Racism Surfaces


Illustration by Christina Carlson

Ahmad Alijawad

A Ku Klux Klan rally in Anaheim ended in three stabbings and 13 arrests on Feb. 27 as violence erupted between clan members and protesters. Some reacted like Nick Keeton, an Anaheim resident who said “I feel like this is 1953 and we’re in Kentucky.” However, that way of thinking is exactly why these rallies are dangerous. They are viewed as abnormalities that don’t quite belong, and because of that, people forget how prevalent the sentiment behind the rallies are. The KKK rally did not include any burning crosses or megaphones spewing racial slurs. No, that rally was, according to one of the KKK members, to speak out against “illegal immigration and Muslims.” This is not the racism of the civil rights era, where we could decry segregation and call that progress; this is the racism of modern America, where pandering political rhetoric and biased media presentation go hand-in-hand with informal, yet institutionalized, racism. 

There is a misconception that such acts of racism are from another time and place, but a nation where people like Donald Trump can proudly flout racist views to the cheers and applause of enormous crowds shows otherwise. Calling Trump a racist is not a matter of politics, but simply observation. His claim that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers, which he adamantly defended, and his vitriol against Muslims are not gaffes, but embraced rallying cries. Trump has been lauded by the KKK, which he was slow to denounce, and his rallies are filled with violence, including an incident where he cheered on one of his supporters ripping a sign that read “Stop Hate” from a Sikh man. With each word Trump utters, white nationalist websites gain so much traffic that one popular site, Stormfront, had to upgrade its servers. Hate group leaders, such as Knights Party’s Rachel Pendergraft, use Trump headlines as recruitment tools. And it would be denial to claim that Trump’s appeal to bigotry is only popular in the deep recesses of the South, where so many progressives like to convince themselves that the racist boogeymen stay in their caves and under their rocks. Rather, Trump had crushing victories in moderate states such as New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He’s not a radical outlier and he’s not a part of a fringe group — he and his rhetoric are mainstream.

But Trump didn’t create racism; he’s merely pandering to an audience that’s angry and afraid at what’s happening around them. Gay marriage becomes legal, a black man becomes president and people notice that the world around them is moving past them, changing in ways they never asked for. They see that, in the past 10 elections, five have been won by candidates, all Democrats, who lost the white vote. To angry whites who adore Trump, they fear that they’re no longer America, just another part of it. In their perspective, they’re drowning, and like anybody else who drowns, they thrash and fight.

Sadly, their thrashing affects more than just themselves. This past year saw the addition of over 100 hate groups across America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Emphasis on “across,” as these groups aren’t limited to the deep South, as so many would like to believe. To put it into perspective, the SPLC recorded 457 hate groups in 1999, and now there are 892, with only the period between 2011–2014 showing drops in hate groups since then. Hate crimes against Muslims have also seen a terrifying spike, including an incident involving a college student in San Diego. There was even a sixth-grade student in the Bronx who was physically assaulted by three boys who called her “ISIS.” These weren’t angry redneck stereotypes people get out of lazy race jokes, but kids living in the largest city in America. Brian Levin, a criminologist at Cal State San Bernardino, notes that a large part of this influx of hate crimes comes from “anti-Muslim stereotypes seeping into the mainstream.” He goes on to point out that when people see their ideas reinforced in the media, they are emboldened to act.

This sort of racist sentiment isn’t contained to overt acts such as hate-group formations or Trump rallies, but also ties back into more institutionalized, subtle forms of racism. We live in a country where, according to the Sentience Project, black men are six times more likely than white men to go to jail, where 60 percent of the prison population is comprised of minorities and where there are three times as many black people arrested for drug charges than white people despite the fact that white people use more of every drug except for crack. And yet, the debate about our prison system isn’t focused on solving the racial issues, but whether or not there are racial issues. When Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Justice Department would no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offences because of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, it should have served as a wake-up call. Instead, incredibly influential people like Bill O’Reilly continued blaming the “corrosive culture” of inner-city African-Americans for their problems. 

Any sort of dismissal of this racism as un-American or fringe is exactly what allows it to be American and mainstream. Instead of confronting bigoted views, we mock them, without realizing that mocking someone, while fun, is the best way to make them stop listening seriously. We need to face the reality that America still has a troubling race problem, and that ignoring it only lets it grow.

Correction: A previous version of this editorial stated that a Ku Klux Klan in Anaheim on February 27 resulted in three deaths. The article has now been corrected to reflect that it resulted in three stabbings.