On a late Friday night in March in Wichita, Kansas, 23-year-old Khondoker Usama and a Latino friend were at a gas station when a guy on a motorcycle allegedly shouted, “Hey, you brown trash, you better go home.” The Washington Post reported that an altercation ensued, with the suspect punching and kicking Usama’s Latino friend while invoking our new president-elect: “Trump will take our country from you guys!”
Fast-forward to November 9, the day following the presidential election: a Muslim woman was inside a parking garage at San Jose State University when someone quietly crept up behind her and yanked off her hijab, pulling it from atop her head and choking her in the process.
Neither event was isolated, certainly not the latter. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 701 incidents of hateful harassments between November 9 and 16—the week following the presidential election. This is 2016.
The ’90s were a generally fun, innocent period of my life—G.I. Joe action figures, Darkwing Duck after school, Battletoads on NES, Soul for Real’s “Candy Rain” on the radio. Elementary school wasn’t all tetherball and marbles, though. As a brown kid growing up during that time, I was an outsider. The only representation of my people on television was the cartoon Kwik-E-Mart proprietor on The Simpsons. Despite the fact that a majority of my classmates were also minorities and immigrants, I still was called Apu, Saddam and Aladdin. (Don’t cry for me; I talked my fair share of shit back. Also: Yo mama got a titty on her forehead and we call her Cyclops. Come at me!)
Then came 9/11. We were no longer cartoon characters with funny accents. Anyone brown, regardless of religion or origin, was perceived as a threat. I got hit with the Osama/terrorist jokes, and I’m a Hindu Indian born in Fiji, which is more than 8,000 miles away from Afghanistan. But if you’re hating on people because of their skin color, I don’t expect you to know a whole lot about the planet. No one knew anything about us or personally knew anyone harmed by us, but insisted we’d be the death of them. Hate crimes shot up. Balbir Singh Sodhi of Mesa, Arizona, was killed simply because he wore a turban. Nevermind that he was Sikh and not Muslim—hatred has never aimed for accuracy.
We can’t make progress if we don’t confront our issues, so fire away. Let’s step out of our bubbles and engage with one another. Tell us why you’re afraid. Tell us why you want us gone.
Fifteen years later, I thought we were inching our way out of rough waters. There were still 49 people murdered at an Orlando gay nightclub in June by American-born Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof killed nine black parishioners in Charleston last year and Wade Michael Page slayed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012—and The Big Bang Theory is still on-air portraying Indians as goofy nerds who talk funny. But there had to be some social progress made, right? Some minorities have slowly been normalized. Aziz Ansari played a guy named Tom on national television. We have an American prime time sitcom about an Asian family. Black lives finally matt—uh, wait. Never mind—black folks can’t even matter without stirring opposition.
Sure, the nation was divided long before Trump shouted astoundingly ignorant statements from a podium, but his rhetoric has emboldened supremacists and racists. Similar to the way Obama’s election gave hope to blacks and minorities, Trump is a symbol for the newly emerged “alt-right.”
I’m not a political expert (odds are neither are you, so keep that in mind as you warm up your Twitter fingers), and this isn’t meant to be a political column or a Trump slam piece, but we all know what we’ve all heard—hate-spewing and pussy-grabbin’. I don’t believe that everyone who voted for Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists or that all Muslims should be placed in a Nazi-like registry. Some folks just want their tax breaks and factory jobs. But by extension, his supporters—which were not the majority of American voters—are, at the very least, saying, “I’m totally cool with all of this.” At the worst, though, they’re committing vile acts of hate.
Throughout the 2016 election cycle and especially during its aftermath, Americans started to show their red, radically white and blue patriotism—people are no longer afraid to speak their minds, and white nationalists are coming out of the shadows.
That might actually be a good thing, though, as we’ve swept issues of racism under the rug for far too long. For the past eight years, America has paraded President Barack Obama around like their token black friend. As if to say, ‘I have a black president. See, I’m not racist!’ But this is not and has never been a post-racial America. That’s apparent now more than ever. The topic has now eclipsed the collective asses of the Kardashians to become a major part of the national dialogue.
As we step into the New Year, it’s time we put everything on the table and try to make some lemonade out of lemons. I’m looking forward to having an open, honest conversation. We can’t make progress if we don’t confront our issues, so fire away. Let’s step out of our bubbles and engage with one another. Tell us why you’re afraid. Tell us why you want us gone. Help us understand one another. Explain to me what a casserole is. Let’s collectively self-reflect and think about why we feel the way we feel.
I’m not suggesting eradicating racism is as simple as talking it out, or that something so complex can or ever will be decimated, but with the topic suffocatingly prevalent and with such a divisive leader entering office, it’s time we the people get in front of it. Otherwise there will be more fighting, more unrest and more swastikas spray-painted on playgrounds. Empathy and equality shouldn’t be preposterous tasks, but haven’t been attained for centuries. In 2017, I hope we can get a little bit closer to it.