Originally published on Medium and republished here with the author’s permission.
I’ve been really angry and depressed for the last few months. I’ve finally pieced together why.
I’m not afraid of teenagers building clocks. I’m not afraid of women having economic empowerment or sexual freedom. I’m not afraid of weddings with two grooms/brides, trans folks using bathrooms, Latinxs making a living, or Black people wearing hoodies and playing music.
I’m afraid of an angry white dude with a gun who’s been told repeatedly that his country is dying and he needs to take it back.
We have made incredible strides towards real, tangible equality: the repeal of DOMA, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, several long overdue minimum wage increases, and the ongoing efforts by many to end police brutality.
However, those in positions of authority routinely whip their audience to frenzy as soon as we make the slightest bit of progress, all for the sake of political division and votes. This often ends in tragedy for the rest of us.
In 2010, Tea Partiers were screaming about death panels, health care, and government tyranny while conservative voices like Sharon Angle were slyly suggesting that “Second Amendment Solutions” were what might be needed to help “restore America.”
A few months later, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, along with seventeen others.
With the proliferation of cell phone video and police body cams, the last two years have presented more recorded evidence of rampant abuse and injustice at the hands of police than ever before. The necessary creation of Black Lives Matter and their demand for police accountability was seen as an indictment of white America for many conservative pundits, rather than the much needed moment to analyze the deep seeded history of racism within the United States.
Within a year of the Black Lives Matter movement being ridiculed, dehumanized, and suggestively labeled as “radical,” Dylann Roof sat in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Even after this clear case of incendiary media influencing the mind of a psychopath, Sean Hannity stated his hypothesis that Black Lives Matter were out to “kill cops and kill white people.”
That ludicrous notion, hammered into the psyche of his viewers every day, is something that can and does create hostile environments for people of color, trans folks, and queer men and women.
Calling Black Lives Matter the “Murder Movement,” despite hard factual evidence that they do not condone violence against police and statistical data that proves officer deaths are at a thirty-year low, is beyond irresponsible. It’s contemptuous and reckless.
Racism profiteer Ann Coulter recently parroted the position of eternal-shit-spewing-machine Donald Trump in regard to Latinxs: “I have a little tip for you – if you don’t want to be killed by ISIS, don’t go to Syria. If you don’t want to be killed by a Mexican,” she added, “there’s nothing I can tell you.”
With every appearance, these conservative megaphones sell more books, make profits, and go to sleep at night with visions of mason jars filled with “liberal tears” dancing in their heads.
Meanwhile, to those ruled by hate and fear, the repeated suggestion that pro-choice feminists are baby killers, black civil rights activists are out to kill police officers, and Mexicans are murdering rapists intent on turning the United States into Mexico are a call to action.
The problem isn’t merely these easily debunked assertions. The problem is the total lack of accountability for the toxicity produced when one willfully plays to the dark side of American populism.
The problem is when a homeless Latino man gets beaten with a pipe by two angry white men who say “Donald Trump was right.”
The problem is an abortion doctor being murdered at church after 28 episodes of The O’Reilly Factor accused him of “operating a death mill,” and labeled him “a savage on the loose.”
The problem is a Presidential candidate in the modern age pandering to a potential voter who stated on live television that “we have a problem in this country, and it’s called Muslims” without rebuke.
In the shadow of these incidents, there is always refusal by these voices to take responsibility and acknowledge influence of position or authority.
O’Reilly: “When I heard about Tiller’s murder, I knew pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters would attempt to blame us for the crime, and that’s exactly what has happened… Now, it’s clear that the far left is exploiting – exploiting – the death of the doctor. Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller. That – and hating Fox News – is the real agenda here.”
Palin: “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them… Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
No, Bill. No, Sarah. This is what reprehensible looks like:
- April 2009: Richard Poplawski kills three Pittsburgh police officers. Friends told the press that Poplawski, known to post on white supremacist websites, was worried that Obama was coming to take everyone’s guns away.
- April 2009: Joshua Cartwright, a US Army reservist, kills two police officers at a gun range. His wife tells the police he was “severely disturbed” that Barack Obama had been elected president and believed the government was conspiring against him.
- May 2009: Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist, guns down Dr. George Tiller at Tiller’s church.
- June 2009: White supremacist James Wenneker von Brunn kills a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
- February 2010: Joseph Stack flies a small plane into an IRS office in Austin, TX, killing himself and one IRS official and injuring many others. Stack left behind a manifesto complaining about the tax agency.
- October 2011: Holly Ann Grigsby and Joey Pedersen, two white supremacists, go on a multi-state crime spree that begins with killing Pedersen’s parents and adds the murders of a middle-aged black man and a young man they thought looked Jewish.
- December 2011: Members of a Georgia anti-government militia group called FEAR (Forever Enduring Always Ready) kill two of their compatriots and are found to be preparing a campaign of bombings and assassinations.
- August 2012: Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, kills six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI.
- August 2012: A group of people associated with the “sovereign citizens” movement kills two police officers and injures two more in St. John, LA.
- April 2014: Frazier Glenn Cross kills three people at a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement home.
- June 2015: Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, kills eight people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
How obscene and hateful does the rhetoric have to become before another person finds violent inspiration?
Is it not too much to ask that political pundits be held to a basic level of journalistic integrity and that the statements of those seeking to occupy the highest offices in this land be held to a more rigorous standard of scrutiny than one might find in a message board?
In political climates like this, I’m a potential target. The people I love are potential targets. Simply by our existence many of us have been painted as an enemy who must be stopped by any means necessary. We are stripped of any humanity and are instead fictionalized as boogeymen that exist to make an impossibly romanticized, whitewashed version of America disappear.
It may be true that changes in the American landscape are cause for “Joe USA” to slightly wet himself at the sight of his new brown neighbors or at the same sex couple that wants to get married. Ultimately, it is precisely that change which brings us closer to actualizing the promise of liberty and justice for all.
Instead of fearing that these shifts in culture are at the expense of a United States which never existed, let’s recognize and celebrate how that long hoped for promise is slowly being fulfilled for millions of Americans. Civil rights isn’t a sand timer, where one side loses while the other gains. Civil rights is a pizza, and for a lot of us, we’re finally getting our slice.
Derrick Lemos is a Los Angeles based writer, comedian and film maker. He believes that emphasizing historical and cultural context is a key component to understanding modern intersectional issues. He also loves professional wrestling. Follow him on Twitter @DerrickLemos.
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