“They are not our friend, believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump, disparaging Mexicans in 2016
After several mass shooting incidents in a few short weeks, I find it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around the current state of mind of the United States. Much of what will be written in the coming days and weeks will be about gun control in the wake of these tragedies. I believe there is a deeper structural issue that continues to go unaddressed.
Racism and hatred are being spread like wildfire at epidemic proportions. Social media and the internet have created a space for this hatred to fester, grow, and proliferate like the contagion that it is.
As I awoke very early on Sunday, August 4, I was riveted to the details of the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. The Texas shooting, in particular, bothered me at a profound level. None of these tragedies should be dismissed as less important than any others. However, when one is driven by racial hatred and animus, I pause to reflect on it more deeply.
I spent a peaceful but somber amount of time attending the play “Rag Head” with my wife and dear friend on Saturday, August 3. The play is a one-woman showcase of seven characters associated with the horrific massacre of Sikhs in Oak Creek in August 2012. My good friend Pardeep Kaleka lost his father during that mass shooting. My other friend Deanna Singh, who was the executive producer of the play, struggled with how she would protect her young children at the time. Rumors spread that a shooter was also coming to the Brookfield gurdwara, where she and her family were worshipping, while a white supremacist was murdering people he believed to be Muslims in Oak Creek.
“Rag Head” underscored the power of hate, but also the power of resiliency within the Sikh community. I am so proud to know members of that community as friends. Feelings that came to define my emotions, while watching the play, gave me a realization that our society is in deep trouble.
As I have grieved with members of the Latinx community, the Muslim community, and the Jewish community in recent months, I see one common denominator – racial and religious bigotry and hatred.
Some posted immediately on social media that they feel President Trump is in some way responsible for the shooting in Texas. CNN quoted Democratic Presidential candidates who pointed the finger of blame at President Trump. Fox News decried these Democrats for “politicizing tragedy” and falsely laying the blame on Trump.
How can we wrap our minds around this disgusting rise of racism since his election? How can Trump not in some way be responsible? Maybe not for the rise of racism, because it has always been present in America, but instead for inflaming it for political gain?
I hear that we are becoming more racially polarized. I disagree. America has always been polarized racially. We have fallen into a stupor since the Civil Rights Movement ended in the late 1960s. We pay less attention to race. We ignore the role race played in the OJ Simpson trial. We pretend race was not important in the civil unrest after the Rodney King verdict. Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin are killed and some want to pretend race played no role.
The Black Lives Matter Movement to raise awareness of race-based murders of black men, women, and children is met with shouts of “All Lives Matter” and “Blues Lives Matter.” When I hear the latter two remarks I understand very clearly what people are hiding in their message. The Black Lives Matter Movement did not come out of a vacuum. It does not mean only black lives matter, but I have heard far too many white people try to say that it does.
The message sent by lawn signs that say things like “blue lives matter” and “we support the badge” is that these people are perfectly okay with police officers shooting and killing unarmed black people in cold blood. This may not be the intention, but this is what it means to many of us in the black community when we see those signs.
Racial hatred, obfuscated in coded language, is just as powerful as the rhetoric from the mouths of racists in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s. It speaks as loudly as the so-called counter protestors at the south end of Milwaukee at the 16th Street Viaduct, who gathered to shout racial epithets and throw bricks, bottles, and bags of feces and urine at peaceful protestors who simply wanted fair housing in Milwaukee in 1967 and 1968.
We are not shielded from hatred by softened language. We cannot run away from racism by whitening our names or perfectly articulating ourselves when we speak the “Queen’s English.” Assimilating has not worked to protect communities of color or members of religious minorities in America. As my friend Dr. Fran Kaplan has said so eloquently, “You can’t escape hate, they will always find you.”
On a busy shopping day at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas a white man walked into a store with between 1,000 and 3,000 customers. He began gunning down innocent children and adults because he hated Latinos. He acted as so many of these egotistical white supremacists mass shooters do, by writing an online “manifesto” espousing hatred for Latinos and saying he wanted to kill as many of them as he could.
I will not accept the excuses for these “troubled” men. They are not troubled in the sense of having mental health issues. It is a cultural narcissism and a feeling of superiority that drives white supremacists. It is not fear. It is greed. Having centuries of control of resources and excluding people of color from access is what drives this movement. They only fear that they will not have unfettered power to control the exclusion of people of color as their forefathers have enjoyed for so long in this country.
