Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Home is where the hatred is

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According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map," a chapter of the Christian American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is headquartered in Hoxie, a small town in Lawrence County that also holds the distinction of being the first battleground of the segregationists in the fight to integrate Arkansas schools. I grew up in a nearly all-white town just down the road from Hoxie. I attended an all-white church and attended a nearly all-white school. I didn't hear too many racial slurs, but I did hear racist jokes and stories.

Lots of stories. The story of the black lady at the Memphis airport who would reach over the bathroom stall door and steal your purse. The story of the young black gang member in Blytheville who would flash his lights at you and then kill you when you stopped to help. The story of the Muslim student at Arkansas State University who would marry you and then take your children to the Middle East to be raised to worship Allah. I could go on and on. So many stories of people of color, portrayed as a boogeyman.

These stories were told by adults and by the kids in my school and church. It has been pointed out by others before me: Racist kids often grow up to be racist adults. They also grow up to be teachers, supervisors and, most importantly, voters. I hope that many of them who made racist jokes or told racist stories look back in shame at their younger selves, but I know that some of them grew up and became bolder in their racism. At least one of those kids from my high school has posted a photo of himself with a White Power/KKK flag on social media.

Not all racism is so blatant. Some of it takes the form of convincing allies to step back from the fight for equality in order to focus on jobs and less controversial issues. When young progressives are told to abandon "East Coast" or "West Coast" politics, what they are really being told is to not talk about immigration, LGBTQ rights or racial issues in order to not alienate the center. Well, if those in the center are turned off by equal rights, then let them go.

On Friday night in Charlottesville, young men marched with torches on the campus of the University of Virginia. They looked ridiculous in their polo shirts and khaki pants carrying tiki torches straight from the Walmart garden department, but what they stand for is no joke. The hatred on their faces was terrifying. Further terrifying is the lack of response by President Trump. On Saturday, Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured by a man who intentionally ran them down.On Monday, President Trump finally denounced the hate groups, only after his own party spoke out.

I wish these men who marched in Charlottesville were just a small fringe group. It feels good to say what happened there does not represent America. It feels good to say the hateful acts of this past weekend aren't who we are. However, that isn't true. America is just as much hate and racism as baseball and apple pie. We are just as much violence and fear as we are summer picnics and fireworks. These men who marched with their torches are bold enough to go public with their fear and hate of their fellow man. They are the proxy for the millions more who keep a lower profile. Some of those people, at least based on Facebook likes, support the idea of running over protesters. They still are out there sharing stories of the black or Muslim boogeyman.

For months, we've heard Trump won because of the economy. We've heard Hillary Clinton did not talk enough about jobs to working class voters. We've heard that those who voted based on racism were a small percentage of older, rural voters. The truth is we live in a country where, instead of being celebrated for their achievements and contributions, immigrants are portrayed by the president and our own U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton as leeches on society. Instead of transgender individuals being supported and treated as equal, they are accused of being bathroom perverts and unfit to serve in the military. Instead of being listened to, those who take a knee during the National Anthem to convey the message that the ideals of liberty and justice for all are not really for all are ridiculed and threatened with boycotts.

I hope the events in Charlottesville this past weekend cause the scales to fall from the eyes of all those who still downplay the impact race and fear had on our election. Let the blind now see.

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