Columns

Malik ’18: Don’t ignore bigotry when addressing polarization

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, November 28, 2016

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, “there have been at least 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation since the election.” I fear that more hate-fueled incidents like these will occur because the disgusting bigotry that President-elect Donald Trump openly exhibited in his campaign has been condoned and legitimized through his election.

I’m not claiming that everyone responsible for these acts of hate backed Trump — the report explains that some of these acts were committed against Trump supporters. I’m also not claiming that every person who voted for Trump is a bigot. I don’t think people who oppose hatred and intolerance should demonize the people who voted for Trump, many of whom also oppose hatred and intolerance. Our fellow human beings should be treated with dignity and recognition of their humanity and complexity.

But still, many of the people who voted for Trump must have been aware of the abhorrent statements that he made about numerous marginalized groups and — even if they disapproved — they still sent the message those statements weren’t deal-breakers when casting their ballots. As we move forward and work to bridge the political divisions in our society, we cannot forget or normalize the terrible things that Trump has said. Recent incidents show that racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance don’t just exist in the realm of ideas or discourse, but translate into dangerous actions.

We need to talk to people in our homes, towns and cities who voted for Trump while drawing an absolute line against the peddling of fear and vitriol that hurts people’s lives. Sometimes, we’ll need to show compassion and courtesy, while at other times, we’ll need a more confrontational approach. Some people might be fully aware of the harm that Trump’s presidency could cause for many, but others might be unaware or misinformed. The approaches we use when engaging with others will depend on the situations that we find ourselves in, and we shouldn’t dismiss or antagonize people from the start.

In addition to engaging with the people who voted for Trump while disapproving of his views, those of us with the privilege and relative safety to do so need to engage with Trump supporters who do hold harmful beliefs. According to an article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the Atlantic, a poll conducted from March to June showed that about 40 percent of people who supported Trump believed “blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier and ruder than whites” and about two-thirds of supporters  at that time believed that President Barack Obama “is not American.” Also, in another article for the Atlantic, Peter Beinart points out that, according to a survey, “Trump supporters in South Carolina were … far more likely than the supporters of other GOP candidates to wish the South had won the Civil War and to consider whites a superior race.”  These views are literally, physically dangerous. To these people, we need to explain why these beliefs are wrong and harmful, if we can. Sometimes, we might be able to convince people to change their views. Other times, we won’t be able to. But even if we can’t change other people’s minds, we should at least try.

Furthermore, we have to make sure that we protect ourselves and those around us from such stubborn prejudice. This involves reporting hateful incidents. It includes putting pressure on elected officials through letters, phone calls and protests to prevent destructive legislation from being implemented and to oppose members of Trump’s administration who have promoted racist views and policies. It includes working with and donating to justice-seeking organizations that help people who will be most vulnerable during Trump’s presidency due to the policies that his administration might enact and the hate groups who feel emboldened by Trump’s success in the election.

In the years ahead, as we work to bridge the divides in this country, we cannot ignore or downplay the hate and bigotry that are alive in the United States and have been legitimized by the recent election. We have to confront hatred and bigotry directly. As we try to bring this country together, we cannot do it at the expense of doing what is right.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.

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