“Stop it!” President-elect Donald Trump, Jr. said directly into the camera, when 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl informed him that some of his supporters were harassing people of color.
Apparently, some of the bullies didn’t get the message.
“An outbreak of hate” is what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the poisonous wave of post-election racist incidents occurring around the country.
At Baylor University, Black student Natasha Nkhama was bumped into and shoved by a white man while she was on her way to class. “No n*****s allowed on the sidewalk!” he exclaimed, and then, “I’m just making America great again!”
In Florida, a gay man was pulled from his car and beaten. His attackers said, “Our new president says we can kill all you f*****s now.”
A Muslim business owner in California received an all-caps letter, telling him, “DONALD TRUMP WILL KICK ALL OF YOUR A***S BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM.”
The Center recorded more than 867 such cases in the 10 days following the election, including 23 incidents against Trump supporters. The full report is available at splcenter.org, along with a second report on the heartbreaking fear and intimidation on the rise in our nation’s schools.
This toxic spill washed up even at my beloved Washburn University of Topeka, a diverse and intellectually stimulating community where I was privileged to teach for 20 years, retiring in 2010. Shortly after the election I began hearing from former colleagues and students that current students of color were being subjected to cat-calls as they walked across campus. “Build the wall” had been chalked on the sidewalk outside the International House. A student in one of the residence halls heard a chant: “Kill all Muslims; kill all Blacks. We wanna take our country back.” I was able to speak personally with this student. He told me, “I am part of the LGBT community. I suppose we’re next!”
This is a dark cloud indeed. If there is a silver lining, it is that anti-bullying forces are energized and mobilizing.
At Baylor, the President of the University and hundreds of Baylor students of all ethnicities gathered in solidarity with Natasha Nkhama as she walked to class. Arm in arm with Black and white students, she led a march of multitudes taking a stand against racist bullying.
At Topeka High School, two Hispanic students organized a unity march to the Capitol joined by hundreds of their fellow students, as well as numerous faculty and administrators.
At Washburn, faculty and staff published a joint letter re-committing the University to inclusion. “We will not abide acts of bigotry, intimidation, or violence in our community,” it said. Meanwhile, a Washburn rap song previously recorded by a multiethnic group of students, expressing unity and struggle, resurfaced and went viral. The Youtube version of the song is entitled “What Is an Ichabod? Purificatus non Consumptus.” The racism-repudiating song outmatches hate with beautiful and powerful creativity.
That same creativity is popping up all over the country, sometimes in the form of homemade signs. One of my favorites is the red-white-and-blue sign held up by 53-year-old Justin Normand of Dallas, outside a mosque in Irving, Texas. His sign said,
“You belong. Stay strong. Be Blessed. We Are One America.” His sign went viral, proving that one individual can make a difference.
Another appeared in Denver, where a Jewish youth group held a rally against racist bullying. I had to chuckle at one of their signs, which said simply, “Oy Vey--No KKK!”
However, here in Kansas some officials shy away from taking a stand. They mistake hate incidents and the reaction to them as just more Trump vs. Clinton controversy. They forbid the wearing of safety pins, as if a symbol of safety for all were a partisan expression, belonging to just one side. They act as if even noticing the bullying, let alone speaking out against it, would anger Trump supporters.
If I were a Trump supporter, I would be infuriated by that response. Decency is not a political “side,” and no one persuasion has a monopoly on it.
Officials’ timidity rests on a false syllogism.
Yes, many perpetrators appear to have been inspired by Trump’s rhetoric. But even if it were proven that a majority of these bullies are Trump supporters, it would not follow — at all — that a majority of Trump supporters are bullies.
The bullies are few in number and only loom large when the rest of us — Republican, Democrat, independent — are silent. The perpetrators are in the hundreds — thousands at most — but we citizens are in the millions. Bullies can only prevail if we look the other way.
The country may be divided in many ways, but we make a terrible mistake if we assume it is divided on bullying.
A dear friend, a Republican voter with whom I have had many a heated political discussion over the years, immediately spoke out publicly when he read in CJ-Online about the hate incidents at Washburn. He said:
This type of heinous behavior is unacceptable! It’s not enough to just report about the individuals who are doing this. They must be confronted ... If we look the other way and do nothing, we are sending the wrong message to these hateful individuals.
He and I don’t agree about politics. But we agree about harassment.
President-elect Trump’s appointments, particularly of Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon, may raise doubts about whether Trump really wants racist bullying to stop — or whether he wants to elevate it to the highest levels.
But it’s not up to him to determine what kind of country we are going to have.
It’s up to us.
There is a core of decency in the majority of us, no matter how we voted. Now we must publicly expand that core, into our bedrock, our common ground.