The heading on the letter submitted to us by the 40 leaders of parent-teacher organizations in Great Neck said “Parent leaders confirm Great Neck is ‘no place for hate.'”
The letter itself said the leaders had learned of “numerous anti-Asian incidents” that began in January and have continued in recent weeks.
“In all cases, racial slurs and hateful comments, most centering around the pandemic, have been directed at young, defenseless children ranging from elementary to high school age,” the letter continued. “These incidents have included asking our youngest students if they eat bats to calling them Covid-19 spreaders, with some even getting physically abused.”
All the incidents took place off school grounds, according to the district superintendent.
We don’t know whether the comments and assaults came from children or adults. But so what? If it did come from other children engaged in school-yard talk, where exactly did those children get the idea to say those things?
To their credit, the 40 or so letter-signers said they had banded together to condemn hate speech as well as negative stereotypes.
But the sad truth is that their claim that Great Neck is no place for hate is merely aspirational. In reality, Great Neck, like the rest of America, is a place in which hate is on the rise.
This is not to diminish or discourage what the 40 letter-signers are attempting to do. In fact, they are performing a needed service and should be commended for their work. They should get all our help.
But the truth is that they face a major obstacle until at least Election Day and probably long beyond.
And yes, we are talking about a re-election campaign by President Donald Trump based on what could be called stirring racial animus but is more honestly outright racism.
It is surely no coincidence that the anti-Asian incidents in Great Neck and across the country arrived in February when COVID-19 struck this country. Yes, the infection originated in China, probably spread by bat-to-human contact.
But, again, so what?
The United States has never been blamed for the Spanish flu, which infected 500 million people between 1918 and 1920 – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves. The death toll of the Spanish flu is estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million. It is believed to have started in Kansas.
And yes, the Chinese government did at first hide the disease from the rest of the world.
But American intelligence and Trump knew as early as January that the disease was deadly and heading our way, according to tapes of 18 interviews with the president released by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.
But instead of alerting the American public and mobilizing a national effort, Trump downplayed the threat the COVID-19 presented to the country and failed to mobilize a national response.
Then, after first complimenting Chinese President Xi Jinping for his handling of the virus, Trump began calling the COVID-19 the China flu and blaming the Chinese along with a wide array of other villains.
The death toll passed 200,000 on Tuesday – nearly one-fifth of the total deaths in the world – with the number of Americans infected nearing seven million.
Yes, this is not the first time this country has experienced hatred directed at Asians. They, like virtually every ethnic, racial and religious group, have experienced hateful comments, physical abuse and even murder.
The rounding up and internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II remains a stain on this country.
But this is the first time since Gov. George Wallace ran for president as a Democrat segregationist that the appeals have been as explicit as they are in Trump’s campaign.
So, as the Great Neck parents said, a bunch of young and defenseless children are subjected to name-calling and violence.
Sadly, the Asian children are not by any stretch of the imagination alone.
Trump’s rise in the Republican Party began with birtherism, the false claim that President Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president, was not born in the United States and therefore was not a true American eligible to serve as commander-in-chief.
Remember, Trump kicked off his political campaign in 2015 by calling Mexicans drug dealers, criminals and rapists, followed by a call to ban Muslims from entering the country. He said white supremacists and neo-Nazis and protesters who opposed them in Charlottesville included good people on both sides. He called Black Lives Matters marchers protesting police brutality terrorists and defended statues of Confederate soldiers who waged war against the United States.
The list goes on. And on. And on.
Trump has used the country’s bully pulpit and compliant media outlets to spread this message of hate across the country.
To be clear, we are not saying that the 40 percent or so of the electorate who still support Trump are all racists. Just that Trump’s racism is not a deal-breaker for them.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump, testified last Friday that “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, has in recent years made up a majority of domestic terrorism threats in this country.
But Trump is not alone in stirring up divisiveness.
Wray said that an effort has been joined by Russia to “both sow divisiveness and discord, and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly, to primarily denigrate Vice President Biden in what the Russians see as a kind of an anti-Russian establishment.”
All these efforts to divide Americans are aided by new and powerful weapons for those seeking to spread hate – social media.
Trump’s Twitter feed has allowed him to spread his message, unfiltered by anyone, to tens of millions of people.
Worse though is Facebook. It has been used across the globe to incite hatred and genocidal violence by authoritarian countries and hate groups – while its owners reap billions in profits.
In the United States, Facebook has been the chief means to grow support for QAnon, a conspiracy theory in which Trump struggles against a cabal of Satan-worshiping, life-force sucking pedophiles and their enablers, including many of his Democratic opponents.
What to do?
We must first recognize the scope of this campaign to divide us by race, religion and country of origin and then combat this bigotry wherever we find it – whether on the streets of Great Neck or in the White House.
And then we must vote.
Update: An earlier version of this story stated that German- and Italian-Americans were not interned during World War II. During World War II, undocumented Italian and German immigrants in the United States were deemed “enemy aliens” and detained, relocated, stripped of their property or placed under curfew. In some cases, they were locked in internment camps