The other day I saw a Facebook post from my friend Glenn. Glenn is running for mayor of his hometown of Wheeling, WV and he came across a sign from another local political candidate. She is a person of color, and on her campaign sign her face had been blacked out with paint, and the letters ‘KKK’ written.
This sort of vulgar display of hate is not new, but I feel like we are seeing it more and more. Hate groups and so-called “patriot” groups are on the rise as well.
Down the street from me, Palo Alto high school was recently vandalized with the words “Black Lives Suck” and “Trump 1237,” referring to the number of delegates Trump needs to become the Republican nominee for president. “You have someone like that going for president and it makes it ok with a lot of the things he says.” Student Aji Akinonola told CBS San Francisco regarding Donald Trump.
And that video of the Free Hugs Project guy and his experience at a Trump rally vs. at a Sanders rally. Man. I know it’s edited to show the best possible story, but regardless, it speaks volumes to the state of things.
Things have changed this past year. Something has happened that has triggered some scary shit in the United States. Something has lured dangerous people out of their caves. Something has made things OK that are very not OK. That something is a result of this US presidential race, but this is no longer about Trump, Cruz, or whichever racist, sexist, xenophobe will come next. We’ve gone beyond that, and we need to take it back.
I’m not here to say who should be the next president. I’m here to say that to a growing subset of our country, it somehow became OK to beat people who disagree with you. It became OK to attack people based on the color of their skin. To want to build a wall. To “get em out!” It became a good idea to suggest policing neighborhoods with heavy populations of Muslims.
And this is a thing:
This is not ok.
I have been in the mindset of waiting until election day. I’ll take action with my vote, right? No matter how many racist mouth breathers have been activated by these guys, surely the right person will win. But I am suggesting that this problem is bigger than the election, will carry on well past the election regardless of the victor, and needs to start being reversed right now.
How did we end up here?
I recently read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. It was recommended to me by someone who said it truly challenged them and that’s exactly how I’d describe it too. In an area where I already felt like I knew a lot and had strong feelings, I learned a ton and now find myself bringing up ideas from the book often.
One of the dynamics that Alexander discusses in the book is “discriminatory barriers designed to encourage lower-class whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks.” There is a cycle of this that has repeated itself from slavery through Jim Crow and into this New Jim Crow era we are now in. Create a wedge between lower-class whites and people of color. Create barriers between the races and create “permission to hate” in the process. Poor whites end up no better off than before, but they see another group at the bottom of our US Caste system and feel better about themselves.
The promises these presidential candidates are making follow this same method of manipulating lower-class whites. Conveniently, there are a plethora of targets for these candidates today. Blacks, Immigrants, and Refugees! Oh my! Muslims! Gays! Women! Get ‘em out! Build a wall! They’re aliens!
Yes from the same kind of manipulators who brought you “thugs” and “welfare queens” comes a whole new set of rhetoric to make people feel like it’s ok to come out of their closet of hate and take swings at other people. This is not OK.
This shit is real. And not enough people are stopping and saying this is not OK.
And what happens? The impressionable get the wrong impression.
A few weeks back I saw this post through a friend back in Fairfax County Virginia:
I’m pretty sure those 3th graders are not Trump radicalized minions. Most likely their parents aren’t either. But we are giving SO MUCH AIRTIME to this nonsense without any counterpunches that it is becoming ok. Or worse, people feel like it is becoming inevitable. It is not. Shaun King is spot on: it is the mainstreaming of bigotry.
This is not new, you say?
Yeah except it is. I used to see real debate about political issues among my friends. Now it’s just eerily quiet. Most republican friends I have spoken with feel like Trump is ruining everything. And that Cruz is not better. Maybe even scarier. So, hey, we have that in common. My point is that debate about the issues is not what anyone is talking about. The whole thing is a car crash and we can’t stop rubbernecking long enough to realize how it’s eroding our society. And that’s where we come in. That whole society thing. This goes way beyond the election and needs to stop.
So what am I supposed to do about it?
Say that this is not OK. Really. Just start there. Change happens in big ways and little ways. Start with some little ways.
We have all been so mesmerized by the trainwreck that is this presidential election that we’ve forgotten our responsibility as a society to draw lines around what is and is not OK. Most of us have the same reaction every time we hear this rhetoric – it is absurd. But not everyone hears that. Some are young and impressionable. Some are struggling and looking for a bandwagon. Others are just lost causes. But they may go back in their caves if voices are loud enough. Or at least think about using their words instead of fists or paint or fire or worse.
So for our young, our struggling, and our lost causes, let’s please start drawing those ‘this is not OK’ lines again. We won’t all draw them in the same place, and that’s actually awesome. But absent that guidance, things are going off the rails.
Don’t wait until election day. Start using your voice today.
See something online that you don’t like from a candidate? Comment. Tag it with #thisisnotok
See a story of more hate, violence, or manipulation? Share it and let people know what you think.
Talk to your kids, your neighbors.
This is not a facebook commercial. The conversation is happening everywhere. Tweet it. Snap it. Send a raven. Whatever. Just speak up.
And this is not about shutting down opposing points of view. There’s a big difference between taking a strong position on the issues and inciting violence and hate. We just seem to have lost sight of that and it’s time to take it back.