Deny them the use of ‘we’

Deny them the use of ‘we’ November 10, 2016

Today, two days after the election, and more than two months before the inauguration: “Rights group monitoring reports of attacks on U.S. minorities since Trump win.”

The reports included an assault on a woman in an Islamic head scarf, as well as racist graffiti and bullying of immigrant children, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, and other civil rights groups. …

A female student in a hijab at San Diego State University was assaulted and robbed on Wednesday, the university said. The assailants were reported to have made comments to the victim in support of Trump and hurled anti-Muslim insults at her, the school said in a statement, adding the case was being investigated as a hate crime.

…  Spray-painted messages such as “Black Lives Don’t Matter and Neither Does Your Votes” on a wall in North Carolina and a swastika and “Make America White Again” on a baseball dugout in New York went viral.

Civil rights leaders said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday they were hearing of an increase in bullying incidents against children from racial and religious minority groups.

We talked about this last week, after a black Baptist church in Mississippi was torched and “Vote Trump” was found spray-painted on its wall: “A foretaste of ‘Donald Trump’s America.'” Here’s what I wrote then, last Wednesday, back in a different world:

Such acts of violence and intimidation are implicitly first person plural. They convey the message “We don’t want your kind.” We don’t want you to have rights, or power, or equality. We don’t want you living here. We don’t want you living at all.

When that undefined, presumed first person plural is not challenged — when it is not loudly refuted and shouted down — then acts of violence like this gain momentum and power. Their frequency and their body count begins to rise.

So a big part of preventing things like this is an emphatic, consequential rejection of this presumptuous “we.” The implicit plural of that first person plural needs to be shown to be a lie. The people committing such acts need to be forced to understand that they are not “we.” They need to be made to realize that whatever “we” they imagine they represent represents only itself — a pathetic rump faction of the disgruntled and deplorable. They need to be assured of this by everyone they meet. They need to have this proven to them by the criminal justice system.

And they need to hear it loud and clear on election day. Very loud and very clear.

On election day, they heard the opposite. Very loud and very clear. They heard it from white people — rich and poor, educated and uneducated — all over the country. And they heard it loudest and clearest of all from white evangelicals. The message of election day has already emboldened and energized them. They are convinced that their “we” has the numbers, and the power, to act with impunity. They now believe, as someone once said, “You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

We tried, and failed, to shout down their triumphant “we” on election day. Rather than revealing them to be a “pathetic rump faction,” we learned that they are a full half of the country — our neighbors and co-workers. And they’re just getting started.

And so, after the uncertain trumpet of election day, it is more important than ever to deny them that “we” — that vast and inclusive plural — everywhere else. All the time. In person. At work. At the store. In church. Online. Everywhere. Deny them the illusion of unanimity. Deny them your consent. Do not allow them to mistake silence for agreement.

“It happened, therefore it can happen again.” — Primo Levi

This tweetstorm from Jenny@ReadingtheEnd is a good place to start for us white folks. That’s good advice, with some helpful encouragement and prudent warnings too.

But this isn’t a one-day, or one-month, or one-year enterprise. We’ll be doing this for a long time to come.

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