Matt Knutson: How can people hate others so deeply?

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“Who are these people?” I asked my wife after watching and reading about the terrorism in Charlottesville from last weekend. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. People were and continue to be voluntarily aligning themselves with Nazis and declaring white people to be the supreme race. How does someone reach that point of extremism? How does someone become that broken — that angry?

It grieves me. How can one group of people’s existence cause someone to hate so deeply? I hope I never understand that kind of hatred. I hope no one reading this ever does. I’m not sure how we can make sure hatred doesn’t spread, but I want to believe it is by holding each other accountable. After terrorists attacked America on 9/11, we were inundated with messaging from Homeland Security encouraging, “If you see something, say something.” It’s time to bring that message full circle.

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Back then no one imagined we’d need to look amongst “ourselves” for who the terrorist might be. I shouldn’t say “no one,” as history has long shown the evil of the KKK and other supremacy groups in the country, but we had a perfect image planted in our mind of the face of terrorism. Now our country must acknowledge what we’ve quickly glossed over in favor of not breaking the stereotype: anyone can be a terrorist. It doesn’t matter what they look like. If you’re going by the statistics, the Government Accountability Office recently shared that 73 percent of the deadly terrorist attacks since September 11, 2011 have been done by far right wing violent extremist groups.

I don’t want to ruin your day, but those are the people that probably look like you and me. The people who showed up in Charlottesville came from all over the country and blend into society at all levels. They could lead businesses. They could be behind the checkout counter at the grocery store. They could be your neighbors. I’m not writing this to scare you, but rather to prompt you to take a public stand against this abhorrent behavior. Let the people in your life know that you’re not okay with racism, so the line has clearly been drawn in the sand on what is right versus wrong. Any ambiguity can lead toward the pain that happened last weekend, and I’m certain we’ve had enough of that.

In addition to sharing where you stand, call people out when they make a subtly racist remark. You shouldn’t have to be afraid to stand up for someone. A lot of people demonstrate slightly racist behavior and simply don’t know it. They might be well-intentioned people who just need a bit of guidance. Extend an olive branch and help them become the better people they want to be. If you see something, say something to them.

We need your voice more than ever. Nearly 63 million people voted for someone who doesn’t see standing up to white supremacy as a cut and dry issue. I need to know that the majority of those people don’t feel the same way as our president. The people of color in our country deserve to know that as well. Racism should not be political. We shouldn’t look at one party and claim that everyone in that category is racist. But we need to continue to see everyone putting a stake in the ground in this fight. Passivity allows poor behavior to continue.

My wife and I celebrated the anniversary of our marriage this week. I’ve wrote about it before, but prior to 1967, we wouldn’t have been able to get married because of laws against interracial marriage. That’s only 50 years ago. Our parents were alive during that time. You can see how much progress has been made, but so much hatred and hurt lingers on. As you prolong your silence on racism, you prohibit the progress from continuing. The wounds cannot heal if people can continue to think the behavior in Charlottesville is acceptable.

The silence is deafening, and I see it regularly. As I share intentionally non-partisan material online about fighting racism, the interactions dramatically dip. Meanwhile, a cute photo of my daughter receives all the love in the world. Do you not see how my bi-racial daughter needs you to stick up for her? Can you not comprehend how fearful my wife is of being attacked? Do you not understand the discrimination her family members encounter and how much more frequent it has become since November 8, 2016? I wish I was fear-mongering, but I am not. This is reality, and we need you.

Who are these people who hate so much of what America has become? I don’t know. I pray their hatred disappears and they’re able to find something worthy to rebuild their broken lives into. Who are you and what are you for? Make it known.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.