By Marc H. Morial
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”
– Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
As far back as June of last year, the National Urban League called upon all Presidential candidates to refrain from using racially divisive and disparaging language in their campaigns.
In the ensuing months, we heard an unprecedented call to ban all Muslims from the nation, even United States citizens. That call was followed by more than two dozen anti-Muslim attacks in the United States, ranging from a cabdriver shot in Pittsburgh to the deliberate torching of a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks. N.D. The owner of a food market in Queens was beaten by a customer who vowed to “kill Muslims.”
The level of vitriol against immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities was amped so high during the campaign that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, coined the term “The Trump Effect” to describe the alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color over racial tensions and their fears of being deported.
According to an SPLC survey of teachers:
• More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students-mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims-have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
• More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
• More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
• More than 40 percent were hesitant to teach about the election.
• Other children have been using the word “Trump” as a taunt or as a chant as they gang up on others.
Over two-thirds (67 percent) of educators reported that young people in their schools-most often immigrants, children of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans and other students of color-had expressed concern about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Close to one-third of the students in American classrooms are children of foreign-born parents. This year, they are scared, stressed and in need of reassurance and support from teachers. Muslim children are harassed and worried.
Even native-born African-American children, whose families arrived here before the American Revolution, ask about being sent back to Africa. Others, especially younger students, have worries that are the stuff of nightmares, like a return to slavery or being rounded up and put into camps. Overall, these vulnerable students are disillusioned and depressed at the hatred they’re hearing from candidates, in the news, from classmates and even, sometimes, from trusted adults.
As we have said throughout this campaign, religious and racial bigotry are not core American values. In fact, such bigotry is more than unpatriotic; it threatens our national security.
So, where do we go from here?
We are hopeful now that the heat of the campaign begins to cool, our President-Elect and his supporters will adopt a more sober approach to issues of racial justice. He has called for the country to unite, and we will take him at his word.
Our duty as citizens is to hold him to his word. We have the power to define patriotism in the 21st Century, and there’s no room in that definition for bigotry. Some have mused that this campaign has served as a poultice of sorts, drawing the poisons of hate and intolerance to the surface. This is our opportunity to cleanse them away.