The Intersection of Chapel Hill and Black History Month

UNC Vigil

Let’s talk about hate for a minute. Most of us agree that the recent Chapel Hill homicides were not about parking spaces or mental health. I appreciate that mental health is a serious issue that requires further discussion and I agree with those who suggest that the assailant needs treatment just like ISIS members need professional mental help, but I will not ignore the fact that the perpetrator targeted three unarmed Muslim students inside their own home.

There is no justification for what he did and by all accounts his victims were saints, sweet young American college students, role models and humanitarians who happen to be Muslim. This ignorant, violent man did not know them well enough to see past his own stereotypes and he devalued their lives enough to justify taking them.

What’s worse than living through this tragedy is knowing that this ignorant man is not unique. There are plenty of gun-toting angry white men just like him. They are the weak among us who fall prey to the vile and hateful propaganda that results in devaluing the life of the “other” through stereotypes and fear of the unknown. The rhetoric today around Islam and Muslim reminds me of the ugly pre-holocaust German propaganda that involved newspapers such as Der Stürmer printing vile and ugly lies about Jewish citizens. The paper warned that Jews kidnap small Christian children before Passover to mix their blood with their Matzah. Many Germans eagerly consumed this hateful media the same way we consume “news” programs today that provide a platform for anti-Muslim bigots to spread hate like an airborne virus. It’s the same tired old tactic that’s been used to degrade Blacks, Latinos, Japanese-Americans, so many others and now Muslims. Even our film industry contributes to the propoganda. I have not seen “American Sniper” because I can’t stomach more popular media that devalues and minimizes Iraqi life. There are Iraqis I consider family and I love them too much to pay to watch a sniper shoot Iraqis. It makes me very uncomfortable, especially when I know it is based in fact. There are millions of others however that have no qualms about the film, which earned over $365 million in less than two months. The film may be a symptom, a cause, or both but it is just one part of the problem of how America now perceives Islam and Muslims.

Beyond media, our elected officials also contribute to this problem by publically posting comments that display their prejudices and negative attitudes towards Islam. I’d like to call out Ms. Melissa Melendez, assembly woman from Lake Elsinore California who just this week tweeted : “…Kayla Mueller murdered by Islamic savages. There MUST be consequences #standupagainstIslam.” A few weeks ago, Texas state representative posted this gem on Muslim Capital Day, an event organized to empower Texas Muslims to engage their elected officials and become active citizens:

@MollyWhiteTx

When our elected officials see Islam and American Muslims as the enemy then we should expect hate crimes to continue. Racism in America follows a pattern where the object of the hate changes like the wind, but the sentiment and tactics are exactly the same. Our history repeats itself like a train wreck video set on repeat. While our laws are in place to guarantee equality for all, our hearts are still not there. American needs to embrace the diversity upon which this county was built instead of tolerating the hate. When will we finally learn from our mistakes instead of constantly repeating them? How about right now, during Black History month?

I’d like to offer a simple lesson, Ignorance breeds hate. If you don’t know someone of a certain faith or ethnicity then you are more likely to embrace false and negative stereotypes to fill in the gaps. Curiosity, communication and interaction with those you don’t know will combat prejudice. Assumptions, stereotypes and distrust will only compound the issue.

I’m reminded this month that there are still millions of Americans alive today who witnessed a dark cycle of our history where lynching Blacks occurred for decades without legal consequences. We still have not adequately addressed that issue or the near eradication of the native populations who first called this land home. In order for us to ever “get over it,” as some would say, we must first address “it” and deal with “it” honestly. We need to have the difficult conversations that are the necessary prerequisites to learning, healing and embracing our diversity.

History reminds us that America does not readily admit to prior crimes or transgressions. Until we adequately deal with injustices from our checkered past, we will never move forward and break the cycle violence and hate. For a nation that prides itself on justice and equality under the law, we have a lot of work to do. This Black History Month let’s reflect on the the patterns of American racism instead of repeating it yet again. We can start by demanding accountability from our local officials and representatives. We must educate the ignorant and as Dr. King and Deah Shaddy Barakat’s father remind us our response must be rooted in love because hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

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