Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” and assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, was supposed to give an anticipated Town Hall talk on her new book last week. But she was forced to cancel at the last hour due to threats spawned by a Fox News smear campaign.
“I have been repeatedly called ‘nigger,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘she-male,’ and ‘coon’ — a clear reminder that racial violence is closely aligned with gender and sexual violence,” Taylor wrote on her publisher’s Facebook page. “I have been threatened with lynching and having the bullet from a .44 Magnum put in my head.”
The vitriol became so violent and so profuse she feared for her safety and the safety of her family.
Taylor’s longtime friend Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle educator and activist, was supposed to introduce her Town Hall talk. Hagopian was deeply upset to find out about the threats being made against her.
“You know I’ve faced stuff before but this definitely feels like a different moment,” reflected Hagopian who recently settled a lawsuit against the Seattle Police after being pepper-sprayed by an officer unprovoked. “I feel like the incidents of hate crimes are mushrooming and out of control.”
Events like these are becoming disturbingly familiar in these times helmed by a doggedly conservative administration and president who openly insults, abuses and diminishes marginalized people without consequence. The license to brazenly act out hatred has been renewed. It is telling that this scene keeps playing itself out in the so-called progressive Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Northwest has seen a substantial share of headline-making hate since the nation’s fateful election this fall. In January, the Islamic Center of the Eastside was burned to the ground. In February a bomb threat forced the evacuation of Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island. Temple De Hirsch Sinai, one of Seattle’s largest synagogues, was vandalized with graffiti denying the Holocaust denial in March.
Last Friday in Olympia, The Evergreen State College was evacuated after a racially motivated death threat. And of course it was only three weeks ago in Portland that a white supremacist harassing two young Black women (one wearing a hijab) fatally stabbed two men who came to their defense.
But these are only the incidents we hear about. Many people are enduring everyday, escalating hate that is never reported or known. Right after the election, for instance, Globalist writer and activist Reagan Jackson was shopping for groceries at her local store when she was repeatedly called the n-word by another shopper.
“He was looking directly at me,” Jackson said of the scruffy white man who targeted her. “Once I looked [back] at him he gave me a big smile like he was so proud of himself for getting to call me a nigger.”
While she did not feel she was in physical danger, Jackson confessed she did feel “dirty” and it took her a while to start shopping in that store again; a place she had been shopping at for five years without incident.
Just a week before inauguration, South Asian author and journalist Ruchika Tulshyan was stopped at Sea-Tac International Airport while traveling alone with her infant son. Being a brown woman Tulshyan is often stopped by Transportation Security Administration for questioning. But this time was different. Officers were suspicious of her sealed bottles of commercial formula and insisted she open them (which would have contaminated the formula so she could not feed or son) — or be pat down. Tulshyan chose the latter and endured a 20-minute public pat down which ended with her in tears.
“They touched every part of my body,” she remembered. “It was a very humiliating experience.”
Rita Meher, founder and director of South Asian film festival Tasveer, said her greater Seattle community is indeed under increasing strife.
Meher said one of her South Asian friends was recently driving a little slower than the speed limit when another driver suddenly blocked him with their car and hatefully upbraided, “If you can’t drive get out of this country! Go back to your f-ing country.”
Meher said another South Asian woman in Fremont was slapped on the street in broad daylight after a stranger chided, “You people drive nice cars, take away our jobs. Go back to your country!”
The evening of Taylor’s canceled talk Hagopian went to his son’s baseball game at Rainier Playfield thinking he would at least relax. But instead he found himself intervening when a police officer began harassing a nearby Black youth suspected of stealing a cellphone.
“The kid is like shaking and crying,” Hagopian said. The police backed down when community members stepped up. But the harassing officer walked away unapologetically.
“Well at least I didn’t handcuff him or detain him,” Hagopian recalled the officer saying.
Hagopian said the incident was terrifying.
Despite the Pacific Northwest’s proud billing of itself as a bastion of left liberal thinking, these devastating incidents easily upend any notion that this region has better racial outcomes than others. It clearly does not. And the situation is not improving.
“From my daily reality the police have not changed in this city,” Hagopian said plainly, adding the Trump administration has made things far worse.
Reagan Jackson is well aware of the bias that has always existed in the Pacific Northwest veiled by the pretense of appearing progressive. The change, she pointed out, is that under the current administration that pretense is dropping.
“There’s this permissiveness: ‘Oh actually I can call you a nigger,’” Jackson said. “‘I’ve been thinking it the whole time but now . . . it’s open season. Fuck you, nigger.’” And like Hagopian, she also believes hate is escalating.
The data does not lie. As recently as 2015 King County, Washington, was the whitest large county to be found across all fifty states. Portland — founded as a racist white haven — is still holding out as the whitest city in the entire nation, obviously by design.
Additionally, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, Washington state currently has the seventh highest number of reported hate incidents — which is a conservative estimate.
And according to a new data-gathering project by ProPublica, Oregon residents have the highest per capita rate of reported hate crimes and bias incidents of all.
This rise in hate is terrorism against minority communities in Pacific Northwest and throughout the United States.
“There’s so much local terrorism in this country now. It’s our own people who are brainwashed and xenophobic and anti-Muslim,” Meher said.
“We’ve seen it play out in so many ways not the least of which is the Portland stabbing.”
Additionally Tulshyan, a founding editor of The Establishment, said overt bias is seeping into the language of liberals and progressives, further legitimizing hatred towards non-white communities in the region.
Last weekend Portland was tense in the wake of the stabbing as pro- and anti-Trump rallies faced off on the same day. This weekend it will be Seattle’s turn as a planned anti-Muslim rally (which moved from Portland after having their permit revoked) will be counter-rallied by Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors.
Even though the escalating hate is scary, say local leaders of color, it remains more important than ever to center those most impacted and stand resolute in resistance.
“We’ve got to keep pushing [back],” said Hagopian.
“It’s blatant, it’s gross and shouldn’t happen,” Meher said.
Yet, Meher also observed that “people are getting more and more political, starting to speak up about it, when they weren’t political before.”
“I’m not having it,” Jackson said staunchly. “I will do whatever I need to do to assert my rights . . . I’m not interested in being victimized in this way. It’s not American frankly.”