Racial tension taints election

Published 11:49 am Monday, November 14, 2016

Sometime between 10 p.m. Wednesday night and the time Caitlin Johnson left for work Thursday morning, someone slipped a crumpled note under her windshield wiper.

The note uses a racial epithet and invokes the name of the winner of the recent presidential election, Donald J. Trump. Another message, near the bottom of the note, is indecipherable. Immediately, Johnson said she was struck with fear and some incredulity.

“It’s scary knowing that someone knows I live there and that I’m a black woman,” Johnson told Mississippi Today. “I don’t know that many people in the neighborhood. It’s like they were watching me.”

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Johnson, a Natchez native, has lived in the Jackson neighborhood of Belhaven for about a year.

In addition to the racist nature of the note, Johnson said it’s presumptuous on the writer’s part. She immediately posted the note to her Facebook, writing to the mystery note-leaver: “You don’t even know who I voted for. I could have voted for Trump for all you know. I don’t care what you do with your pathetic life, but what you WON’T do is leave crap like this on my car while I’m inside my house and think you’ll get away with it.”

The incident, which Johnson may report to the Jackson Police Department, comes amid angst by many people in Mississippi and around the country over the presidential election, which on Tuesday resulted in Trump upsetting Hillary Clinton to become America’s 45th president-elect.

The contest was the most acerbic in recent history. Trump’s vow to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., his description of Black Lives Matter protesters as thugs, and revelations of statements about and behavior toward women often pit the candidate and his supporters against Clinton’s base.

On Wednesday, protests over Trump’s ascension erupted in several cities, including Chicago and Seattle, some of which resulted in property damage. In Oakland, some businesses had smashed windows after demonstrations. Police in Portland, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, had several confrontations with self-described anarchists groups whose members broke car windows and defaced buildings with graffiti.

Thursday, a music journalist created a Twitter montage under the banner “Day 1 in Trump’s America” that features “a collection of tweets about racist episodes POC (people of color) are facing now that Trump is our President Elect.”

One of the images is of a white man and woman in blackface posing in front of a Confederate battle flag. In other tweets, users retell racist encounters they’ve had since Election Day. One user wrote that her mother asked her not to wear a hijab, a head covering that some Muslim women wear in public.

College campuses have been flashpoints for hostility against minorities, with incidents at Texas State University, San Jose State University and Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. Mississippi’s colleges and universities have remained calm. In Durham, N.C., a message that reads “Black lives don’t matter and neither does [sic] your votes” was painted on the walls facing an intersection.

In Mississippi, where race and politics are inseparable — blacks so overwhelmingly and reliably support the Democratic Party here that Democrat and African American are used interchangeably in some circles — election season in some instances struck a similar tone. On Nov. 1, Hopewell Baptist Church in Greenville was set on fire and the words “Vote Trump” were scrawled on its side in silver spray paint.

Investigators have said the fire was the result of arson, but have not announced any arrests.

Greenville residents told Mississippi Today that the arsonist seemed to want to take advantage of political tensions, which are also racial tensions, in the town.

“Everyone is asking if it was a hate crime. No, I don’t think it’s a hate crime,” Clarence Green, a Hopewell bishop said at the time. “But I often encourage everyone in our congregation to go out and vote. And I’m a Democrat. We’ll leave it at that.”

On Nov. 4, vandals defaced the E.F. Young Hotel in downtown Meridian with political messages that included “Black Lives Matter,”  “Vote Trump,” “Save the bees” and “Killary.” The Meridian Star reported that police picked up three white juveniles and charged the trio with property vandalism.

The historic hotel, which once hosted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was at one time the only inn in the area that accepted black guests; an African-American family that includes Charles Young Jr., a Democratic state representative, and his sister, County Court Judge Vel Young, continue to own the hotel.

Similar to the reaction of Greenville residents to the Hopewell church burning, Rep. Young believes the vandalism of his family’s hotel was an isolated incident, but reflective of the national mood.

“I don’t think that there was anything specifically aimed at the Young family. I do think that it was targeted at the black community. With the message that Donald Trump has been putting out there, the country is at a great divide,” Young told Mississippi Today before the election. Young said a good healing step would be for the families of the kids police caught marring the building to offer to pay for the damage, but that no such overture has been made.

Trump himself addressed what he called “the wounds of division” in his victory speech.

“To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump told his supporters.

By Thursday night, Caitlin Johnson’s Facebook post had 186 comments and had been shared 100 times.

Most of the feedback has been positive — although one user said Johnson’s sharing the post would exacerbate racial division — and has come from people of different races.

“It makes me feel good that people have my back,” she said.