This post originally was published in the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.) on Friday, April 5, 2019 after two incidents of Nazi and white supremacist vandalism at five locations in Norman and Oklahoma City. Norman Police Department has since arrested one woman in connection with the crimes.Embed from Getty Images
One year ago I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how far we need to advance to overcome the still-endemic racism, bigotry and injustice in American society.
Over the last week, we’ve been reminded hatred, fear and blind ignorance continue to simmer under the surface of our pretensions to justice, equality and tolerance.
This was evident in the clumsy, spray-painted slogans of white nationalism, nazism and ignorance scrawled on the Democratic Party headquarters and the Chickasaw Nation office in Oklahoma City on March 28. Then, authorities believe the same person went to work with equally hateful and idiotic effect at The Firehouse Art Center, McKinley Elementary and the Cleveland County Democratic Party headquarters in Norman on Wednesday morning. (Read more here)
It would be easy to make of these incidents more than they deserve. It appears likely this was the work of one deeply disturbed individual, who we can only imagine lives a miserable existence, paralyzed by the poisonous effects of hatred and their own insensate fear of the world around them.
I leave it to the capable members of the Norman and Oklahoma City police departments to determine if this person acted alone, or if they had ties to some larger, organized form of violent idiocy and self-lobotomizing cowardice. But, whether the Nazi wannabe seen in surveillance videos acted alone, as a member of a group or was (almost certainly) inspired by the moral, mental and spiritual deficiency of white nationalism, we must acknowledge our nation has a growing problem with race-based hate groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported an almost 50 percent increase of white nationalist groups in the U.S., from 100 chapters in 2017 to 148 in 2018. During the same period, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 182 percent increase in the distribution of white supremacist propaganda, and an increase of almost 20 percent in the number of rallies and demonstrations by white supremacy groups.
The tiki torch-wielding hate-mongers who crawled out of their holes to plague Charlottesville in August 2017 were only symptomatic of our nation’s much-larger problem with hatred, ignorance and intolerance.
So, how should we respond? When we see messages of hate like those in Norman and Oklahoma City, it’s natural to feel angry. And, righteous anger has its place. But, we mustn’t allow anger to become hatred, lest we feed the same evil already driving so many in this country into the arms of racism, xenophobia and fear.
As King himself pointed out: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
In the face of darkness and hate — on full display in Oklahoma City and Norman, and hiding in innumerable dark corners of every community — we must be pillars of light and love.
That’s a tall order. But it was on display, with a passion that burned far brighter than any Nazi graffiti, in the wake of the incidents in Oklahoma City and Norman. Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists, black and white, worked together to remove the graffiti. Their only common bond was the strongest bond we all share — our humanity, and our immutable need to see ourselves in each other.
In a peace and diversity rally at Lions Park in Norman on Wednesday, mayor-elect Breea Clark summed up the message we all need to be spreading with one, unified and deafening voice: “Hate has no home here.”
To make those words bear fruit — to make sure hate has no home in our communities, our homes and our hearts — we must not be timid or miserly with our love. We must love extravagantly, radically and without any bounds based on race, gender, religion, sexuality, creed, national origin or any other arbitrary wall we like to throw up amongst ourselves.
This love should sound familiar to most of us. After all, it was commanded — not recommended — by a rather popular itinerant, long-haired, dark-skinned Jew, who instructs us: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
To make that love shine into the dark recesses of our society, where racism and white nationalism thrive, we must challenge ourselves. We must get outside the comfort zones where love looks, sounds and acts like us. To that end, I challenge each of you — and myself — to find new ways to express, in overt and unmistakable terms, your love for someone completely unlike you.
How can you show love to the Muslim neighbor you’ve never met? To your gay neighbor? Your atheist neighbor? Your Republican or Democrat neighbor? Your black, brown or any other color than white neighbor? To your neighbor suffering from mental illness or depression?
And to the white supremacists and bigots mired in hate? It’s hard. But, yes. Hold them accountable, but love them too.
The list goes on, but the message remains: Whoever the “other” is for you — find them. And then find a way to love them.
Only when we truly embrace that love, without preconditions or any expectation of return, can we hope to realize King’s dream of casting darkness and hate out of this dysfunctional society we call America.