As feared by many, the backlash after Barack Obama's historic win was swift and ugly. In Springfield, MA, just hours after Obama's win, a predominately African-American church was burned to the ground. http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/articles/2008/11/12/election_backlash_feared_in_church_fire/ On Staten Island, NY, a young Muslim teen was beaten by white youths who shouted "Obama" as they beat him. http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/11/staten_island_teen_gang_beat_m.html
Police around the country have documented hundreds of hate crimes in just the two weeks since the election. The saddest incident I read about was where second-grade schoolchildren were chanting "Assassinate Obama." I just couldn't fathom six and seven year-olds spouting such hateful invectives. At Baylor University in Waco, TX, a noose was found hanging from a tree. The university president now says it was a "old, forgotten rope swing and not a noose."
In Snellville, GA, one white resident had this to say following the election: "I believe our nation is ruined and has been for several decades and the election of Obama is merely the culmination of the change." Another white resident of Snellville has this to say: "There is a large subset of white people in this country who feel that they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them." (emphasis added)
In school rooms across the country, many white teachers have cut off discussions of Obama's victory. Whether this is out of fear of class disruption or the teachers' own inbred racism is unclear.
William Ferris, Senior Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina recently stated: "Change in whatever form does not come easy, and a black president is the most profound change in the field of race this country has experienced since the Civil War. It's shaking the foundations on which the country has existed for centuries." He added, "Someone once said racism is like cancer. It's never totally wiped out, it's in remission."
Racist paraphernalia depicting Obama has increased at least ten-fold since the election. A friend recently suggested that I Google "Obama nigger." I was amazed, disgusted and saddened by the results of that search. Another friend told recently of an e-mail sent to members of a group to which she belongs. She is the only African-American in the group. The e-mail contained a picture of the White House with rows and rows of watermelons on the lawn.
The Secret Service, which investigates all threats against a President or President-Elect, would not provide numbers, but reports are that since November 5th, there have been more threats targeting Obama than any President-Elect in history. Perhaps the one that was most chilling to me was the betting pool in Maine, where for $1, bettors could join a pool and pick the date closest to the date that Obama would be shot. There was a sign that read "Let's hope we have a winner."
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 888 active hate groups in the U.S. in 2007. Surprising to many, California leads the nation with 80 active hate groups. Texas is second with sixty-seven. Please note that these are active groups, groups who have members, regular meetings and who no doubt act out their hate.
To my knowledge, the last of the slaveholders died some time ago. Yet, the stain, the legacy, of slavery remains. Much of the hate acts are committed by young adults in their twenties. At the base of racism is ignorance and fear. I, and many other people of color I know tire of the necessity of educating those who are ignorant. We tire of being the only person of color in a group. We tire explaining that we don't all love watermelon. We tire explaining that just like them, we are not monolithic. Yet, the teaching, the conversations, must continue, must expand, must envelop those who need educating. To not do so, confines the anger, the disappointment, the hurt within us.
I pray for the safety of President-Elect Obama and his family.