Twenty-one years ago, I met a kid in the neighborhood my mom, my sister, and I had moved into. It was a Friday afternoon, and we hung out on our front porch, looking at and trading collectible comic book cards, a hobby I had recently taken up and which he was leaps and bounds ahead of me in.
We were well underway with our card trades when my dad arrived to pick my sister and me up for the weekend, at which point my friend and I realized we didn’t even know each other’s names!
As we got to know each other, I’d learn that Chris — his name is Chris, by the way — very much enjoyed comic books; if memory serves me, the walls of his room were lined with comics displayed in plastic sleeves. I’d also come to find out that the guy had a passion for pranks. I remember he tried to convince me that he had a twin, and that I could tell them apart by the direction the hair swirled on the crown of their head. Chris also had a few of the younger kids in the neighborhood convinced that behind the shrubs by his house was a portal which led to a realm of dragons, so that was fun.
As we grew up, I moved to a neighborhood a few streets over and made friends with a new group of kids. Of course, I had to bring Chris into that group! He fit right in, and the pranks naturally continued, though usually at my expense, such as when he and our friend Michael tried to convince me that they had become vampires. That was a weird couple of weeks.
Vampires. A monster in the woods near the house. Our own pet cemetery. Believing one of us to be demon-possessed. An exorcism on a household. Fun times! Innocent, naïve times.
I loved my town growing up, and I certainly never understood the hate shown to it by so many of my peers. I still love my community, but it’s far less rosy than it was back in those days of childhood.
I’ve noticed more Confederate flags on display than I ever did growing up. I encounter more people open-carrying pistols than I ever had before, in all the years I’ve worked with the public. Fear and paranoia have started boiling up toward the surface of society, and the rise of Donald Trump has seemed to turn up the heat, so to speak.
I know racism and the tensions that go along with it have always been present in America, but (and again, I was and am naïve) those things always seemed to be part of history, not something which I’d live to see any substantial examples of.
But then George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin in 2013, leading to a nationwide discussion of “stand your ground” law and racial injustice, as Zimmerman was found to be not guilty and allowed to go free. Just over a year later, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in an incident which led to heightened tensions, protests, and even riots on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, a moment in history which I followed apprehensively via Twitter and mainstream media. Things which before had existed to me only on the page of history books were now transpiring about 350 miles from my doorstep, and I was witnessing it in real time.
The fervor for Black Lives Matter has reached a fever pitch over the past few years, as incident after incident of black people unjustly losing their lives to those sworn to serve and protect them occured. Racism would pour forth against our First Family, black actors and actresses, and more. Those who would never call themselves racists did everything they could do to discount Black Lives Matter or to excuse the deaths of so many at the hands of so-called civil servants.
And while all of this is going on, Donald fucking Trump has risen to become one of the most prominent politicians in America, garnering the support of white supremacists, the KKK, and all manner of otherwise ignorant masses.
Trump’s brazen misanthropy has been directed toward just about everybody who isn’t a white male, yet half the country supports him for some reason or another.
Yet he has given a voice to the hateful in this country. Trump has legitimized hate. The media by and large has allowed it to happen, giving him platform after platform, spotlight after spotlight to teach the world how to hate.
What was once on the pages of my history books was now a few percentage points away from holding the highest office in the land.
And this morning, the hate reached my community. My friend Chris announced it on Facebook:
Philippi Church of God in Christ — a predominately black holiness church in a part of town where I’ve lived and worked throughout my life — was vandalized with a racial slur and Nazi imagery. Out and vocal hate was no longer part of the history books. It was no longer something from the media. It was right here, within walking distance.
My wife noticed Chris’ post before I had, and suggested without hesitation that we go over to the church to see if there was anything we could do to help.
Upon arrival, we met Elder Thurman, an eighty-six year old man who had been with that church since its founding in 1983. He was there alone preparing to paint the doors, having just finished sanding the graffiti off of them.
We introduced ourselves, and we were given a tour of the church building. He said that the church often isn’t even open, that they shut down for seasons at a time. There isn’t even electricity turned on at the church right now! The sanctuary of the church was not much bigger than a quaint wedding chapel might be, and it was dwarfed in size by the fellowship hall and kitchen behind it.
Elder Thurman was warm and welcoming and seemed genuinely unsure why anybody would have vandalized the church in that way.
After the tour, he allowed us to repaint the doors while he ran an errand. I shared an in-progress shot to Chris’ Facebook thread to assure him that the vandalism was being taken care of, which ended up being shared on Mia Nickel’s timeline:
After Elder Thurman returned and while we finished up painting, a couple of other folks associated with local religious groups did stop by to offer support and well-wishes.
When the painting was finished, we shook the elder’s hand and left, hoping that that sort of incident will never occur again in our town. Hope springs eternal, right?
Not two days ago, I expressed concern over how screwed up this world is in light of the fact that I’m raising my daughter in it; that was before hate came home, so to speak. Now within me I feel anger. Heartbreak. Rage.
Rage toward Donald Trump for being a fucking fear-monger, for courting the white supremacist vote, for legitimizing hate.
Rage toward the media for legitimizing Donald Trump as a candidate and treating him in any other way rather than as the spoiled, hateful child he is.
Rage against police departments which shelter racist officers who unjustly kill black individuals in a manner not all that dissimilar from the Roman Catholic Church sheltering pædophilic priests. (And fuck all of this while we’re at it.)
Rage toward conservatives whose moderate racism and micro-aggressions embolden those with more extreme hate.
Rage toward religions which bake discrimination right into their histories. We’ll never move past hate until we can set aside the Bible and any other holy book which contains divine endorsements of sexism, racism, homophobia, and hate, hate, hate. #SecularNow.
Rage against a society that is so fucking fearful and paranoid of anything that is “different” that my black, transgender, and gay friends and family live in fear or face active persecution and mistreatment in the lives for no other reason than who they are.
It was headline news very recently that the New York Times would call Trump’s lies out as lies, but that’s too little, too late.
The problem isn’t that Trump is a liar, it’s that he is an egotistical narcissist with no empathy, no compassion, and an overwhelming abundance of hate toward all the right groups to win over approximately half of this country.
Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck the latent racism that this country has held onto for so long. Fuck those who are emboldened by Trump and those like him to act out in vandalism, violence, voice, or vote in celebration or continuation of hate.
We must be better than what we are. We must overcome hate in any way that we can, no matter what form that takes and no matter which hate it overcomes: a fresh coat of paint, standing supportively outside a restroom, taking a knee for injustice, or whatever else it might be. When hatred comes to your community, don’t just draw a line over which it mustn’t cross, shine a spotlight on it, tun the hate on its head and overcome.
Give your children a future and a heritage they can be proud of: FUCK HATE.