Los Angeles Times, racism

What’s This Democrat to Do?

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The results of last week’s election devastated me. As a Jew, I have always voted Democratic. That’s because my parents did and because their parents did. My grandparents experienced racism and bigotry in Europe, so along with millions of other refugees during the early 1900s, they fled to these shores for religious and economic freedom. Once settled, they became ardent supporters of FDR. They believed he cared about the poor and working people, and thus a family tradition of voting Democratic ensued.

I was born in California and only ten when WWII broke out, but I felt the fear in my household about being Jewish. Even though we had no direct confrontations, a wariness prevailed. For example, scared of publicly revealing who we were, we never placed a mezuzah on our outside door.

When my junior high school homeroom teacher made all the Semites stand up, I got a flash of what it might feel like to be targeted as outcasts. My infuriated parents threatened to report my teacher. That terrified me because I feared the backlash. My mom and dad promised not to say anything, but behind my back, my father met with the principal. He told her about the classroom incident and said, “This teacher is either stupid or a follower of Hitler.” The principal had no choice but to assure my dad that the teacher was stupid.

That was merely a taste of what it felt like to be considered an “other,” yet it marked me in such as way that I cannot stand to see others targeted as outsiders.

After Trump’s campaign of name-calling and enabling racists, he has reaffirmed his stance by appointing Stephen Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist. Bannon chairs Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative news source. They are openly anti-immigrant, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-semitic, are racist and believe in white supremacy.

A few weekends ago, I heeded the TV reminders about turning our clocks back one hour to adjust to Daylight Savings Time; Sadly, I also agreed with the internet advice to “Turn Back Your Clocks Fifty Years.”

And so it begins. Trump has empowered the bigots. This past weekend, an Associated Press column documented reports of increased racist incidents in schools and universities. For example, white students called Black students “cotton pickers”; a university student attempted to pull off the hijab worn by a Muslim student; a “whites only” message appeared on a bathroom door in Illinois; students in Michigan chanted “build a wall” in the school cafeteria; and in Pennsylvania, African American parents were told to, “Go back to Africa.”

I dread that the worst is yet to come negatively impacting women’s rights; the LGBTQ communities; the environment; people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Who and what did I leave out?

And what can I do about it?

Of course, I will make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. And although the thought of participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Inauguration Day appeals to me, that is much too daunting for this old lady.

Yet there is something positive that I can do.

After the 1992 Rodney King riots in L. A., I proposed a column to the Los Angeles Times, demystifying the cultures of people unlike ourselves. Called, “Multicultural Manners,” the eight-year running column received a 1998 award from the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations. They recognized it for promoting intergroup understanding.

Now if I can accomplish something similar in this new environment of divisiveness, that would be fantastic. And best of all, I have a new platform.

Very soon a new community radio station will be on the air here in Las Cruces. Its call letters, KTAL (¿Qué tal?, meaning What’s Up? ), will be airing programs pertinent to community issues. Fortunately, they have accepted my proposal for, “Your Multicultural Minute,” where I will narrate incidents about people who have inadvertently confused, insulted, amused others and all because of cultural differences.

I believe that educating the public about the customs, beliefs, and values of different cultures will create respect for others.

Last Saturday Night Live’s opening skit nailed it. In her persona as Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon sat at the piano playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Hallelujah.” Then she turned to the audience and said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who specializes in rituals, customs and beliefs of global communities.