Until Trump and his administration take responsibility for their words and actions, we can no longer look to Washington or the White House for moral leadership.
ON Aug. 5, 2012, I was visiting my parents and grandparents in the Seattle suburbs when Michael Page walked into the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire, killing five men and one woman. Over the next few days, our entire family remained glued to the television. We couldn’t look away from the footage of Sikh worshippers — uncles and aunties dressed in white kurtas and salwars — reeling from the loss of loved ones, grieving for the shattered peace of their community.
We later learned what we initially suspected — that Page was a white supremacist who had ties to neo-Nazi groups and played in a white-power band whose repertoire included a song with the lyrics, “wake up, white man, for your race, and your land.”
Late last month, a man named Adam Purinton walked into a Kansas City bar and shot two Indian men, Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died, after questioning them about their immigration status and shouting “get out of my country.” And a little over a week ago, an unknown man walked up to a 39-year old Sikh man in Kent and, after an altercation in which he apparently told him “go back to your own country,” shot him in the arm.
This happened in my hometown. This happened to my people. In 1985, my family immigrated from India to the Seattle suburbs, eventually settling in Kent. I went to Sunrise Elementary, Meridian and Meeker Junior High Schools, and Kentridge High School. My parents now live in the East Hill neighborhood of Kent, just blocks from where the shooting occurred.
What if the shooter had walked up to my mom tending to her garden, or my dad walking their dog? What if he had seen my grandmother, who always wears the traditional sari, or a friend or relative who speaks with an accent?
At the time of the Oak Creek shooting, I worked for the White House as President Barack Obama’s liaison to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. There, I saw firsthand the federal government’s swift response to the shooting. From the White House to the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the Obama administration spoke in one voice to denounce the shooting as an act of terror and proclaim that the U.S. government stood with the Sikh community and others targeted by hate, violence, racism and xenophobia. Even though these words and actions could not fully heal the damage inflicted by the shooter, they nonetheless reassured terrified communities in Oak Creek and across America that they weren’t alone.
What will President Donald Trump say? What will his administration do?
How will Trump express support for our cherished, fundamental American values of religious freedom and pluralism while enforcing an executive order based on nationality and religion? How will he reassure the American people of his administration’s commitment to full equality without denouncing hate in all its forms, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, from xenophobia to transphobia? How can he repudiate the vile sentiment espoused by the Kansas City and Kent shooters — that this country only belongs to some, and not all, Americans — while being advised by individuals who share that very view?
Let’s be clear: racism and xenophobia, and other forms of hate, existed long before Trump took office and will continue to exist long after his presidency. He’s certainly not responsible for all of it. But it is undeniable that at numerous inflection points, he, his campaign and now his administration have been silent at best and at worst have created conditions that have encouraged those harboring hateful sentiments to act on them.
Until Trump and his administration take responsibility for their words and actions, we can no longer look to Washington, D.C., or the White House for moral leadership.
That means it’s up to the rest of us to show Trump the way. That means federal and state executives willing to leverage their resources for new tools to investigate and bring to justice white supremacists; community advocates who will organize grass-roots action in solidarity with other communities also experiencing discrimination and hate violence; and regular people — neighbors, co-workers and even strangers — who can model in their daily interactions our patriotic American virtues of inclusion, acceptance, and grace that have thus far eluded Trump and his administration.