The events that transpired during the past week in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio reiterate the fact that no community is safe from atrocities borne of hatred, racism, provocative media and divisive politics that feed off of xenophobic fears.
Over the past few years we have seen a gradual deterioration of moral leadership in this country that has allowed for the vilification of citizens and immigrants, and demonization of political opponents along racial lines, while provoking the flames of racial hatred and fear long embedded in the roots and history of our nation. Some of us can still remember the days of rampant Ku Klux Klan activity, the John Birch Society, and the American Nazi Party, as well as national leaders such as George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Richard Nixon. What few of us would have fathomed is that we are now seeing the open return to that same type of leadership gripping the nation in fear and trauma.
This type of hatred has additionally wedded itself to decades of failed efforts at the national level to attain any type of meaningful control of gun ownership by Congress or the Supreme Court. This has set off an era of mass mayhem in a broad spectrum of communities across our country. What we are now witnessing is a country that has the moral leadership and courage of an ostrich, which consistently sticks its head in the sand as the slaughter continues.
We might have assumed that Bellingham, Whatcom County and the rest of Washington State are long past this sort of hatred and ethnic animosity. However, recent events have proven that we are as susceptible as any other community in the country. Recently a noted African American educator in our community was threatened and verbally assaulted while eating her dinner at a local marketplace. The reason for the assault was predicated upon the fact that she is African American. The store responded quickly, and had a safety protocol in place. In addition, they offered to stand as a protective shield until police arrived to apprehend this person before he could act upon his impulses. This speaks volumes of what a community can do to assure safety for all of its members.
However, awareness, intolerance and safety mechanisms were not in place for other recent incidents such as when a young Latina woman, a legal resident, driving to work on a local street, was pulled up to by an elderly white man in a pick-up, given the one finger salute and told to “Go back to Mexico you scum.” And in on July 27 in Ferndale we witnessed a float in the “Old Settlers Grand Parade” flying the Confederate flag. Along the street fliers were posted by the white nationalist “Patriotic Front” calling upon citizens to: “Keep America American. Report any and all illegal aliens. They are criminals.”
As community members of color we could share more stories that illustrate the many racial assaults as well as micro-aggressions that are commonplace in Bellingham. Whether predicated by racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism or xenophobia, we are held hostage. Community members and local institutions must become vigilant in recognizing the potential for hatred seething in our midst and reporting such evidence to law enforcement and elected officials. Together we must “join hands against hate!”
(Larry Estrada is professor emeritus, Fairhaven College; Vernon D. Johnson is professor of Political Science; Karen Dade is professor of Secondary Education, and Victor Nolet is professor of Secondary Education)