Maybe we aren’t alarmist enough

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tribune Me­dia Ser­vices.

A few days ago, a black woman I know got a text from a friend who asked what she’d be wear­ing “to the slave auc­tion in Jan­uary.”

Another friend, who is white, wrote that she is “se­ri­ously pic­tur­ing trains to Auschwitz. I can’t con­vey how se­ri­ously.”

Th­ese are the kinds of con­ver­sa­tions I find my­self hav­ing in a world sud­denly grown omi­nous and strange. You try to keep a level head, to re­mind your­self and oth­ers that the tragedies al­luded to — slav­ery and the Holo­caust — are unique. They are not go­ing to re­peat. We must not be too alarmist.

But the hits just keep on com­ing.

The other day, my brother re­ported see­ing a pickup truck em­bla­zoned with the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag tool­ing down the road in L.A. I lived in that city for 34 years, he’s lived there 47. Nei­ther of us can re­call ever see­ing that be­fore. A few days later, he tells me some ran­dom white lady screamed “N----r!” at him — just that word, no other commentary — be­cause she didn’t like his driv­ing.

So it goes in th­ese first days of the Trump Era.

You want to say it’s just your imag­i­na­tion in­flat­ing ran­dom bad­ness into a nar­ra­tive of racist white bully boys and girls feel­ing free to vent their ha­tred now that one of their own has come to power. One tends to see what one is look­ing for, af­ter all.

But if this is just imag­i­na­tion, there’s a lot of it go­ing around.

A black woman in a Wal­mart park­ing lot says she was called “n----r b---h” and told to go “back to Africa” by a truck full of white men who yelled “Make Amer­ica white again!” be­fore throw­ing cups full of chew­ing tobacco saliva on her.

A black woman in Char­lotte re­ports hold­ing the door for an older white man in a vet­eran’s hat. She said, “Thank you for your ser­vice.” He said, “At least you n-----rs are grate­ful for some­thing.”

Racist mes­sages are sent to black fresh­men at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. On a train in Ore­gon, a group of teenagers gang up on a Mus­lim woman, call­ing her a ter­ror­ist and say­ing that Trump will de­port her. A Latina woman in Texas says she was walk­ing her baby in the park when a white woman in a truck sped by yelling, “White power!” In Raleigh, a man says he and his boyfriend were called “F-----g f----ts” in another episode of drive-by hate. In Durham, graf­fiti de­clares “Black lives doesn’t mat­ter.”

The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter said it recorded 447 in­ci­dents of hate­ful in­tim­i­da­tion and van­dal­ism in the first five days af­ter the elec­tion. Many per­pe­tra­tors ex­plic­itly in­voked Trump. SPLC Pres­i­dent Richard Co­hen told USA To­day that the haters are now “feel­ing their oats.”

I can tes­tify to that. Shortly be­fore the elec­tion, I re­ceived in re­sponse to a col­umn on Trump an email from “Matt,” which said things like, “I want you to read about your mom be­ing raped by Mus­lim ter­ror­ists and then see her burned alive in a cage.” I am hardly a stranger to hate, but “Matt” rep­re­sents a new level of sick­ness that has be­come sadly fa­mil­iar in the last yearand-a-half.

With apolo­gies to Stephen Stills, there’s some­thing hap­pen­ing here; what it is ain’t ex­actly clear.

No, it’s not slav­ery, nor is it Holo­caust. But it is some­thing. That much, we can no longer doubt.

And I am re­minded of Ger­man Jews who watched a mon­u­men­tal evil gather it­self against them, all the while as­sur­ing one another that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, that their coun­try would soon re­turn to its senses. Mean­time, the box­cars were lin­ing up.

To re­call their re­sponse to a world sud­denly grown omi­nous and strange is to won­der at our own. Maybe we are too alarmist.

Or maybe we’re not alarmist enough.

You want to say it’s just your imag­i­na­tion in­flat­ing ran­dom bad­ness into a nar­ra­tive of racist white bully boys and girls feel­ing free to vent their ha­tred now that one of their own has come to power. One tends to see what one is look­ing for, af­ter all.

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