November 17, 2008

After the Election: Symptoms of an American Pathology

With all of the joyful noise following the last Presidential election,it's sad to have to be reminded that there's still an old sickness in our cultural body that is yet to be cured. Still, it doesn't come as a surprise. Months before the election, the purveyors of hatred were already making their voices heard. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the threats have kept on coming and have gone beyond words to action in some cases. Now that America will have its first president whose skin isn't pinky-beige, whose hair looks a bit different than the Caucasian type, whose father was an African, the venom is ratcheting up.

There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.
Some of the incidents tracked include:
  • ...Snellville, Ga., where Denene Millner said a boy on the school bus told her 9-year-old daughter the day after the election: "I hope Obama gets assassinated." That night, someone trashed her sister-in-law's front lawn, mangled the Obama lawn signs, and left two pizza boxes filled with human feces outside the front door...
  • Four North Carolina State University students admitted writing anti-Obama comments in a tunnel designated for free speech expression, including one that said: "Let's shoot that nigger in the head..."
  • At Standish, Maine, a sign inside the Oak Hill General Store read: "Osama Obama Shotgun Pool." Customers could sign up to bet $1 on a date when Obama would be killed. "Stabbing, shooting, roadside bombs, they all count," the sign said. At the bottom of the marker board was written "Let's hope someone wins."
  • Racist graffiti was found in places including New York's Long Island, where two dozen cars were spray-painted
  • Kilgore, Texas, where the local high school and skate park were defaced; and the Los Angeles area, where swastikas, racial slurs and "Go Back To Africa" were spray painted on sidewalks, houses and cars.
  • Second- and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho, chanted "assassinate Obama," a district official said.
  • University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston said a poster of the Obama family was ripped off her office door. A replacement poster was defaced with a death threat and a racial slur...
  • Black figures were hanged by nooses from trees on Mount Desert Island, Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported...
  • Crosses were burned in yards of Obama supporters in Hardwick, N.J., and Apolacan Township, Pa.
  • A black teenager in New York City said he was attacked with a bat on election night by four white men who shouted 'Obama.'
  • In Forest Hills, PA, a black man said he found a note with a racial slur on his car windshield, saying "now that you voted for Obama, just watch out for your house."


From sea to shining sea, indeed.

It would be naive to even ask why this is happening. We all know why. The pathology has been around long enough. One might as well ask what causes the common cold or why the sky is blue. There are people in this country who, having accomplished nothing with their own lives, identify their own value — and by extension the value of other human beings — by some easily distinguishable physical trait, some bit of superficial biological coincidence. It's all they've got, and they'll cling to it for all they're worth because it is all they're worth. Call that bit of inconsequential physicality into question and you call their value as a human being into question. You make an enemy who may well take it upon himself to extract vengeance.

That someone who looks different, who doesn't share some valued hue of the flesh with such people, has achieved the nation's highest political office drives such people into a rage. Some meaningful privilege that they'd hoped and believed was connected with their appearance has turned out not to be so connected. It is for this reason that I expect at least one assassination attempt to be made upon Obama. It's a pathetic expectation, I know, but it would be just as naive not to think such an event will come as it is to question the motivation for it in the first place.

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