If you’ve ever debated—and I use that word loosely—a Trump supporter online or in person, at some point they’ve attempted to taunt you by saying that you are “triggered.” It’s a flawed and ignorant argument that implies you’re speaking out because something set you off and you need a “safe space.” (It’s particularly ironic if the taunt is delivered by anyone who was outraged by a razor commercial asking them to be decent humans and raise their sons as such.)
As a member of a marginalized community, I bare the emotional scars from attacks because of it. I have no issue saying that every now and then I get triggered. And let me tell you, seeing a young, white man in a red MAGA hat smirking a smirk drenched in centuries of white privilege, toxic masculinity, and entitlement—that triggers the hell out of me.
Much debate has broken out over the innocence or guilt of the young men from Covington Catholic School. The incident has become something of a national Rorschach test, with some seeing bigotry and racial insensitivity, and others seeing young men falsely accused.
Some people (mostly right-wing media and blogs) believe “the fake news” jumped the gun by blaming the boys after a two-hour video of the encounter was posted with what they believe shows “the whole story.”
The boys’ defenders say they have been proven to be innocent bystanders who were verbally attacked by the Black Hebrew Israelites (a movement that believes some black Americans are the descendants of an ancient Israelite tribe). This isn’t totally true as the full video still shows the students mocking the elder Native American who stepped between the two groups with his drum.
The Black Hebrew Israelites showed up to protest. They were taunting and shouting at anyone in their path who disagreed with them. When the Covington boys showed up in MAGA gear to an Indigenous Peoples March, the most vocal member of the Black Hebrew Israelites went in on them hard. He was triggered by white men wearing MAGA gear.
Let me be clear, I do not making any excuses for the behavior or words of the Black Hebrew Israelites. In fact, I think they may have instigated the entire confrontation, but in my gut, I also understand their reaction to those red hats with (almost) all white faces underneath them.
That red hat, and any other apparel bearing the slogan “Make America Great Again,” has become a symbol of hate to many Americans, especially those in marginalized groups.
I was once in a busy New York City restaurant when a man walked in wearing a red MAGA hat. The restaurant went silent. The patron next to me whispered, “It’s like someone walked in wearing a swastika on their arm.” It was jarring and unsettling, stirring up feelings of anger, frustration, and disgust.
Those of us who have had to fight oppression know those feelings all too well. Women, LGBTQ people, African Americans, and other people who have been marginalized are keenly aware of what that red hat represents.
Donald Trump ran a campaign built on bigotry and fear, pandering to white people who feel that their America is being taken from them by people of different cultural backgrounds. Trump vilified Mexicans, claiming they were killers, rapists, and drug dealers crossing our borders and harming white America. The crowds of cultists chanted build that wall and everywhere you looked—red hats.
Then came the tiki torches—red hats.
The march in Charlottesville—more red hats.
Racist people caught on video—red hats in their social media profiles.
“Innocent school boys” appearing at an Indigenous People Rally—more red hats.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted, “The red MAGA hat is the new white hood,” and she may not be wrong. The only difference is that those wearing the hats are so emboldened by a racist and his klan of corrupt liars in the White House that they don’t feel the need to hide their faces anymore.
The red MAGA hat is the new white hood.
Without white boys being able to empathize with other people, humanity will continue to destroy itself. #FirstThoughtsWhenIWakeUp
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) January 20, 2019
Is everyone who wears the hat a racist? Maybe not, but by wearing it they are co-signing the racism to which it both signifies and inspires.
Ask someone from a marginalized group how they feel about racism, discrimination, and inequality in America. Ask them how they maneuver through life always being reminded that they are considered second class. Ask them what clicks inside of them when aggressive bullies reappear, like familiar ghosts from the nightmares of their adolescence. This is not something Trump supporters want to hear or discuss. They will claim that you are “race-baiting,” “pulling the gay card,” or, my favorite, “only seeing race or color and segregating yourself.”
Well guess what, privileged, MAGA-hat-wearing white Americans: We have the right to be on guard. We have a history rooted in pain and memories torched with suffering. Each day we face battles of inequality that exhaust our spirits, only to wake the next morning to face them all over again.
We are the fighters our ancestors couldn’t be. We have to defend and protect ourselves, and our brothers and sisters of marginalization. We are constantly on high alert, with never a moment of ease or comfort, for fear that we’ll be struck again by the injustice of inequality.
So yes, we have earned the right to assume that a smug adolescent wearing a racist hate symbol is not there to “defuse the situation” (a claim made by the student at the center of the video scandal, in a statement crafted for him by a professional PR firm).
We have the right to not trust those who align themselves so publicly and proudly with a man, an administration, and an entire political party that has boldly put its racism and discrimination on full, fiery display.
And we will continue to reserve those rights until you all decide to do better. When you stop siding with racists and white supremacists, xenophobes, anti-feminist, and anti-immigrant tribalists. When you all realize that being white and straight doesn’t give you carte blanche to run rampant and step on those who don’t look, sound, dress, or pray like you. When you accept people that are different, and celebrate those differences, then we can talk about how a red hat is just a hat.
Until then, your hate symbol is my trigger, and I will not apologize for it.