Umar Lee and I investigated the tragic murder of Bosnian immigrant Zemir Begić for Quartz, and analyzed the case in the context of race relations in St. Louis before and after the Ferguson events:
“What about black on black crime?” is the de facto derailment of conversation on Ferguson. A disproportionate number of homicide victims and perpetrators in St. Louis are black. Like much else in St. Louis, violent crime is segregated, with most crime occurring in impoverished black neighborhoods whose everyday problems are rarely covered by the news. When it is not—as in the Begić case—anxieties about race are inflamed.
For the Bosnian community, predominantly Muslim, race is a complicated subject. Bosnians entered the St. Louis area at a time of deep division. The south city area where they moved upon their arrivalwas populated by two groups: lower-class blacks, some of whom considered Bosnian traditions strange, and lower-class whites, some of whom considered Muslims suspicious—and not quite “white enough.” Bosnians struggled with an uncertain racial identity in a racially polarized community. After 9/11, hostility toward Muslims in the region increased.
“For the time being, probably the most honest answer to the question of whether Bosnians perceive themselves as white is ‘We’re not sure,’” says Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political scientist who notes that American history is full of immigrants—Poles, Irish, Italians—who became “white” only decades after arrival. “I suspect, ultimately, any definitive shift towards ‘whiteness’ among the Bosnian population in the US—when they will self-identify as ‘white people’—will come if or when there is a political need for it, as has historically been the case with other communities here,” he told Quartz. “Given the recent events in St. Louis, however, that could (unfortunately) change very quickly to a definitive ‘yes.’”