For the past 15 months, Donald Trump has run one of the most prejudiced and polarizing campaigns in modern American history. He’s called Mexican immigrants “murderers” and “rapists”; he’s mocked disabled reporters and military veterans. Last month, Trump even attacked two Gold Star parents whose Muslim son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed while serving in Iraq. And just last week, he returned to his racist attacks about the President’s birthplace, only to confirm what we knew all along: President Obama was born here and Donald Trump has spent the past five years spreading bold-faced lies to the American public.
And yet, despite all of this hatred and vitriol, Indian-American businessman Shalli Kumar wants to rally support for Donald Trump. Kumar has already pledged millions of dollars to Trump’s campaign, and his “Republican Hindu Coalition” will host an event for Trump next month.
When asked about Trump’s record of racially divisive comments and policy proposals, Kumar said, “He’s just misunderstood. He is just as color, religion, race-blind as anyone could be.”
Was Donald Trump simply “misunderstood” when he questioned the patriotism of federal judge Gonzalo Curiel because of his “Mexican heritage”? Was he “race blind” when he was sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to people of color? How about when Trump refused to disavow David Duke and other white supremacists who support his campaign? Or when he mocked an Indian call center worker at a campaign rally?
Of course he wasn’t. In all of these instances, Donald Trump made perfectly clear his racial and religious prejudices. And that kind of intolerance has dangerous consequences for our own community.
In recent years, hate crimes against South Asians of every faith have skyrocketed. In 2012, a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin – a massacre many believe was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. (According to one report, 70 percent of Americans mistake Sikhs for Hindus, Muslims, or Buddhists. And half of Americans believe Sikhism is a sect of Islam.) Just months later, a woman pushed Sunando Sen, an Indian-born Hindu American, in front of a subway car in New York City. “I hate Hindus and Muslims,” the woman reportedly told the police. “Ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.”
Last year, police officers brutally assaulted and hospitalized Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old Indian man who was visiting his son in Alabama. And just last month, an Indian-American teenager – one of Trump’s own supporters, in fact – was thrown out of a Trump rally.
If Indian-Americans aren’t even welcome at Trump’s campaign events, what makes Mr. Kumar think we’ll be welcome in Trump’s America?
If Judge Curiel and Khizr Khan aren’t sufficiently American for Trump and his supporters, is Mindy Kaling? Is Raj Shah? Is Sanjay Gupta American enough for Donald Trump?
Perhaps these are the questions Mr. Kumar should ask Trump at his event next month. As a religious minority ourselves, Hindu Americans should stand against the same ugly prejudice so many of our families have endured for generations – and continue to experience to this day.
But this isn’t just about what’s best for our community. It’s about what we stand for as a country.
We are quick to condemn prejudice towards Indian-American Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. But prejudice does not become patriotism when it is directed at someone else. And if we resort to the same racial and religious stereotypes against Muslims, we are no better than those who attack our own faiths.
As it happens, next month’s Diwali celebration falls just a week before the most important presidential election of our lifetime – one that will decide the most fundamental questions of our democracy. We’re deciding whether our country will be exclusive or inclusive; whether our leaders will build walls or bridges; whether our communities will succumb to the darkness of division or stand united against discrimination in any form.
As we prepare to celebrate the festival of lights, let’s remember to always reject darkness.
Neera Tanden is President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.