State Rep. Janelle Bynum was canvassing her Clackamas County district, knocking on doors and talking to voters. After a few hours, a neighbor called 911 to report suspicious activity. A sheriff’s deputy arrived, spoke to Rep. Bynum, and agreed to take a selfie with her.
This phone call to police would never have happened to a well dressed white male or a white female in Happy Valley.
Why are we so afraid of our neighbors? Why are we so afraid of those who look different from us?
Most of us live in a culture built upon the complete disregard for human beings who are not white. As a nation we have never addressed the elephant in the room, even after a civil war, Japanese internment camps, and the civil rights struggle. A significant number of our citizens both nationally and in our county believe they are threatened by human beings who worship different gods, come from different countries, and speak a different language.
When the highest elected official in the land says it is OK to separate children from their Latino parents, inserting the children into a terribly impersonal and confusing bureaucracy, he is giving everyone permission to be racist. Fear becomes the driver when law enforcement officers use deadly force not in self defense but merely to stop a citizen for questioning; that is fear of being the oppressed or the oppressor takes over.
There is every indication that our white communities are safer today then they were a decade ago. Violent crime is still a rarity based on crime per capita statistics. Our county and our state have crime rates well below the national average. Yet fear remains pervasive.
When a politician encourages and incites fear for their own selfish political purpose, it poisons everything and everyone.
Fear is in our DNA, it triggers the flight or fight response. Fear enabled homo sapiens to survive for tens of thousand of years. But fear is also the death knell for democracy.
Fear combined with unquestioned nationalism become the building blocks of fascism. There is some irony in that the same emotion that enabled our species to thrive is also the emotion that when manipulated by demigods can condemn millions to death camps.
Rep. Bynum, the Democrat seeking re-election in Oregon House District 51, has taken the high road. She is rising above the racism that feeds on the fear whipped up by our President. But that will not prevent it from happening again.
We need to recognize the institutionalized racism in our culture just as we need to recognize the discrimination in our economy and the toxicity of our President. Racism and racists will prevail only when the rest of us say and do nothing.