Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bigotry Rears Its Ugly Head, Coast To Coast

Image source: DownEast Magazine
Prominent Somali immigrant and community leader ZamZam Mohamud
conferring with police in Lewiston, Maine.
I was on tap to write about some of the many covert wars beyond the seven "hot" ones the U.S. is currently engaged in. Sifting through the propaganda and connecting up some truth is not an easy process, and I'm sure our corporate overlords intend it this way. I'll get to it eventually; in the meantime, you could read the website The Saker on Ukraine or Bruce Gagnon's blog on Ukraine, Korea, Montenegro, and other targets of imperial ambition.

What keeps nagging at me to write about these days is the alarming, ugly, pervasive rise of hate language from bigots all over the U.S.A.

Here's a facebook post from a student at my alma mater (MsEd, 1997) in Portland, the University of Southern Maine (USM):

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor
Sitting here minding my business at the USM library and this guy takes it upon himself to tell me that I'm a "nigger bitch" and to "go back to your country". When I took the pic of him he tells me he probably paid for my phone with the taxes he pays. Miserable as fuck!
Neat, huh? The public university I support with my taxes is providing a warm nest for this hatefulness. A family member who attends the nearby Southern Maine Community College commented that this sort of sentiment is quite common in her classes, from youngish white men, many of them veterans of racist wars against brown people in petroleum rich areas of the planet.

Next comes this report from the West coast:
Yesterday I was verbally attacked for being a gay woman. "Have you looked in a mirror lately? You could be part man". Just when I thought bigots were beginning to evolve, it turns out they were just hiding in a closet. Thanks to the vile spewed by the hate-monger running for president, bigots are feeling empowered to show their true colors again. I tried to appeal to this ignorant and hateful bigot's humanity by pointing out how painful it is to be attacked on the basis of birth-given characteristics. He responded only by attacking me some more and telling me to "F--- off". Bigotry like a cancer will spread unless we acknowledge it and work to evolve as a species. 
I'm not sure where Ms. Northcutt, an attorney who represents people with disabilities, was when this happened, but she lives in an area with a large public university that is part of the University of California system. An area that used to be considered a bastion of tolerance and multiculturalism.

When right wing paid commenters hurl online insults at "politically correct" beliefs, this is what they are railing against: respect for other cultures, races, genders and sexual preferences.

My friend left her comment in response to my plea for some intelligent comments on a letter to the editor I had published after the demagogue with the bad hair came to Maine and scapegoated the Somali refugee community. Such letters, at least around here, immediately draw comments spewing hate and making absurd claims such as that white people are the actual victims of racism in the U.S. 

I am watching this issue split apart families as they debate the news of the day online. It's scary to see people I used to know as tolerant and open-minded become bigots before my very eyes. I remember how often I have read accounts of the descent of Germany into fascism which cited this very thing. People wondered where their old friend or neighbor had gone, leaving a racist fanatic in their place. 

For an excellent literary treatment of this theme -- one based on an actual incident -- I recommend this novella in the form of letters between friends, first published in 1938:

I dare say that when my stepson gave me this book as a gift fifteen years ago neither one of us anticipated that one day we, too, would watch as people we thought we knew transformed into monstrous haters under the influence of propaganda and right wing politics.

Finally, here's a subsequent post from our articulate USM student indicating that hate language isn't just words -- it's a force driving people away from access to an education.

I just want to express my gratitude for the support I've been getting these last few hours from the incident that happened this morning. I hope something positive comes out this and hope to see real change enacted at the University of Southern Maine. Many students of color have since left USM because of experiences like this and enough is enough. USM must cherish, value, and create a safe space for their marginalized students at all times.

Revised 8/15/16:
Nimco Mohamed shared this screen grab where the man in her picture identifies himself:

And RNorthcutt wrote in response to this post:

Rebecca Northcutt A message to Haters: The choice is yours: You can hate me just because I am an outspoken woman if you are a misogynist. Or you can hate me because I am disabled and receive hard-earned benefits under the ADA. Or you can hate me because I am a gay woman, butch no less and not feminine enough. Or you can hate me because I am lawyer, a "bottom feeder", if you prefer. Of course you could just hate me because I am not white enough, rich enough, young enough, thin enough, conservative enough or complacent enough. But you'll never be able to hate me just because I am hateable. I am simply much too loveable to ever qualify.
Amen to that. 

Revised 8/16/16:
I shared this letter I wrote to USM with Cory Smith. He responded "that was not me making the racial comments" and had never set foot in the USM library but friends noticed he looks like Nirmco's photo and he engaged in some joking with them in the screen grab above. 

Dear USM Library Administration, As an alumnae of USM (MsEd, 1997) I am writing to express concern about racist harassment occurring in the USM library targeting a student of color. I recently saw this post on facebook: Nimco M. Mohamed August 12 at 11:06am Sitting here minding my business at the USM library and this guy takes it upon himself to tell me that I'm a "nigger bitch" and to "go back to your country". When I took the pic of him he tells me he probably paid for my phone with the taxes he pays. Miserable as fuck!
I blogged about the incident and Ms. Mohamed responded by sharing a screen grab where her harasser identified himself as a man named Cory Smith. I'm not sure whether Mr. Smith is a student at USM or was simply using the library to eat a snack in front of his laptop. I'm also not sure if your office is the correct recipient of my complaint. If not, please forward my request that Mr. Smith receives an official response from USM administrators and/or library staff regarding his harassment and hate language in this academic setting. His remarks were racist, misogynist and xenophobic and while I respect his first amendment right to free speech, his hateful rhetoric renders the USM library unsafe for students like Ms. Mohamed. We taxpayers provide such venues as a place to study, not to harass others. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Lisa Savage

And here is the reply I received from the USM library administrator:

Hi Ms. Savage, 

Thank you so much for emailing us. We are fully aware of Friday's unacceptable incident. On Saturday, the man in question came back to our library and he was trespassed from all USM campuses for one year.   The student was immediately informed.  

The man's name was not Cory Smith, so perhaps someone found an image that looked like the photo below? 

Walk in hours are available from 1pm-4pm today at USM's Multicultural Center for anyone who would like to discuss this situation further.  

From the University of Southern Maine's Facebook page:
"We have reached out to the student who was impacted and are identifying opportunities for our university community to come together to talk about race, racism, creating awareness, and the ways we can support one another. It is important to know that the University of Southern Maine does not condone any form of harassment.

If you or someone you know needs support around this or any other issue, please reach out to Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Mariana Cruz or Interim Dean of Students David McKenzie. On Monday from 1-4pm, Assistant Dean of Students Mariana Cruz will be in the USM Multicultural Center for drop-in hours."

Thank you again for sharing your blog post with us as well.

Library Administration 

No comments: