I walked into my office one recent Monday, coffee mug in hand and noticed the red light signaling that a voicemail awaited me.
Has it started already?
That morning, my op-ed about post-election acts of hate on college campuses appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The piece discussed incidents at universities in Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania, complete with hypertext links, and explained why, contrary to conservative pundits, student fears were based on reality and not a temper tantrum about Trump’s victory. I praised institutions for taking action and argued that Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric gave license to misconduct targeting people of color, Muslims, and frankly all the groups the candidate insulted and denigrated on his way to the White House.
Based on prior experiences, I was braced for negative responses from conservative readers in the comments section. In truth, I had planned to avoid those like a Ted Nugent concert. But, a voicemail? Readers usually never called to complain. Maybe I was overreacting. I decided to listen.
It started off innocuously enough.
“You are just so off,” the caller, Diane, began. In my mind’s eye, she had just finished a Starbucks pumpkin latte and was just about to settle into work. Then she sighed. “I am tired of you folks on the left bashing Mr. Trump. What has he done that was racist? He’s a good man who just wants to keep us safe, no matter our creed, color, or religion. He just wants to protect us from the Muslims coming to kill us.”
Did she hear herself? It was almost comical.
“I’m cancelling my subscription,” she continued, voice tightening with each sentence. “We are sick. And TIRED of you people on the left. We are watching. So stop it.” Her rage vibrated so powerfully through the receiver, I thought it might fly from my hand.
Whoa. Who were “we” and how exactly were they “watching” me? And what would happen if I didn’t stop? As my daughter might say, it creeped me out. But, I decided she meant no harm; after all, she left her home and cell phone in case I wanted to talk it out. Right.
I went about my day and, violating my own vow, decided to check out the piece online…maybe glance at the comments. The debate waged there in terms similar to the angry call I received that morning:
What evidence did I have that Trump was racist? In fact, I was the racist for not caring about white people being attacked by anti-Trump folks. What proof did I have for saying that the nation had elected a racist, sexist, xenophobe to the highest office in the land? What proof was there that the incidents of which I wrote were real–why weren’t they captured on cellphones (in fact, they had been; all discussed in articles linked to my piece). And more, how did I know that Trump had unleashed the hate of which I spoke?
My facts were not facts at all; I was a liar. A racist. A moron.
Then, as if to bookend my day, a call came in around 5:30. With the day I was having, I let it go into voicemail. But I made the mistake of listening before I left the office.
“You are a lying SOB,” said what sounded like a man anywhere from 50 -70. “The white people have won. You nigger coons better get with program.” Like my online critics, this caller said I was a racist. “Why didn’t you write about the white man in Chicago that a bunch of nigger coons beat up?” He ended with “Fuck you. You better get with the program. We’re watching.”
My blood ran cold. I was angry and sick to my stomach.
After sharing the voicemails with the dean (saying I just wanted to make a record of these calls, but assuring her I wasn’t afraid), I headed for the door. The minute I left the building, I realized I was scared. I had just written about verbal assaults and threats; was I immune somehow?
I called a friend and we chatted as I walked to the parking lot, which calmed me down some.
My husband and I agreed that this experience was material for the blog, but it’s taken me longer than I expected to revisit the rage and ugliness of that Monday.
And, of course, that was the point of these attacks. To shut me up. Who was I to challenge the victory of white masculinity in this election? Who was I to call out the racism?
But the verbal assaults only made my point. The insults, racial epithets, and threats demonstrate the underpinning of Mr. Trump’s support is hatred. We’ve come too far to go back to a time when such ugliness silenced the truth.
The words that matter at times like these are those of the great poet Audre Lorde:
it is better to speak
remembering we were never meant to survive.