In blog one of this four part series I addressed the need for individuals to self-reflect and ponder the role, be it active or passive, each of us has played in allowing the continued presence of racism and religious intolerance in our lives. In this piece I turn to the need to examine our society as a whole. Sometimes it is hard for us to sit back and examine our lives and perspectives; especially if we think we might not like what we see. When Mr. Trump announced the beginning of his campaign in June of 2015 with racially charged and inaccurate statements about immigrants crossing the Mexico and United States border, he pandered to a segment of United States citizens that hold tight to culturally ingrained stereotypes and myths. As we watch, read or listen to the news about immigration, we see the terms "Latino," "Hispanic," "Mexican," "illegal immigrants," "undocumented immigrants," among other labels often used interchangeably by politicians and network news media (ABC, CBS, and NBC). We have also seen this issue further cluttered by discussions of refugees and terrorism with little discussion of the history of United States citizen's attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. And certainly no discussion, minus a Saturday Night Live skit, of how, unless we are of Native American heritage, we can all trace our roots back to immigrant ancestors or slave ships.
How many of us fully understand the difference between Hispanic and Latino, immigrant and refugee, Islam and Christianity, or could name more than maybe a few types of visas. If we do know the difference, how often do we just assume everyone knows the difference and blow, what may be a simple non-malice lack of knowledge, off as people choosing to be ignorant? Most of us pay little attention to the historical legacy of these terms and issues. Most of us do not recognize how culturally ingrained stereotypes and myths are used to distract us, let alone confront the role they play in each election cycle.
The reality of the matter is that certain segments of United States citizens, not unlike a dog with a tennis ball, are easily distracted from issues (e.g. Education, Health Care) that impact everyone, every day. Instead we instinctively get caught up in the pursuit of issues saturated with offensive stereotypes, myths, and highly unlikely scenarios of victimization. Perhaps the reason these segments of society can be so easily distracted is because the stereotypes and myths are comfortably familiar, like our favorite blanket we wish to wrap ourselves in when the horrors of our daily lives are too much for us. Perhaps it's the bumper sticker simplicity of the concepts; requiring little thought or self-reflection. In his sermon entitled "Being a Good Neighbor," Dr. Martin Luther King stated:
"We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image."
Sadly today "we" see people as Christian or Muslim, Gay or Straight, Mexican or American, Immigrant or Native, African American or Caucasian, and the list goes on. Not only do we see people as different, these differences are encouraged by politicians, the news media, and the like. We willingly fail to see each other's similarities as well as the ignorance of some of these designations. We continue to designate people as "other" than ourselves so we do not have to examine ourselves. And if we have never met or befriended one of "those" people, it's that much easier to accept them as a threat or less than ourselves.
Whatever the reason for distractibility, this segment of our society does exists and needs to be recognized as an underlying problem and not be given a pass through statements like "their fears are being stirred." This need has never been so revealed than in the months following Donald Trump announcing his intent to run for the Republican Nomination for President of the United States. When Mr. Trump first played on the myth that immigration across the Mexico and United States border is escalating, that illegal immigration numbers are increasing, and stated that immigrants crossing the border are bringing drugs, crime and that they are rapists during his announcement to run for President it was apparent that he had little concern for accuracy. His intent was to play on culturally ingrained stereotypes and myths. His intent was to stir "the fears" of a large segment of United States citizens; a segment that many of us, including the mainstream media, had been lulled into believing could not still exist in the United States.
Because we do not see the traditional images of Black Churches being burned, crosses being burned, or lynching's in the news, we assume we are a less racist and less religiously intolerant society. The fact of the matter is that Black Churches are still under threat, as are Mosques. Cross burnings (second source) and lynching's continue to take place. We live in a society where supporters of the President of the United States have been threatened with burning crosses in their yards and the first African American President is also the most threatened President in United States history. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Group Map, there are approximately 892 confirmed active hate groups in the United States. Experts estimate that there are somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 hate crimes each year in the United States. Research shows that racism is alive and well in our society and that Mr. Trumps campaign is extensively supported by organizations designated as hate groups by the Sothern Poverty Law Center.
Even amongst the Millennial Generation, who is supposedly a less racist generation, we see racism. Modern racism is simply more compartmentalized and institutionalized. It's that type of racism that, in our mind, justifies us starting a sentence by saying "I am not racist but..." It's the type of racism and religious intolerance that allows one to justify in their mind supporting a candidate that makes blatant racist and religiously intolerant comments. So whether we are talking an old fashion blatant Bull Connor racism or new Millennia racism, it still exists in a variety of forms. It has been stated again and again that Mr. Trump has "stirred up" the base of the Republican Party; well, what does that really mean? Given the racially charged and culturally insensitive statements that stirred that base, the question must be asked, has he not just brought both the old racist views and new Millennium racist views out into the open? Racism and religious intolerance exists in all parties but was just never so revealed until now.
Like it or not, this is a sizable segment that has demonstrated its prominence by placing Mr. Trump at the top of the polls very quickly and maintaining his lead for eight months and counting. It is a segment that we have been allowed to pretend to ourselves did not exist or was dying out in past elections. And, while we are currently focused on those in the Republican Party that believe this way, we should not be lulled into believing this is strictly a Republican trait. Instead, it is a potential trait amongst all humans and does not discriminate by race, religion, socioeconomic class, education level or political party. It's a trait that is fueled by ignorance and lack of exposure; all of which resulting in an inability to empathize with those who appear different from us. It's a trait that will most likely be revealed to exist in all parties when we enter into the general election and to have multiple facets.
Mr. Trump has been characterized as being racist, crazy, out of touch, inflammatory, divisive, among others and yet he remains at the top of the Republican Polls and will most likely secure the Republican Nomination. He has shown he can win states in virtually all regions of the United States. The appeal of his message appears to have no geographical boundaries such as North and South or East and West. Mainstream political analysts initially seemed dumfounded, often discussing his lead as if it were a fluke and would be short-lived and, yet, some eight months since his first racially charged and factually inaccurate statements, he remains among the poll leaders. We have seen supposed leading political talk shows such as Meet the Press try to explain this by stating that the problem is that voters do not trust fact checkers and that this is why voters seemingly are willing to ignore misleading statements, if not complete lies, by many of the leading candidates. More recently, the mainstream media and the White House have described Mr. Trump as "stoking the public's fears." These are but the latest means by which mainstream news media and the political power structure avoids discussing the prevalence of racist and religiously intolerant views and or willingness to ignore racism and religious intolerance by a sizable portion of United States citizens who are at the heart of those fears.
If we were to be honest, we would describe Mr. Trump as a reflection of ourselves; not only of those who agree with his statements, both openly and behind closed doors, but of the apathy of those in all parties who know better and refuse to speak up. He is both a reflection of our long held prejudices toward and our apathy to the miseries of those we see as different from us due to their race, religion or nationality. In my next blog I will present questions that, if asked and addressed back in June, would have gone a long way towards explaining the "rise" of Mr. Trump's base and how it's not really a rise, but rather an exposure of a base that has existed long before Mr. Trump.