As the election polls started closing on Nov. 8, most of America was in a state of utter shock, as a presidential candidate who so easily stoked the flames of racism, sexism, xenophobia and misogyny was suddenly trust into the office of the presidency. A mere eight years after a movement for hope and change ushered in what would become a historic and transformative African American president, the nation had succumbed to a campaign of fear, bullying, utter lies and even violence.
America was sent into a state of disbelief that still stings many to this day, and the world was equally shocked by such an unpredictable turn of events, as the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton — which would eventually win the popular vote by close to three million votes — was dealt a stunning upset in the Electoral College. Despite having some of the most popular political figures campaigning for her — such as President Barack and Michelle Obama, and senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — and by all indications winning the three presidential debates, Clinton could not attain the coveted presidency.
Some reasoned that the candidacy was beset by baggage from an e-mail scandal, real or imagined, while others noted her campaign’s fatal disregard for the Rust Belt states as playing a major role.
Whatever the case, a candidate who wantonly fabricated the truth, and was beset by issues of racism and sexism, somehow became the leader of the free world.
I was among several Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals asked by The Japan Times in Tokyo for reaction to the election. My immediate reaction was that now more than ever, Japanese Americans needed to help safeguard the rights of those facing the deprivation of civil liberties, using our own wartime incarceration experience as an example, just as we had done immediately after — and even before — the 9/11 attacks.
As this seemed more painfully obvious, an alarming number of hate incidents started to rapidly dot the nation, as those seemingly bolstered by the hateful rhetoric of the Trump campaign were suddenly emboldened by his campaign victory. Precipitously, white supremacy began to rear its ugly head again, as dozens upon dozens of hate incidents and hate crimes popped up — including swastikas at Roseville High School, Muslims being told to “go home” and called “terrorists” on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, realistic “deportation certificates” being distributed in a Redding, Calif. high school, and many other disturbing incidences, including alleged racially-motivated physical attacks.
All of a sudden, communities of color, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and women were paralyzed by a state of fear.
Given our wartime incarceration experience, the Japanese American community felt that we needed to stand with our brothers and sisters who were being targeted. But instead of supporting just Muslims, Arab Americans and South Asians as in after 9/11, we now were essentially standing for everyone but straight white males.
On Nov. 22, 2016, the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium, with the Nichi Bei Foundation taking a lead role, organized “United For Compassion: A Japantown Gathering” against hate. This vigil, engaging various segments of the community — including civil and human rights, LGBTQ, youth and elected officials — materialized in just one week, as we knew the seriousness of the then more than 700 documented incidents of hate after the election.
Now, more than ever, we had to take a stand.
But it can’t stop with the 500-plus who gathered in San Francisco’s Japantown Peace Plaza that night, and it can’t stop with the dozen or so speakers, who spoke so eloquently and passionately (see www.nichibei.org/united-for-compassion for videos from the event).
It’s up to us, individually and collectively, to take a stand when we see incidents of hate, and to acknowledge their existence. It will likely get worse before it gets better, but we need to support one another through uncertain times. There are a number of support organizations we can turn to; we will never be alone.
For those who experienced the wartime incarceration in American concentration camps, you have a valuable lesson to impart not only on your families, but in the mainstream communities as well; please help remind the general public of the perils of this civil rights disaster.
The Nichi Bei Foundation, through our programs like our annual Films of Remembrance and our involvement with the Day of Remembrance commemorations — both in February — renew our commitment to social justice, and our publication’s role in serving as a voice for the voiceless. By continuing to build community through media, we want to assure you that you are not alone, and we welcome commentaries and letters that are pertinent to continuing dialogue.
We’ll get through this dark period of fear and uncertainty. Together.