When I came up with the idea for this editorial, the following thoughts and pieces seemed to go together. I'm not sure how, but let me ramble on and maybe I'll come up with something by the end that can tie them all together. Here goes.
The United States Presidential Election
For those of you that voted for someone other than Barack Obama, please don't stop reading. This is not going to be an article that resembles the showboating celebrations that you sometimes see on a football field. I'm not going to gloat, but please indulge me a little by allowing me reflect on this amazing election.
Back when I was in grade school and being president still held a special exalted respect, kids would say that they wanted to be president when they grew up. I never imagined that I or anyone like me could ever really become president.
Not that long ago, a friend of mines and I would test others about which one of us was more likely to be elected president. Although my friend is a white male, he is a naturalized American and I am native born. The lesson was that even though he looked more the part, I was the one constitutionally qualified to be president.
Among the hundreds of millions of Americans throughout the 220 years of the existence of the American Presidency, only 43 non-minority white males have ever become President of the United States. Barack Obama has truly broken through the highest glass ceiling of our country. Even John McCain in his concession speech acknowledged that Obama's win was truly historic. People around the world also seem amazed by our election and how American democracy appears to have lived up to its promise of opportunity for all.
A friend of mine, knowing my tendencies towards writing critical newsletter articles about the government, kidded me about how I would have a harder time finding bad things to write about now that the Democrats were coming to power. I can't say that I was disappointed with the election results, but President Elect Obama really does have a tough road ahead and I can't imagine that his performance could ever be criticism proof.
While I rejoice at the prospect that any job in our land now seems obtainable, I am concerned that the doors of opportunity could once again be shut.
After the Civil War, there were over 600 African American in state and local government, and over 17 in the US Congress, but all this had essentially ended by the end of the 19th Century. No African American represented a Southern State in the US Congress from the period of 1901 to 1972. Although those pioneering African Americans had broken through the glass ceiling, that ceiling was rebuilt.
With no track record of any minorities serving as United States President, those citizens that are on the fence about the acceptability of minorities for the job may end up feeling less likely to vote for a minority in the future if Obama does a bad job. Most fair-minded people know better than to categorize a whole group of people by one lone representative, but we must also expect that many will. Rightly or not Obama is the symbolic representative for all of us that have yet to make it through that ceiling.
For all of our sakes, even if you were not a supporter of Barack Obama, it is important that, by the end of Obama's term in office, a sizable majority of Americans feel that he did a good job. A job well done will go a long ways in keeping the doors of opportunity open, while a poor job will play into the hands of the advocates of prejudice and hate.
Hate Groups and Hate Crimes
Although it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a collapse of racial gains made since the Civil Rights Era of the 50s and 60s, the number of hate groups like the KKK are increasing (48% since 2000) and racially motivated hate crimes have spiked since the Obama election. Several recent hate crime incidences have attracted such notice, that seven civil rights organizations came together on November 24, 2008 to hold a news conference to alert people about this alarming trend.
Here is an excerpt from a statement at this news conference made by Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
As a civil rights organization, NCLR stands here today with representatives from MALDEF, the National Urban League, the NAACP, the Asian American Justice Center, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to express our alarm over the rise in hate and violence against our communities.
Most recently, on November 8th, in Suffolk County, New York, Marcelo Lucero was going to visit a friend to watch a movie when he was attacked and murdered by seven teenagers. Mr. Lucero was 37 years old. Originally from Ecuador, he had lived in this country for 16 years. According to Newsday, Suffolk County police said the defendants "simply wanted to beat up someone who looked Mexican."
On election night, Alie Kamara, a teenager from Liberia, was assaulted by two teenagers shouting racial epithets and "Obama" in Staten Island, New York.
While we are grateful that the authorities have taken swift action, Mr. Lucero's death should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported that it has seen "hundreds of incidents" throughout the country since Election Day, including hate crimes, vandalism, and threats.
Late last month, the FBI released its latest hate-crime statistics, which show that attacks against Latinos and Asian Americans
As Janet Murguía stated, the media holds some of the blame - these amplified voices from the media, the Internet, and even some elected officials help fan and stoke the flames of hate. Civil rights groups like the ones that held this news conference are pushing for legislation for tougher federal hate crime laws. Those that oppose these laws are afraid that the proposed laws will some how limit their free speech. This article was not meant to delve into this expansive issue - we'll have to save this for another day. However, without a doubt, there are limits to free speech. One only needs to look at the country of Rwanda as a recent example of how the media could horribly help incite one community against another.
have risen steadily over the past four years. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups targeting Latinos and immigrants has also increased over the same period.
And a USA Today article late last month noted that the recent resurgence of White supremacist groups was being "fueled by illegal immigration."
We believe that the wave of hate unleashed by the polarized debate over immigration has led to the increase in violence and hate groups targeting Latinos.
And the key players in this wave of hate are found among elected officials and the media, especially talk radio and cable news...
Mr. Lucero's death is a direct outcome of the anger and hate spurred on by certain media outlets that mischaracterize all Latinos and the institutions that serve them as a threat to our country...
For two years we have urged politicians and members of the media to show some restraint in echoing the damaging rhetoric that demonizes our communities. We have asked them to question the source material of those who suggest our community is somehow a threat to the health and safety of all Americans.
We recognize that there are many who disagree with our policy positions. And we welcome a spirited debate over those positions. But there is no place for hate in civil discourse.
Words have consequences. And hateful words have hateful consequences. In Suffolk County, hate has trickled down to a new generation of Americans and it should disturb everyone in this room.
In the wake of an historic election that sent a message to the world about freedom and liberty in America, it seems incongruous, today, to raise the specter of hate in our communities. Thankfully, hate did not win in this election, but hate is still here with us.
The organizations represented here are committed to working together to monitor incidents of hate crimes and hate rhetoric, to urge policymakers and the media to cease resorting to bias and bigotry, and to increase tolerance and understanding among all communities.
In our current economic downturn we must be particularly guarded against scapegoating. Throughout American history there have been countless incidences where groups have been persecuted during hard times. Any knowledgeable person of Asian American history should be keenly aware of this.
Another point of view of those that oppose hate crime legislation is that most violent crimes have a component of hate, so why do we need to have new laws? One conservative website states it this way - Real crime always involves "hate", there are already laws to handle real crimes.
So what's the real difference between a hate crime and other types of crime and why do hate crimes need special consideration? Wouldn't additional punishment for hate crimes just be prosecuting people for their hateful thoughts?
The FBI defines a hate crime as a criminal act that is motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability. The crime may be committed against a person, property, or society.
But aren't hate crimes really always crimes against society? The perpetrators of hate crimes aren't just targeting individuals, they're really venting their anger at a whole community. When communities begin to act out their aggressions against other communities, society begins to crumble. When civility ends, civilizations are at jeopardy. This is the real difference between hate crimes and regular crimes, and that is why it deserves special recognition.
Perhaps we need to stop using the term "hate crime" and start calling it what it really is "anti-community crimes." With this nomenclature, perhaps people will begin to understand that these types of crimes are crimes that truly hurt us all.
What hate groups (AKA: terrorist) really want is to reorder civilization to a way where they are in power. These disenfranchised sociopaths would rather tear down the world in which they live, than build towards making the world better through non-violent means.
This is where the Obama election and his time in office comes back into the picture. A successful Obama administration would prove that non-violent change is possible and that democracy really can work. Perhaps the success of Obama could forever be proof that no one should ever feel inferior and without power, and that the meek really could inherit the earth.
In this holiday season of hope, peace, and love, let us hope for a successful Obama government that will forever dim the flames of hate.