Throughout this summer and autumn, I have interviewed fellow minorities, asking them about their feelings and experiences regarding this presidential election. In all of these interviews, one thing was clear: We knew this was coming.
To some of us, it hung like a foul smell in the air. The acrid stench that generations before somehow learned to live with, though it choked them. Many of us coughed and spluttered when that suffocating air filled our lungs. Some of us cried out in warning
But when those of us who spoke up were heard at all, we were greeted with disbelief, or with laughter. Like some others, I wrote about that laughter.
We were given the assurance that yes, there were some for whom that acrid stench was a breath of fresh air, but those foolish people were few and unimportant. We were told the smell would go away on its own. It went nowhere. It lingered. And it got stronger
And for some of us, it was more than a smell. For some unlucky ones such as Kozen Sampson, it became a physical assault.
In February, Kozen parked his car in my beloved town of Hood River, Oregon, to take his dog for a walk. As Kozen told the town’s newspaper, “I started to get out of the car, and heard someone yell, ‘Hey,’ … The car door smacked my head and then my head hit the door frame … I lost part of my memory for about 15 minutes.”
When news of the assault hit our small town, it shocked us all. We had a hard time believing it, especially when Kozen reported that the only other words he heard were “F****** Muslim.” Kozen, you see, is not a Muslim, he is a Buddhist monk and, in typical Buddhist monk fashion, his response was filled with compassion.
“I am happy it happened to me and not to a Muslim,” he said
In my church, we spoke at length about the assault and what it meant. By February, we had already seen that racism and white nationalism were on the rise. The fact that an innocent Buddhist monk was attacked at all was shocking, but that he was attacked for being something he wasn’t, for being nothing more than “probably not white” was what really smelled.
Still, my town assumed it was isolated. We assumed there was a small minority of people filled with hate.
We assumed that the smell would go away on its own.
For months, news stories abounded about white people verbally or physically attacking minorities, LGBT people, and people with disabilities. Still, many people – mostly white allies – thought that it was rare. Not something to worry about.
Miguel Carlos didn’t believe that for a minute.
Miguel is a black designer who was living in Philadelphia in July, but was returning to his native San Francisco. “My white girlfriend and I are moving back to California this summer,” he told me then