By CASEY GANE-MCCALLA
Most of the post-election reaction to Barack Obama's presidential win has been beautiful. People from all backgrounds, races, cultures and religions are elated to see such a good, decent, inspirational man become President. Many are proud of the historical significance of the United States electing a leader of African descent after the turbulent history of blacks in America.
There has also been a significant racist backlash in the wake of the election results. Which is not surprising. After seeing videos of the hate mobs attracted to McCain-Palin rallies, I politely declined an offer to cover election day in Pennsylvania or Ohio out of fear of being attacked by some angry bigot.
One of my greatest fears after the euphoria faded was that the irrational Republican crowds who were drilled into believing that Obama was a terrorist, communist, Muslim traitor would continue their anger toward the President-elect and his supporters. The campaign was heavy with racial undertones, from Rush Limbaugh's racist rants to Sarah Palin turning a blind eye to someone yelling the N-word at a rally.
Sure enough, a few pathetic racists and violent extremists have been lashing out. Since election night, there has been a string of disturbing firebombings, assaults, and incidents of vandalism directed at African-Americans.
A black church in Springfield, Massachusetts burned down on election night. While I would like to believe it was totally unrelated to racism or Obama’s triumph, I am fearful that it was. If this was a hate crime in liberal Massachusetts, it is a painful reminder of the destruction and terrorism that greeted the civil rights movement, in particular the bombing that killed four little girls in a church in Alabama.
A black family near Pittsburgh had their car torched right outside their house, while they were watching Obama give his victory speech on TV. Before the cowardly arsonists burned the car, they tossed the family's Obama yard sign through a window and spraypainted "Obama" across the trunk. The blaze almost caught the family's house on fire, leaving them afraid for their safety in a home where four generations of black Pennsylvanians have lived.
This can only be seen as an act of terrorism. Instead of a burning cross on the family’s lawn, there was a burning car, symbolizing the torching of our new African-American president. Carbombings are something you'd expect to happen in Iraq, not America.
There was another election night incident in Staten Island, New York where a 17 year-old Muslim, African-American male was beaten with baseball bats by a group of white men who repeatedly yelled, "Obama." This brings back memories of Yusef Hawkins who was chased and beaten by an angry mob in Bensonhurst during the summer of 1989, which resulted in his death.
Ali Kamara, beaten on election night
At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, four students admitted spraypainting an entire campus walkway with racist and violent threats including "Shoot Obama" and "Kill that nigger." As disgusting as that display of bigotry was, it was encouraging to see nearly 500 students and school officials including the chancellor rally against the hate. In Austin, Buck Burnette, a back up center for the University of Texas football team, wrote on his Facebook page, "All the hunters gather up, we have a Nigger in the White House." Burnette promptly apologized and was kicked off the team.
Like the examples set by NCSU and the University of Texas, we all must condemn any post-election outbursts of hatred or intimidation. While Obama's presidency is a great thing for the nation, it may trigger what remains of the lunatic racist fringe to resume their old tactics of bombings and assassinations. Already the FBI and ATF have broken up two plots to kill Obama, each originating with radical white supremacist groups.
Clearly, this election was a statement on how much progress black Americans have made in this country and how much tolerance, acceptance and even admiration whites have for an African-American candidate like Obama. The cynic in me would like to talk about how far we have to go to reach a truly colorblind society, but the optimist in me prefers to consider how far we've come.
I actually thought we'd see even more hate crimes both before and after Obama’s victory. Rather than being standard among whites, blatant racism in 2008 has been marginalized. This is not to say average white people don't have their own prejudices and stereotypes, but the dehumanizing bigotry that defined America during the Jim Crow era is now discredited. Just like Bloods and Crips don't represent most black people, and Al Qaeda doesn't typify the Arab world, bigots and white supremacists do not in any way showcase the general feelings of today’s Americans.
But terrorism perpetrated by radical racist extremists must be taken as seriously as attacks from radical Islamic extremists. We must condemn the culprits and support the victims just as we did during 9/11. Our country has matured considerably, enough to enter the age of Obama, but the fight against racism is not over. We cannot tolerate the acts of a lunatic fringe still caught up in the outdated philosophy of white supremacy.
To send a check to the rebuilding fund for the church that was burned down in Springfield, MA:
Macedonia Church of God in Christ, c/o Greater Springfield Council of Churches, 39 Oakland St., Springfield, MA 01108
Donate to the charitable fund set up to support the carbombing victims:
Whiteside Family Relief Fund, c/o First National Bank of PA, 4140 E. State St., Hermitage PA 16148
(Casey Gane-McCalla is a writer, rapper, producer and actor, and the assistant editor for NewsOne. The Latest Outrage editor Erik Ose contributed to this report.)
(UPDATE 11/25 - I (Erik) was on NPR’s News & Notes today along with Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, talking with Tony Cox about the post-election rise in hate crimes and violence first covered two weeks ago by TLO & NewsOne. You can listen to the audio of our segment HERE.
This is what I would add to the discussion we had:
Thinking about the hundreds of incidents that have occurred since the election, it's possible to lose sight of the hurt caused by any single act of racist terrorism. Here's one incident up close.
Phillip Whiteside, an African-American who lives in Greenville, PA, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania, was watching Obama's victory speech on election night at home with his family when his grandmother saw a fireball erupt outside. Phillip's grandfather, who has MS, rushed outside to find Phillip's car on fire, parked right next to their house.
This is a home where four generations of Whitesides have lived, in fact, their family came up from Tennessee and helped settle the town. The blaze threatened to spread to the house until Mr. Whiteside hosed down the outside walls with a garden hose.
After the fire burned out, the Whitesides discovered the arsonists had tossed the family's Obama yard sign into the flames and spraypainted "Obama" across the car trunk.
"We're striving for change," said Phillip. "People don't want to change. It's going back to the olden days. It doesn’t make sense that in these times we have problems like this."
In the aftermath of the fire, community members wrote letters to the local paper denouncing the hate crime, which ran an editorial reminding folks that Obama's victory does not spell the end of racism. A local bank has sent up a relief fund for the family.
But the carbombing has left the Whitesides afraid for their safety in their own home. "Not knowing what's coming," said Phillip, is how his family is feeling now.)