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[Guest Post] This is not the America where I grew up

By March 10, 2016One Comment

Note from Darlene: The increasing volume of hate embodied in the voices of those running for the highest office in this country has reinforced for me the necessity of calling hate what it is and stopping it in its tracks.

That’s why the following op-ed by alum Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, resonated deeply for me. It lays it on the line, and is an essential reminder that we don’t need to allow xenophobia, racism, and fear-mongering go uncontested. We can stop this, and stop it now.


One morning last week, I woke to news of a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll finding that 41 percent of Texas voters would support the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants and 46 percent would support a ban on non-citizen Muslims entering the country. Those disturbing figures go hand-in-hand with the rise of overtly racist public discourse nationwide.

It is time to stop the epidemic of hate in America.

Before you assume my concerns are coming from a member of the so-called “liberal elite,” let me tell you about my roots.

I grew up in a solidly Republican, middle-class family in Dallas. My dad worked for Sears, and my mom taught high school English. My grandparents were teachers in Fredonia, Kan. My grandad loved to hunt and fish, and my grandmother canned peaches and shelled peas from their garden.

I learned my values — my solidly American values — from my conservative family. Love thy neighbor. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Welcome strangers. Help those in need.

Those values are now under attack. In the last several months, leading presidential candidates have called Mexicans “rapists,” compared Syrians to “rabid dogs,” hinted that Muslims should be killed with “bullets dipped in pig’s blood,” and claimed that gay and lesbian Americans are waging a “jihad” on religious freedom.

Along with the rhetoric has come a spike in hate crimes. Last June, a white man killed nine people at a black church in South Carolina. The devastating terrorist attack in San Bernadino in December sparked a wave of attacks at mosques around the country. We can try to dismiss these incidents as anecdotal, but the data shows otherwise. The number of organized hate groups grew by 14 percent in 2015. And the rate of attacks against Muslims in the U.S. has tripled since November 2015.


Texas Tribune/Emily Albrecht

Even more disturbing, my beloved Texas is leading the pack. Our elected leaders have compared refugees to rattlesnakes, referred to desperate children crossing the border as an “invasion,” and said “no Muslims can be trusted.” Texas has more hate groups than any other state.

This is not an isolated outbreak anymore. We have elected leaders and others running for the highest office that are spouting racist slogans and advocating for policies that would exclude people from the country based on religion and national origin.

The fear and hatred are not grounded in facts. The data show that our economy depends on hard-working immigrants, who in fact commit far fewer crimes than native-born Americans. The facts show that unarmed black Americans are killed at three times the rate of whites. The facts show that white extremists committed more terrorist acts in the U.S. than Muslims. But the facts don’t seem to matter.

Scholars and pundits are studying how we got here, and arguing over who’s to blame. Some say it’s nothing new, pour over the data, downplay the danger. In the meantime, the epidemic spreads.

Yes, we have other critical challenges — our broken education system, growing income inequality, the exploding cost of college. But we won’t solve those problems with the country full of hate and fear.

We cannot count on the political process alone to stop hateful leaders from coming to power, though it is more important than ever to vote our conscience. Populist extremists whose fear-mongering taps into the dark side of the American psyche are hijacking the political process.

We cannot count on the mainstream media to prevent the spread of hate, though we can urge all media outlets to stop downplaying extremism in the name of objectivity.

And we cannot count on the ability of those under attack — people of color, immigrants, Muslims — to defend themselves on their own. Shamefully, the majority of hate crimes are committed by whites. It is imperative for those of us who are white to stand with our fellow Americans of all backgrounds against hate and extremism.

There are signs of courage that inspire me. In Dallas, WFAA-TV sports anchor Dale Hansen last year powerfully called out an instance of racism at a high school basketball game. When a mosque in Pflugerville was vandalized last fall, a local resident organized a welcoming rally where over 200 people from various races and backgrounds turned out to show support for the Muslim community. And evangelical leaders in North Texas condemned the exclusion of refugees as contrary to Christian values.

These true Americans know that what is at stake is far more important than any difference between “conservative” and “progressive.”

If you are also appalled at what is happening — and I believe profoundly, I must believe, that we are a strong majority of Americans — we no longer have the luxury of waiting for someone else to analyze or solve the problem.

A groundswell of Americans must get engaged now. We need people of faith, business leaders, and civic leaders from across the ideological spectrum to call elected officials and ask what they are doing to stop the spread of hate. We need to activate members of our social media networks, fraternities and sororities, Rotary clubs, and soccer leagues to speak out whenever they witness hateful speech.

We need to praise those who stand up for their neighbors, instead of laughing at those who condemn them.

Nothing less than our core American values are at stake. I don’t care what party you vote for, what you do for a living, or what religion you practice. It’s time to stop the spread of hate in America.

This piece originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

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