Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Threat Of Simple Existence

Rini Sampath (left) & running mate Jordan Fowler (right)
That loudmouth Birther wearing the Trump t-shirt who stood up in front of Donald Trump in New Hampshire last Thursday night and repeated the well-worn falsehood that President Obama is a Muslim who wasn't born in America demonstrates that the election of an African-American to two terms in the White House has had the unfortunate side effect of bringing bigotry and prejudice closer to the mainstream in this nation.

But is the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric that's been such a prominent feature of Trump's toxic campaign message negatively affecting the mindset of some college students as well?

Troubling incidents at two of the nation's most recognizable universities recently would suggest there's arguably a link.

Now it's been awhile since media headlines have featured the various kinds of overt displays of intolerance and crass bigotry that have become an all too unpleasant hallmark of so many American college fraternities.

Remember the leaked video of the SAE sing-a-long at the University of Oklahoma back in March?

With the fall underway and college campuses once again teeming with young students adding to America's record-levels of college debt, along with the usual assortment of back-to-school dramas of college life come those unfortunate incidents based on race and ethnicity that soil the reputations of some of the nation's most esteemed institutions of higher learning.

Earlier this morning at work I was listening to Los Angeles public radio station KCRW on my computer and I heard about a troubling incident that took place on the campus of the University of Southern California this past Saturday night that hasn't really gotten a ton of mainstream coverage here on the east coast aside from The Washington Post.

Two days ago Lindsey Bever's WaPo article detailed how the president of the University of Southern California's undergrad student body, an Indian-American student named Rini Sampath (pictured above, left), was walking home from her friend's apartment when:

"Someone leaned out of the fraternity house window, she said, and shouted: 'You Indian piece of shit!' Then he hurled a drink at her."

In an effort to make sense of what happened and share her experience, Sampath detailed the incident on her Facebook page and said she was in total shock after it happened. As Bever reported in her WaPo article, Sampath was trying to make sense of the "Why?" of the incident when a friend told her:

"Because now you know, the first thing they see you as is subhuman."

Sampath snaps a selfie with Hillary Clinton
What was going on in the mind of the fraternity brother who saw Rini Sampath walking by and felt compelled to lean out of the window?

His toxic comments can't just be chalked up to too much alcohol; though alcohol did play a part since he did try to throw a drink at her.

It's more than that. Rini Sampath has a fascinating perspective on the American immigrant experience, she's a driven, focused college student and if you read her words from this June 10th article in Brown Girl Magazine, she's an eloquent and intelligent person with a genuine desire to help others.

Which makes the fact that this ignorant college frat brother simply saw the color of her skin and her ethnicity, and (as Sampath's friend suggested) reduced her to some kind of demented subhuman stereotype, all the more disturbing. Remember, she's president of the student body to which he belongs.

My concern, as I've blogged about before regarding the thought process in the minds of some members of law enforcement in this nation, is that we as a nation are not paying enough attention
to what's going on inside the mind of a kid like that.

I mean, what if he'd been a few feet away from Rini as she was walking by; would he have assaulted her just for being Indian?

Personally I'm concerned that the frat boy, like millions of other people in America, felt like it was simply more acceptable to say that kind of thing after being exposed to Donald Trump's brand of ignorant anti-immigrant hysteria.

It's really troubling to think that some kid swilling down booze inside a frat house on the USC campus in 2015 is behaving no differently than some angry redneck in the 1950's deep south who saw a black person walking by minding their own business.

Oh and speaking of southern bigots yelling racist shit at black people for no reason, just about a week before Rini Simpath walked past that USC frat house and had a drink and insults hurled at her, down in Columbia, Missouri another student of color who happens to be the president of a college student body organization was also subjected to unsolicited verbal insults because of his race.

Missouri MSA president Payton Head
When you talk about journalism programs, the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia is considered one of the finest in the world.

At the least, that kind of reputation suggests a progressive educational campus environment right? 

Many administrators, faculty and students of "Mizzou" are now questioning that assumption after senior student Payton Head (pictured left), the African-American president of the Missouri Student Association posted a blistering commentary about intolerance on the Columbia campus on his Facebook page following an incident when he says a group of white men in a pickup truck driving past started yelling "Nigger!" at him on the night of Friday September 11th.

He didn't know them.

He had done nothing to warrant their attention aside from having dark skin and being where those guys in the truck could see him. 

In his Facebook post, Head asked a question that completely transcends the incident itself: 

"I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society. For those of you who wonder why I'm always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it's because I've experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here."

Hundreds of miles across the country in southern California on the campus of USC, Rini Sampath might have asked the same question too.

What is it about people whose skin is darker, or who speak a different language, or come from a different country that is so threatening to a large segment of the U.S. population?

I'd like to hear that delusional clown in the Trump t-shirt answer that question.

Because with all his anti-Muslim fear-mongering and fake macho swagger, he's the kind of guy who's all geared up to unleash the dogs of war on ISIS for running around cutting off the heads of people who are different than them.

The truth is that the frat guy at USC and the guy in the Trump t-shirt in New Hampshire are actually an American version of the type of person that ISIS would recruit and brainwash with their delusional paranoia - because the fact is both of them are terrified at the threat of simple existence.

The existence of those who they perceive as being "other".

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