Is America getting more ignorant?

Novelist Porochista Khakpour had a powerful and affecting op-ed in this weekend’s New York Times about the evolution of her identity and its political significance over the last nine years. Essentially, she reflects back and argues that the climate for people of color, particularly those of any Middle Eastern descent, has actually gotten more dangerous, more dehumanizing, more disturbing, since Obama took office. An excerpt:

A deep dark admission: lately — and by lately I mean this era I worked so hard for, when a liberal person of color, a man who resembles my own father, would be our president — I’ve found myself thinking secretly, were certain things better in the George W. Bush era? Was it easier to be Middle Eastern then?

Just six days after 9/11, at the Islamic Center of Washington, President Bush said, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind.” He added: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Did that assurance mean more to white Americans coming from someone who looked like them?

Xenophobia and racism still abounded, but the lid stayed on the pot. Perhaps when Republicans held both the White House and Congress, conservatives weren’t sweating a thing; for them, people of color, along with all our white liberal friends, were lumped together in one misery-loves-company fringe. But now that the tables have turned, conservatives have positioned themselves as aggrieved victims. (I recall the advice of an older female relative: Always let men you’re in relationships with have all the power; it’s when they lose power and get insecure that your problems start.)

In order for big cultural and political paradigm shifts to take place, of course, we have to piss some people off, incite some of their worst fears, and thus, their worst behaviors and rhetoric. It’s a sign, in some ways, that the ground is truly shifting under our feet.

On the other hand, it’s frightening that there is such a vocal, active population of Americans who are exhibiting such incredible hatred, ignorance, and indignity. If the folks demonstrating against the mosque at Ground Zero were a very small, but loud, minority, I might feel a little less alarmed by the whole thing; it strikes me as ridiculous, narrow-minded, and just plain dumb, but there will always be those kinds of folks walking around and screaming out in tunnel-visioned fear. But polls show that one in four Americans think Obama is Mulsim and 2/3 of New Yorkers oppose the building of the mosque near Ground Zero.

This shit is grim. Somebody tell me something to make me feel better.

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