Anne-Marie Oomen | If the Prez Can….
ANNE-MARIE OOMEN, Award-winning Michigan author, writer, poet, Interlochen Arts Academy, Writing Workshops, Poet in Residence, Writer in Residence, Writing Residence
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If the Prez Can….

I have waited a week to post this because I didn’t want to be “everdramatic,” as my mother called it. Indeed, I was at home on Friday night when my young friend Jacob Wheeler was leading a protest under the Love Trumps Hate slogan in Traverse City, our nearest urban hub, 20 miles away.  I didn’t even know about the protest until it flashed on my FB feed. He had led the rally of around 500 at the Open Space.  Jacob stood on top of a picnic table, speaking into a megaphone about the need to protect our rights and our friends of difference. A peaceful rally in town? I was missing it?  Bummer. I kept checking the feed.  Then this information came through.  During the rally, a guy with a truck flying the confederate flag cruised the rally, parked his truck in a restricted zone, got out, and drank a beer.  A black man who was present tried to speak to him about the flag, told him that it really does represent hatred and bigotry for him.  There were words.  I kept scrolling the feed.  Info shifted.  The guy turned out to be a local off-duty cop.  One of TC’s finest—who I have always respected and admired.   Wait!  What?

I am not being over or everdramatic.

The next morning, I opened a note from my friend, Dana, in LaCrosse, WI.  She wrote this of her small university town. “A house was vandalized here in La Crosse yesterday, ‘Go home, Niggers’ spray painted across the front of a rental occupied by several black students.” She’s not one to exaggerate or to embellish.

So that same morning, I typed in this subject heading for a google search.  “Increase of hate crimes since the election?” USA TODAY popped up first.  Here was the first thing I read: “Since the election, we’ve seen a big uptick in incidents of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump’s election,” Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., told USA TODAY. “The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory and many are feeling their oats.”

My subtext?  Feeling their oats? That’s what you call this? 

That same morning, I went to Forbes’ news website, a generally conservative business site.  Here was the first paragraph, “Ada Gonzalez was about to drop off her son, one of the few Hispanic students at his school, on Wednesday in Ventura, California, when she says she noticed a group of fifth graders chanting “Build a wall!” In Rochester, New York, pride flags were burned outside homes. Elsewhere, a teacher reported that a 10-year-old girl had to be picked up from school after a boy grabbed her vagina, saying if a president can do it, he can, too.” (My italics)

If the pres can do it… Yes, the words of a president set a tone, create a cultural lexicon, and invite action.  Don’t they?

That same morning, I went to BBC, a news source I generally trust.  Their reports indicated that literally dozens of hate crimes have been reported in various towns and cities, far outstripping those occurring after 9/11.  One struck me because of the picture that went with it.  “In the small village of Wellsville in New York State, a swastika was painted onto a building on a softball field along with the words “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN””BBC also indicated that hate crimes have been committed against Trump supporters but comparatively, the number is small.  I studied the image of the swastika: maybe 8-10 square feet. Big sucker.

In my obsession to be fair, I clicked three more sites.  The same.  I even typed in Fox News (a site I do not trust) and put in the same subject heading.  The first article that popped up was this: “DA: Racist graffiti on historic black school no hate crime.”  This article explained that the five kids who vandalized a historic one-room schoolhouse with racist graffiti that other students were restoring to be a museum was not considered a hate crime.  The students were charged with vandalism.

That’s not a hate crime? I guess it didn’t actually injure people. And why is that the first one that pops up in the rotation?  One that negates (by a legal action) what is being reported on every other website?

I’m not being dramatic, though my husband would point out that I am being sarcastic. OK, cut the sarcasm.   But I’m also trying hard to be fair. I’m trying at every turn to see the silver lining, so that I don’t have to post this.  Because honestly, I’d rather not.  I’ve worked hard to keep communication open with my conservative friends and some members of my family. I’ve kept my mouth shut on a lot of subjects because I don’t like to be in conflict with people for whom I care so very much. Who I love.  And I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I am not a master researcher, and this research could be incomplete.  But even I could see a trend.  And it was dramatic.  Haunted by the news, but not wanting to be overdramatic, I waited a week to post. I continued to watch the incidents rise.  I stayed quiet, but finally here was the thing that impelled me.

I received an email from my friend Niki who had received an email from our friend Susan.  The email announced that Susan’s “16 year old nephew committed suicide yesterday. Nobody knows why, he was close to his family. Did he get bullied? Scared of the future?” It happened day after the election?

We don’t know the answer, but I do know this. I have students from all over the world, from many walks of life and from many sexual orientations. I have seen the fear on young people’s faces in the classrooms where I am a freelance teacher.  I have seen their real tears.  I understand why they would be scared of the future.  I am not being dramatic; I am reporting a truth.  In a world that, while not entirely safe, was generally safe, these students (and now many friends) are at the forefront of intimidation or attacks that are actually happening because they’ve been given permission to happen by the language of our leader-elect.

If the president can…

I believe ALL of us have a responsibility to negate the language that is feeding the behavior of hate.  The man who is our president elect has legitimized this language by using it freely and without impunity.  He told us and he showed us who he was. He meant it.  What we say and how we say it matters. Especially among our leaders.  It effects our psyches, and subtly, then overtly, it effects our behaviors.  We absorb these attitudes in part because we may not be aware of our own insecurity and thus we hurt people in order to feel superior, or we project our self-hate on others less powerful than we are so we can feel momentarily proud or in control. Or we ease our anxieties by picking on people different from us.  Or we execute bigotry, plain and simple. It starts with language that permits us to carry out this behavior, that gives sanction to enact and embody our leader’s language.  I’m doing my best to help my students understand something that has no understanding except for what it is. I ask for help in being conscious of others who may no longer feel (or be) safe. I ask for help in defending, when we see it happening, those who may become victims of someone else’s unwarranted anger or threats.  I want all of us to be safe from both the overt acts of violation, and from the quiet intimidation enacted by a law enforcement officer flying a confederate flag on his truck at a peaceful rally.

After a hate crime on his campus, NYU university Dean K.R. Sreenivasan called for “civility and mutual respect” and he wrote, “Anytime anyone violates this norm, it is an offense against us all: whatever our political or personal leanings, we should be mindful of this common courtesy to which I hold all of you — me included,” he wrote.  Ditto.  It’s the least we can do in the face of what appears to be, from my very limited research, an escalating trend.  Someone, tell me I’m not being dramatic.  I have been watching the news feeds.  It’s not stopping.