This year’s presidential election has spawned an increase nationwide in racist language, hateful intimidation and harassment — accelerating efforts by groups and clergy to combat hate and prompting Pope Francis to warn against what he called a “virus of polarization” and hostility targeting people of different nationalities, races or beliefs.
Here in San Luis Obispo County, we are not immune to racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed offensive messages and drawings considered racist, anti-Islamic, transphobic and sexist appear on the Free Speech Wall at Cal Poly.
Someone yelled a racial slur out his car window in Morro Bay several days ago to an African-American woman driving nearby. And a South County student told his history class that “I would like to go back to the good old days like the Holocaust.”
“This is happening right here in our county,” and these are just a few of the incidents that have been documented, said Luanne Griguoli, a retired Presbyterian minister who is co-president of People of Faith for Justice, an interfaith alliance in San Luis Obispo County that promotes peace and justice and seeks to influence public discourse.
“People have been emboldened across the nation.”
The Tribune has received several Letters to the Editor and email communications that reflect similar hatred. You haven’t read them because we don’t allow name-calling or offensive language in published letters, either online or in print.
But given the increased frequency of the offensive messages, we agree with others advocating for social justice that it is time to shine a light on them. It is time that we all confront the fact that racism and bigotry do exist in our communities — and that we work together to address it.
Here are three of the most egregious local comments that The Tribune has received in recent weeks:
“I’ve been amazed at the hate and rage spewed out by so many real Americans over the election of Donald Trump! Here millions of Mexicans, Muslims and other illegals are sneaking into our country and stealing our resources, and somehow well-meaning liberals think that’s OK, and that Trump is a devil for trying to stop them. Why???
“Here’s why: First, illegals are using basically the same techniques that cults do to brainwash their members. Constantly repeating HATE, HATE, RACIST, RACIST until it becomes true in the minds of these liberals. Think about it — if you were an illegal, what better way to stop citizens from stopping you than by calling them haters. As far as I’m concerned, what they have done to our Country IS worthy of hate! Tell them that! ...
Here’s the bottom line: As Trump says, if you’re a real, legitimate American citizen, don’t be afraid. If you’re not, BE afraid, be VERY afraid!”
PRESIDENT TRUMP, now say it again slowly, PRESIDENT TRUMP. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? In spite of your efforts and those of the rest of the media, the people have spoken. It is the first time in my memory that a billionaire will be moving into public housing vacated by a black family.”
“Tell your Zionist boss (Tribune Executive Editor Sandra Duerr) to leave her Jewishness at the synogogue. She’s supposed to represent non-Jews’ opinions also. You NEVER see anything regarding banking, slanted media or anything regarding the truth as it pertains to Zionist control in this world because she filters it out.
“She told me years ago it’s because it upsets the local Jews, THEN I found out SHE’S jewish and a local synogogue member!
“She’s just another Zionist spy/plant in the US media. You cannot have Jews in media, it’s the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ scenario.
“Her job is to suppress anything that would lead people to the truth regarding her Zionist ‘beliefs.’ She’s a guardian for the Zionist control of media which she established in my much loved town.
“I’m tired of her crap, tell her to hit the road, get a neutral senior editor in there. She’s unqualified ... as hell. ...”
For the record, I am Catholic, but my late husband was Jewish, and I raised our children in both faiths. Educating them about both religions’ beliefs and traditions enhanced their understanding of others and helped teach them the importance of being tolerant, the importance of listening and learning as much as we can about those who are different than us.
We deliberated whether to name the individuals who emailed us. Would doing so shame them — or make them proud? Ultimately, we heeded the advice of San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell and local social justice advocates and decided against identifying the writers, on grounds that it would further embolden them.
Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, with Congregation Beth David in San Luis Obispo, said she is deeply concerned about the “degradation of speech and what people are thinking is acceptable and what they think they can get away with ... and a real rise in anti-Semitic talk.”
She said she has talked with congregation members who have been the targets of hate speech, met with the South County principal where the offensive remarks occurred and noted that the congregation plans to write a letter to school superintendents countywide alerting them of incidents and asking that they be proactive in addressing them.
Cantrell said the San Luis Obispo Police Department has not seen an increase in reports of hate speech or harassment, but she noted that that is not unusual unless there has been an assault, graffiti or property damage. She urged individuals to report the incidents, taking care to avoid engaging the individual and escalating the situation.
Like others promoting social justice, it is our fervent hope that by confronting racist language, hateful intimidation and harassment, we can create a more inclusive and tolerant community — and nation.
My advice for all of us: Get involved. Speak out. Be a force for change. Don’t let hate and fear win.
Where to seek counsel on hate speech
On a national level, several groups are accelerating efforts to combat hate.
- Anti-Defamation League, a national civil rights agency dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms.
- Southern Poverty Law Center, another nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and tracking and fighting hate groups.
- Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
Closer to home:
- NAACP in California, which has a branch in Santa Maria and Lompoc that interacts with individuals in San Luis Obispo County.
- Community Affairs Council, under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Center-Federation of San Luis Obispo.
- People of Faith for Justice, an interfaith alliance in San Luis Obispo County that promotes peace and justice and seeks to influence public discourse.
- R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County. The acronym stands for Responsibility, Action, Compassion and Education.
Gina Whitaker, one of the founding members of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County, said their goal is to “engage the community in matters of racial justice through dialogue, workshops and action.
“Racism happens all the time in every community in lots of different ways,’’ she said. “It is happening here for sure, and I hope that people take the opportunity to learn more, listen more, and listen to each other.”