The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The hate crawling back out into the open

People attend a vigil for the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa on May 31. (John Locher/AP)
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I have devoted several past Memorial Day columns to urging readers to use the holiday to honor the fallen rather than pay monetary tribute to store sales. I did so again this year, but I also added recognition of Black lives lost to police violence. That thought brought an email response at 6:10 a.m. on the solemn Monday observance from “K.P.” (full name withheld, but recorded with Post editors).

I share K.P.’s message and others in unredacted form because — in their smoldering anger, hate and resentment — they inform the spirit of the state-instigated insurrection that launched a full assault on our democracy. It needs to be seen in all its ugliness.

“Maybe if you could just get niggers to quit being niggers? NAH … Niggers will never go for that! It requires WORK and no nigger on God’s Earth wants to work — they want to continue to be the generational societal leeches that are all they can ever be, because of the nigger culture! Time to ship all AFRITRASH back to AFRICA!!!!!"

Signed: “AMERICAN.”

This attack came after an email Sunday from “J.A.” (name also withheld but recorded): “I never say this but I am saying this especially for you regarding your Memorial Day garbage you wrote: FUCK YOU BOY.”

That one was preceded by a Sunday morning email from “B.B.” (name withheld but recorded) falsely charging me with “choosing to single out black men for special recognition” and criticizing me for “mentioning George Floyd (career criminal) on Memorial Day,” who, B.B. wrote, “on the day of his demise … committed a crime, was on drugs and resisted arrest.”

“Demise,” B.B.? How about “murder”?

The spirit of the words “fuck you boy” infused the Donald Trump-inspired rebellion that tried to take possession of the government of the United States on Jan. 6.

“Time to ship all AFRITRASH back to AFRICA!!!!” — with its jeering and vitriolic white-power rhetoric — finds full expression in hundreds of bills introduced by Republican state legislators that, if enacted, will create hurdles for millions of voters who are disproportionately people of color. The message: If they can’t be shipped back to Africa, we can still curb their access to the ballot with restrictions, voter-roll purges and intimidation.

And GOP legislators, unlike K.P., are getting the job done without letting the n-word slip past their lips.

Yes, this is where we are, America.

In his remarks on the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, President Biden said, “At some point, there will be a reckoning, an inflection point, like we’re facing right now as a nation.”


Tulsa is just a point on the trajectory of racism that stains America’s soul: the East St. Louis race riots of 1917, the Chicago race riot of 1919, the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination and the 2015 massacre carried out by a white supremacist at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to name a few.

History records some of these ugly episodes being interspersed with exercises in a staged national expiation of guilt — as was on display in Tulsa.

But “reckoning”?

I stood at a David Duke rally in Metairie, La., in 1991, where sullen faces exploded with excitement as the ex-Klansman and then-Republican gubernatorial candidate spewed his noxious racist rhetoric. The next night, Duke was defeated, thanks to a colossal Black turnout that swamped his majority of the White vote, only to watch years later as Trump appeared triumphantly at eerily familiar rallies animated by followers wallowing in victimhood and just as angry.

In March 2010, I saw a tea party banner waved on Capitol Hill at a protest against legislation to reform health care. It read, “If Brown [Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)] can’t stop it, a Browning [high-powered weapon] can.”

Fast-forward to Jan. 6, and the most grievous domestic attack on our government since the Civil War. Look on as Republicans afterward openly plot to sink the independent commission to investigate.

Inflection points come and go. Biden knows better. He rightly said the Tulsa massacre “was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with the through line that exists today.” The days may end with a prayer. But hate goes nowhere.

“It hides,” Biden said. “And given a little bit of oxygen … by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.”

Which explains the Trump-inspired insurrection, the sabotage of voting rights and the appearance in my email of K.P., J.A. and B.B., who might have once hid under the rock.

Some of today’s headlines suggest the media is poised to move on, to seek out other “major” stories.

Don’t follow. American democracy — the right to vote, the acceptance of legitimate election results — is under assault.

Set aside all else. Nothing is more important than passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Let no legislator or governor — Democrat, Republican or in-between — go uncalled, unvisited or overlooked.

Memorial Day sacrifice, Tulsa, history’s trail of horrors and the American Creed require no less.

We speak with mental health experts about 5 ways Black people can cope with race-based stress. (Video: Nicole Ellis, Lindsey Sitz/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: Stay laser-focused on voting rights

Jonathan Capehart: Kamala Harris is ready for the fight to save voting rights

Paul Waldman: Biden wants to ‘pressure’ Congress on voting rights. If only he could.

Jennifer Rubin: How to get to yes on voting rights reform

George F. Will: Democrats’ big voting bill is constitutional vandalism