A few days ago, a black woman I know got a text from a friend who asked what she’d be wearing “to the slave auction in January.”
Another friend, who is white, wrote that she is “seriously picturing trains to Auschwitz. I can’t convey how seriously.”
These are the kinds of conversations I find myself having in a world suddenly grown ominous and strange. You try to keep a level head, to remind yourself and others that the tragedies alluded to – slavery and the Holocaust – are unique. They are not going to repeat. We must not be too alarmist.
But the hits just keep on coming.
The other day, my brother reported seeing a pickup truck emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag tooling down the road in L.A. I lived in that city for 34 years, he’s lived there 47. Neither of us can recall ever seeing that before. A few days later, he tells me some random white lady screamed “N-----!” at him – just that word, no other commentary – because she didn’t like his driving.
So it goes in these first days of the Trump era.
You want to say it’s just your imagination inflating random badness into a narrative of racist white bully boys and girls feeling free to vent their hatred now that one of their own has come to power. One tends to see what one is looking for, after all.
But if this is just imagination, there’s a lot of it going around.
A black woman in a Walmart parking lot says she was called “n----- b----” and told to go “back to Africa” by a truck full of white men who yelled “Make America white again!” before throwing cups full of chewing tobacco saliva on her.
A black woman in Charlotte reports holding the door for an older white man in a veteran’s hat. She said, “Thank you for your service.” He said, “At least you n------ are grateful for something.”
Racist messages are sent to black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania. On a train in Oregon, a group of teenagers gang up on a Muslim woman, calling her a terrorist and saying that Trump will deport her. A Latina in Texas says she was walking her baby in the park when a white woman in a truck sped by yelling, “White power!” In Durham, graffiti declares “Black lives doesn’t matter.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center says it recorded 447 incidents of hateful intimidation and vandalism in the first five days after the election. Many perpetrators explicitly invoked Trump. SPLC president Richard Cohen told USA Today that the haters are now “feeling their oats.”
I can testify to that. Shortly before the election, I received in response to a column on Trump an email from “Matt,” which said things like “I want you to read about your mom being raped by Muslim terrorists and then see her burned alive in a cage.” I am hardly a stranger to hate, but “Matt” represents a new level of sickness that has become sadly familiar in the last year and a half.
With apologies to Stephen Stills, there’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.
No, it’s not slavery, nor is it Holocaust. But it is something. That much, we can no longer doubt.
And I am reminded of German Jews who watched a monumental evil gather itself against them, all the while assuring one another that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, that their country would soon return to its senses. Meantime, the boxcars were lining up.
To recall their response to a world suddenly grown ominous and strange is to wonder at our own. Maybe we are too alarmist.
Or maybe we’re not alarmist enough.
Contact Leonard Pitts Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.