Humans are capable of extraordinary kindness and extraordinary cruelty, and the line between the two can be so close. We live in a country that was built on high ideals of freedom and equality. Yet while my mother’s ancestor, Patrick Henry, was working with our country’s founders to craft the Declaration of Independence, his Virginia plantation was relying on enslaved people to produce the agricultural products that would give rise to the American economy. And while my father’s ancestors were busily contributing to the birth of industrialism in Massachusetts, native people in this land were being exterminated to make room for people like my family who wanted to expand and occupy America. Years later, my mother’s ancestors and my father’s ancestors would fight each other in the Civil War, which ended slavery but did not end cruelty to the people who were not even considered people by my white ancestors. By the time I came along, my parents had moved from Virginia to Hawai’i, and I grew up knowing next to nothing about my legacy, both kind and cruel.
My experience was all about Asia and the Pacific Ocean, and I worshiped in a Japanese Christian church and attended public schools where there were few white faces and no one else whose ancestors had sailed to America on the Mayflower. It was not until I had children of my own that I started to really think about the centuries of choices and actions that now rested on my shoulders. Like it or not, I own the terrible legacy of slavery, of genocide, and white superiority just as much as I own the connection to the Mayflower and Patrick Henry that set in motion the opportunities that I benefit from today as a highly educated woman in business.
Putting aside every bit of politics and policy in this recent election, there is a critical question we have to answer for ourselves: can we allow a hate-fueled and extremist campaign to define us? We cannot dance that close to the line of cruelty without crossing it, we must be vigilant in our everyday lives and our everyday actions to sway ourselves, our families, and our community toward kindness and respect for all humans and away from extremism. We do this by being truthful to ourselves and others. We do this by asking ourselves, is this kind, this action I am about to take, these words I am about to say? And we promote policies and actions by our leaders that are necessary to our integrity as human beings, to being on the side of kindness and not cruelty. The president-elect has demonstrated over and over again his willingness to cross the line into cruelty, and I pledge to work against the extremism promoted by his campaign and the extremists who helped put him in office, every day I live, every action I take, and every decision I make.
Update April 24, 2017:
The Government Accounting Office published a report this month looking at extremist events since 2001 and why countering extremist behavior is inherently different from counterterrorism activities. You can access the report via this link.
As the report states:
Since September 12, 2001, the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year. As shown in figure 2, fatalities resulting from attacks by far right wing violet extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001. Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent).
The solutions outlined by the Obama administration included building awareness of the issue, countering narratives of extremism both online and in other communications media, and emphasizing community-led interventions to identify and work with at-risk individuals.