On Jan. 29, actor and activist Jussie Smollett was attacked by two people in Chicago in the early morning. The two attackers yelled racist and homophobic slurs at the “Empire” actor. They poured “an unknown liquid” on Smollett and wrapped a noose around his neck. Smollett recounted the two attackers yelling “This is MAGA country” during the attack, a reference to the current President’s campaign slogan.
In his first public statement later that week, Smollett pointed out the violence he experienced was not an isolated incident. "These types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily," Smollett said in the statement.
He’s right and there’s data to back it up.
In November 2018, the FBI released the hate crime statistics for the year of 2017. The statistics reported a 17 percent increase in hate crimes from the previous year. 2017 marked the third consecutive year of increase. The New York Times reported, “Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year, nearly three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity, according to the annual report. Religion and sexual orientation were the other two primary motivators.”
Not only are these things horrible, but they’re a result of pure hate.
Here’s the thing: America has been racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, amongst many other things since the conception of the country. This country was built on the backs of marginalized and oppressed people who were the victims of hate. While those events took place centuries ago, people in the present still harbor ideals from this era. This is evident from the noose wrapped around Smollett’s neck — a deeply-significant act referencing the lynching of African Americans in the slavery and post-slavery eras.
However, the people who harbor these hurtful ideals and beliefs have become more brazen in the past couple years, and many people in this country are hurting because of this trend. The new prominence of ignorance-fueled rhetoric is a direct result of the state of our country and our leaders.
On Feb. 1, a photograph surfaced of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface in his medical school yearbook. After retracting his admittance that it was him in the photograph, he admitted to darkening his face with shoe polish for a costume in 1984. Since the news broke and the wave of condemnation grew, Northam has hardly expressed regret for his actions, instead choosing to maintain his “innocence” and discuss his dance steps. He has since trivialized the matter and refused to accept accountability for his past actions. Northam is only one of this country’s leaders that have contributed to the dangerous climate for minorities.
Current Vice President Mike Pence has long been a critic of the LGBT community. While Pence has become less outspoken about the issues that plague the community, his views are well-known and evident in some of his actions. Just last year, he spoke at the Family Research Council’s summit, a group that is anti-LGBT and labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
President Donald Trump follows much of the same vein. On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the president’s proposed transgender military ban. He also has an obsession with immigrants from places he deems unacceptable or has misguided views on. It seems as if his efforts are to paint everyone except white cisgender males in a negative societal light.
Those are just three high-ranking officials. There are many more incidents that have arisen over the course of this political era. These political figures pose a problem to our country because of what they represent. These officials are considered representatives of America, holding some of the highest offices in the lands. When the country's President, its highest-ranking executive branch official, is spewing constant hate, it leads to a state of blind hate in the country where they emulate the words he expresses.
Not only have their views encouraged citizens in this country to hold strong to discriminatory views, it has awakened an old beast in those who shared the views before this cycle of officials. Those who once bothered to hide their views no longer feel the need to. Why would they when the President will still invite them to the Oval Office and speak positively of them in the media?
This country is falling into continuous disarray because of our current leadership and is reversing to a lesser era that should remain in the past.
Maya Stevenson is a 19-year-old English and economics sophomore from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.