afraid to shop, dine or relax in contrived “no-go zones” also used by people “not from Norway” who like to shop, dine and relax.

Cowards who let discourse run into the sewer because it wouldn’t be Minnesota Nice to ask a keyboard warrior or blowhard relative to support their wild claims with facts.

Cowards who say #notallSt.Cloudians then carry on meekly as if that absolves our community in the eyes of the world.

Or, say, the cowards who, behind the rhetoric and the “facts” they use to promote their hate, so transparently and deeply fear a future in which they might be a minority. And get treated just like one.

All of that gutless timidity by a vocal flock — and we do believe they are outnumbered by central Minnesotans who can see someone who is “other” with enthusiastic curiosity or at worst benign disinterest — is what defines St. Cloud to the world now.

That’s going to cost us dearly if we don’t get a handle on it — rapidly.

Corporate America is not, by and large, interested in associating itself with hate of any kind. The cowardly among us keep perpetuating a local brand that makes it less likely we will be in the running for the next tech outpost or national call center.

Convention schedulers are also keenly aware that attendees will look for details about our city and find our darkest side. Already this newspaper has been reached out to by travelers who planned to come to St. Cloud and changed their plans after the latest “branding effort.”

The smartest young people — the ones we need to attract to our companies — will be less likely to move here. Doubt it? Ask your kids if they’d Google a city before considering a job offer there.

Our own young people, many raised with classmates and teammates and friends in a rainbow of colors, will think harder than they should have to about where they want to make a life.

All of that will limit our tax base, depress our property values, curtail our career options, push down our median household incomes and make us poorer. And we will still have refugees and immigrants among us, just as we always have, since the days of Upper Town, Lower Town and Middle Town. As it should be.

Also: Let’s not gloss over the fact that the hate bred by our trembling class is simply wrong — like slavery and segregation were wrong, like internment camps for Japanese citizens were wrong, like “civilizing” the Native American population was wrong.

America is struggling with its original sin — racism — more openly now than it has in decades. St. Cloud just became a poster child for the wrong side. Again.

That is because of the un-American cowardice of the minority who hide their deep-seated insecurities behind the bravado of false patriotism — a milquetoast patriotism that venerates the flag and Lee Greenwood songs over the bedrock principle of America: All men are created equal.

Prove your courage. Speak up.

This editorial appeared in the June 23 issue of the St. Cloud Times and is online at sctimes.com. It is republished here with permission.