The Intolerant States of America -- Why My Middle Name Is Now 'Hussein'

Human Rights
"I think Obama would be a disaster, and there's a lot of reasons," said [Leroy] Pollard, explaining the rumors he had heard about the candidate from friends he goes camping with. "I understand he's from Africa, and that the first thing he's going to do if he gets into office is bring his family over here, illegally. He's got that racist [pastor] who practically raised him, and then there's the Muslim thing. He's just not presidential material, if you ask me." Eli Saslow

-- Washington Post (30 June 2008)

Welcome to the Intolerant States of America. Liberal elitists will read the words of Leroy Pollard, a resident of Flag City, U.S.A., and feign disgust. This arrogance betrays the truth that we are all part of Leroy Pollard, and Leroy Pollard is part of us. The first person I ran into who believed the myths about Barack Obama was not a resident of a small town like Flag City, U.S.A., but a wealthy investment banker, and the parent of a Harvard graduate.

You see, the residents of the Intolerant States of America would have you believe that intolerance is now a thing of the past, popular only among the ignorant. In this limited worldview, the original sins of the Intolerant States of America were washed away just 40 years ago by the heroes of the civil rights era.

Great victories were won then, and they were felt the world over. But to believe these victories have vanquished intolerance is to do the heroes of our past a great injustice.

It might be that it is no longer acceptable to say the "n-word" in the public sphere, but intolerance has found new ways to inject it's poison into society. In the quote above, Leroy Pollard does not once mention the fact that Obama identifies as a black male. Instead, Pollard's intolerance is directed towards residents of the majority world ("he's from Africa"), towards unauthorized migrants ("bring his family over here, illegally"), and towards Muslims ("then there's the Muslim thing"). Anti-racist advocates might argue that these phrases are just substitutes for racism, but it runs deeper than that, in my opinion. Pollard's words don't just amount to racism, they amount to nativism and religious intolerance, as well.

Intolerance did not die along with the now sanitized image of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., as the residents of the United States of America would have you believe. It just mutated as it has done since time immemorial. Intolerance is not relegated to the small and backward towns of the United States of America, it is within every one of us. Like demons, lurking in our subconscious, awaiting resurrection, intolerance is summoned from the lesser halves of all of our souls.

These demons win when we see them as a thing of the past. These demons win when we see them only in the minds of others, far away from ourselves. These demons win when we fail to see them as a confluence of sentiments, where fear of Muslims, can turn to fear of migrants, can turn to fear of brown people, can turn to fear of the majority world. Daily we must religiously search our souls for these demons and work hard to find ways to stand against them.

I don't know what makes me more sad, the fact that Leroy Pollard considers African people, unauthorized migrants, and Muslims as less than worthy humans, or the fact that Barack Obama considers these rumors so damaging to his electability, that he works constantly to distance himself from these categories.

What I do know, is that there is always hope. Even in the darkest of nights there is light and all we have to do is move towards it. There is one set of Obama supporters who, rather than distance themselves, have chosen to embrace the aspect of Barack Obama's identity that is inspires so much hate. Recently, the New York Timesreported a new phenomenon:
Emily Nordling has never met a Muslim, at least not to her knowledge. But this spring, Ms. Nordling, a 19-year-old student from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave herself a new middle name on, mimicking her boyfriend and shocking her father.
"Emily Hussein Nordling," her entry now reads.
Nordling has never met a Muslim, but still she has adopted Obama's Muslim name as her own in an act of defiance against the intolerance that has sprung up as a result of Obama's candidacy. I am still undecided about who I'm going to vote for, but Nordling's act has so inspired me that I'm going to follow her lead for at least the remainder of the election season.

From now on, please refer to me as Kyle Hussein de Beausset.

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