How does the Latino community survive this blow? Is it not enough that there is a constant state of fear of deportation and hatred spewed by Donald Trump? It was reported that some people injured at Walmart avoided seeking medical treatment because of their fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“The Mexican legal system is corrupt, as is much of Mexico. Pay me the money that is owed me now – and stop sending criminals over our border.” – Donald Trump, tweet February 24, 2015
Mexico’s court system corrupt. I want nothing to do with Mexico other than to build an impenetrable WALL and stop them from ripping off.” – Donald Trump, tweet March 30, 2015
“Mexican leaders and negotiators are much tougher and smarter than those of the U.S. Mexico is killing us on jobs and trade. WAKE UP!” – Donald Trump, tweet July 3, 2015
As you read these tweets from Donald Trump two things stand out. One is that he is not very articulate. Second is the number of “likes” by other Twitter users. This hatred of Mexico entails a hatred of Mexican people and those people that many silly Americans assume to be Mexicans. How can you tell the difference between a Mexican and someone form El Salvador or Guatemala if you are the typical American? You can’t.
The shameful treatment at our southern border of refugees and asylum seekers is deplorable and hate-filled. We are a shining example of hate by the actions of our federal government. We can no longer simply stand by and be silent as a nation. This hatred has led to many tragedies including children ripped apart from their parents, and those adults and children who have subsequently died in custody. We as a nation do not care. We are more upset by the way the last season of “Game of Thrones” ended than we are by how we are treating our fellow human beings in detention camps.
Silence is complicity. If we as Americans are not concerned by this tragedy in El Paso and the hate that inspired it, something is seriously wrong. I for one, send my condolences to all my Latinx friends and colleagues in the difficult days ahead. Your fight is my fight. I stand with you.
I will not stand silently by without speaking up about ICE raids, at schools and businesses. Nor will I ignore the racist taunts hurled at your community. I will speak out at every opportunity with my love and support of your efforts to be treated not just fairly, but as human beings.
Hatred often requires a dehumanization of its victims. Those who espouse hate pretend that those they hate are somehow not humans or are somehow less human than they are. This tells me that they really doubt their own humanity instead. Psychologists call this projection. We project our flaws onto others as a defense mechanism.
As I go back and read the rationales for the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans I find common language. They were called savages and beasts. This dehumanization became embedded in the psyche of Americans. The stereotypes are still alive and well today. Our institutional memory is long. These views have survived generations.
What we hear today is no different. We are told that the pioneers were brave, and hard working people. We are not told that the idea of Manifest Destiny, which drove white settlers West, required the removal of Native Americans. This nation chose to take their land by murder and displacement. My hometown in northern Mississippi was cleared of Native Americans to make room for white settlers who brought my ancestors in shackles from Virginia and South Carolina.
We are now displacing Latinx people to supposedly “Make America Great Again.” They are taking “our jobs” some say. “Build the Wall” many shout. The Supreme Court has given President Trump access to the tax payer dollars from the Department of Defense budget that he has sought for so long to build the barrier at the southern border. I thought he promised that Mexico would pay for it?
A president who claims he supported Ronald Reagan, who helped tear down the Berlin Wall, is now building our own version of racial exclusion. Since the wall cannot be built fast enough for some, white supremacists and those that quietly support them, have been committing acts of violent hatred against Latinx people around the country.
This latest act is the most grotesque so far, but far from the last. This abuse and death will continue to be a part of the lived experience of those in the Latinx community, until we stand up against hate with more than just words of sympathy after another tragedy.
We must put pressure on those that support the political rhetoric that has allowed this toxic mixture to arouse enough anger that someone decided to murder innocent shoppers buying back-to-school supplies. Let your President know that he needs to stop the hate speech.
Your co-workers, neighbors, friends, family members, and others that feel hatred toward Latinx people need to be confronted. The goodwill of the silent masses is required to turn this ship around and keep it from sinking.
Let us not suffer another tragedy and be distracted by conversations about guns rights and laws. This is deeper. Racism is like a cancer destroying what should be the greatest nation on earth. Racial hatred needs to be called out. Domestic terrorism is a greater threat than America is willing to admit. Call this latest series of mass shootings domestic terrorism because that is what they are. Our media and police are too often unwilling to call these attacks domestic terrorism.
I am also sickened at how quickly there is an assumption of “mental health issues” when white men commit acts of terrible violence. We hear no such claims when people of color, particularly blacks, commit acts of violence. We hear people say that type of behavior is endemic in black communities. No empathy for the victims, simply blame of the entire community. Racism allows a lack of empathy to continue. We should not give these white, domestic terrorists excuses for their foul and disgusting behavior.
Our Latinx neighbors and friends are now nearly one of every five Americans. They are not going away. They bring a wealth of love, compassion, and hard work to a nation that appears to hate them. They fight through it and persevere. They endure the taunts about “not speaking English” and other micro-aggressions. We need to acknowledge the role racism plays in their discomfort level in this country.
Racism is attached to the core of the soul of America. Hate has always had a home here. It is time it receives deportation orders form ICE.