Racism is having a renaissance in this country right now. I don’t know if it’s because this nation has never truly reckoned with our original sin of slavery and the attempted genocide of Native Americans, but it is stunning to see the lack of self-awareness and bravado with which so many have embraced this noveau-nationalism.
For most of my life, there was at least veneer of civility and shame where the issue of white supremacy was concerned, but that seems to have been sanded off, and now we are left with the rotting wood underneath. Some in our society seem overjoyed that they apparently are no longer bound to “political correctness,” that pesky idea that we should not use our words and policies to attack or demean the vulnerable among us. You can just say whatever you want now, no holds barred. What a breath of hot air!
It’s not just that we tolerate this behavior, we celebrate it. In America, we have the right to free speech, which can be a beautiful or deadly thing. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can incite a riot. Or move us to action. Or crush our spirit. Or give us hope.
Words can band a mob in hatred, especially when so much anger lurks just beneath the surface. In the face of such unsettling animus, the defense mechanism can be to become numb. But the danger of numbness is that we forget words have meaning — even when we want to pretend they don’t.
Just this past week, crowds of people chanted about an American citizen who came to this country as a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia. She worked hard, earned the trust of her community and now she is a U.S. Congresswoman. The very definition of the American Dream. “Send her back!” they chanted, “Send her back!” Used to, good people on all sides would have condemned such a racist trope. But, alas, it was just any given Wednesday.
People indeed have the right to say what they want, but we lose our way as a society when we don’t hold others accountable for the words they say or the words they incite.
As I sit here in my house, built on stolen land, I ponder where the next year will take us as a nation. Are we too numb, are we too comfortable? Are we going to have an honest conversation with ourselves? Or are the roots of hatred buried so deep in our national DNA that too many of us don’t recognize it even when it’s chanting in our face?