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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE:  About 150 to 200 people gathered at the Allen County Courthouse along Clinton Street on Nov. 14, 2016 for the "Fight Hate With Love" rally.

Monday, November 28, 2016 6:13 am

Talk therapy

Many Americans on both sides of the bitter and divisive presidential campaign are looking for common ground now, trying to heal the wounds and better understand what has driven Americans so far apart in so many ways. But alas, not everyone.

Expressions of hatred and racial animosity have spiked in the weeks since Donald Trump’s election and, as The Journal Gazette’s Jamie Duffy reported this weekend, Fort Wayne is not immune.

While the number of complaints to police hasn’t increased, there have been some incidents, Duffy reported. Fort Wayne Police community affairs chief Garry Hamilton described one at a public discussion recently: A Latino homeowner discovered "Trump" had been spray-painted on his garage and a bullet fired through the home’s front door.

Latino and Hispanic leaders say they’re hearing about incidents in which children have been humiliated in school. Ann Livschiz, an assistant professor of history at IPFW, said the word "Hitler" was written on a campus message board, accompanied by a drawing of a heart.

Livschiz, an expert on European history who is now teaching a class on the Holocaust, warns that, even in America, we need to take hate speech seriously. "It’s important people understand how dangerous some of these behaviors are."

Fort Wayne has a much-deserved reputation for tolerance of other points of view. Here, even a post-electionanti-Trump gathering was framed as a unity rally; most of the demonstrators carried signs promoting the power of love.

Still, it’s imperative that we all look for ways to counteract the ugliness.

Ahmed Abdelmageed, a local Muslim leader who is on the boards of the Indiana Center for Mideast Peace and the United Way of Allen County, said he knows others stand with him and those whose race, religion or ethnicity may lead them to feel threatened now.

"We have a strong interfaith community," Abdelmageed said. "I know that if it comes down to it, we back each other up."

He believes some of the fear and unease can be overcome by people of different backgrounds coming together to address concerns that everyone shares, such as poverty, hunger and safety.

That has the added benefit of letting people get to know others from different backgrounds as individuals, Abdelmageed said. "It’s humanizing a label. You give somebody a label, it’s easier to depersonalize the person behind that label."

Michael Wolf, chairman of the political science department at IPFW, had similar thoughts.

"When you get to know people and see that they don’t have horns growing out of their heads and you can trust them," Wolf said, "that’s going a long way."

Wolf said the emotional undercurrents brought to the fore recently by the election and issues relating to police shootings of blacks and the targeting of officers didn’t just start. "They’ve been around for a decade or more."

"Both sides have beliefs about what America should be," Wolf said, and both sides are partly motivated by fear. "If somebody feels threatened – whether they are or not – it doesn’t matter, if they feel it."

Wolf says there is an obvious way to deflate the tension and misunderstanding: Talk with people with whom we disagree "and do so in a way that allows the person to feel heard."