Dear Former Governor Mike Huckabee:
I know I’m not alone when I say I am deeply disappointed by your racist tweet featuring MS-13 gang members. Before you go on dismissing me for using the “R” word, that big, bad label us liberals give to people we “disagree” with, I need to tell you the basis for my very careful choosing of that word, so that we may both learn something from this experience.
Your tweet depicting a group of gang members as “Nancy Pelosi’s campaign committee to take back the house” was intended to paint her as a gang sympathizer. There’s no doubt about your intentions. You must have known how this would look to your base. You were attempting to paint someone who is a leader of a party advocating for the rights of immigrants who deserve due process and basic human rights as a being soft on crime. Even before the 2016 presidential campaigns, you and other in the Republican party have equated immigrants to criminals. President Trump is included in the class of Republican politicians demonizing hardworking immigrants for minuscule political gains.
What you refuse to acknowledge in doing this is the many Latinx Americans who are painted in a negative light because of your fear mongering. Those of us of Latin American heritage have continuously been flagged by leaders of your party as “rapists,” “criminals” and “animals.” It is no wonder then, that so many Americans are now open to the idea of putting immigrant children in cages. Those are the confines to which (dangerous) animals belong.
I know many of your ilk are quick to distinguish yourselves as not being racist. When you make racist remarks, jokes, or generalizations, you quickly point out that aren’t talking about “us.” You certainly don’t want to ostracize any potential voting block, no matter their skin color. But, you are talking about us.
Governor Huckabee, I’m an American daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and a Mexican-American mother. I was born in Texas and was educated in Ohio. I have lived among upper-class white people my whole life. I am familiar with the defense “Oh, I didn’t mean you” when defending a joke or a controversially demeaning stance on immigrants, especially those of us from Latin American countries. This has been my whole life. As a white looking, American-educated woman of Mexican descent, I have privilege that isn’t afforded many of my Latinx brothers and sisters. It’s always assumed in my presence that people with your philosophy are in safe standing when airing your viewpoints. I can assure you, that this is not the case.
No one you encounter is fine with this casual racism, no matter how well you think you know them. Anyone you work with, share dinner with, or meet at campaign events, who is a member of any marginalized group, is exhausted with being told we are the exception to your unwitting hatred. We are all offended. We’ve just gotten so used to being offended that many of us swallow our true opinions at the risk of being viewed as “uncivil.” We ought not be compared to animals, after all. And of course, you’ll find those rare exceptions, who will gladly go along with the joke, or make themselves a case for how they are different. Perhaps their parent was a refugee in the 1950’s, but that’s ok because it was a different time. They will side with you, making a case that there are those from “el otro lado” who have no place here with real Americans. Those people are the saddest among us. They are so terrified and in need of ensuring their survival, that they will sever any source of empathy, and reject the instinct to identify with their ancestors.
We are living in sad times. I know it hurt your feelings when your daughter was lambasted at the White House Correspondents dinner, and when she was refused service at the Red Hen. I wonder, as a parent, if you are able to feel empathy for your own daughter (and she for her children). How exhausting it must be to reject empathy towards all people different than you. To reject the sights and sounds of caged children, to continuously tell yourself it’s for their own good. How difficult and sad it must be to distance yourself from God himself, by inspiring fear in others. How terrifying and lonely it must feel to have the ability to love but to be suppressing every instinct thus in order to perpetuate hate. As the book of John (2:9) tells us “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.”
I want you to know, as a Mexican-American, whose relatives have fought in wars for the United States, and contributed as business owners, mothers and therapists, you are hurting us. When you attempt to make the distinction of “I didn’t mean you” to any one of us, please know that’s not good enough.
Racism is uttered in the very attempt to defend your ignorance. I’m telling you now so that you can see the error of your ways. You were a reverend, isn’t that right? Do you believe that you are following God, even today? Because I’d argue that God’s way isn’t separation, and name-calling, and painting whole swaths of people with one demeaning stroke. You know this to be true in your heart, sir. As a father, I’d have to assume you see the damage you’re doing to God’s children. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
But, perhaps I’m being too idealistic.
Perhaps your brand of empathy only extends to your own children, wife, community, or, narrower perhaps, your political party, which you place before God and country. Perhaps you can’t be swayed by “civility,” which many in the Republican party have called for since Americans voiced outrage at the caging of innocent migrant children. Let the broken hearts of the citizens of this nation remind you of how to lead with love.
What I want to tell you, if you read this, is that we are already here, sharing the same country. No matter the language or tactics you use to stir hate and fear in white America with the threat of being “infested” or “invaded”, as your leader says, we are here. We walk among you and with you. We and the refugees from other nations deserve to be seen as human beings. If you cannot do this, I fear your heart will continue to plunge into the darkness you have begun to embrace.
As much as terrorists and gang members from other countries pose a threat to our nation, the seeds of hate you aid in planting do the same. Fear leads to hate, which leads to alienation, and ultimately violence. The same kind of hate and fear that led to the attack on protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. I implore you to turn away from the darkness and lead the way into the light.
Do not shirk the American or Christian tenants of due process, fair treatment, and loving of your neighbor (Galatians 5:14). God, and your Twitter followers, are watching.
Sara Alvarez Kleinsmith