On the Virginia Protests, White Supremacy and Donald Trump

Reading the headlines about white supremacists rallying at the University of Virginia makes me wonder: Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong? I am curious especially because the President of the United States seemed to be unable to do these things at his press conference today.

Watching Donald Trump speak, I was, like many others, waiting for him to utter the words “White supremacists.” But he did not call the protesters what they are. He didn’t even acknowledge that they were any more in the wrong than the counter-protesters (some of whom, by the way, were hit with a car in what many are calling an act of domestic terrorism).

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said. His words have prompted many to ask: “What sides?” The torch-carrying, Nazi-saluting white supremacists started this protest last night; the “other side” would be, I guess, the people counter-protesting. There are not “many sides” contributing to the hatred and bigotry—there is only one.

That Trump didn’t outright condemn the protesters speaks volumes. His campaign rhetoric emboldened people because it made it seem like it was OK to act upon stereotypes and to discriminate against people. And his policy and legislation as president—from his Muslim ban to his recent immigration policy which would reduce the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. and give preference to those who speak English—only further invigorate white nationalist sentiments.

After the election, David Duke, former leader of the KKK, said that Trump winning was “one of the most exciting nights of (his) life.” Today, Duke said that, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” Trump has rebuked Duke in the past, but today he failed to openly decry the values of the white supremacists.

More and more, our societies are becoming more diverse. Many of us believe wholeheartedly in the undeniable truth that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are, and deserved to be treated as, equal. So people like the white supremacists in Virginia feel threatened. In a Twitter thread, user @JuliusGoat made an excellent point about the protesters. “They are chanting ‘we will not be replaced.’ Replaced as … what? I’ll tell you. Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters,” he said.

The actions of the protesters, as well as Trump’s response so far, are disturbing for a myriad of reasons. Had the protesters not been white, it’s likely that Trump would have issued a much stronger condemnation of their actions and words. Furthermore, that white supremacists are marching at all—in a progressive America, in 2017, no less—is a chilling indication that we, as a society, have not come as far as we may like to think.


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Oh, Canada

If you live in Canada, you may have heard that our nation is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Actually, let me rephrase that: if you live in Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to not know that we are celebrating our 150th anniversary. If I had a Royal Canadian Mint special-edition glow-in-the-dark coin every time I heard, saw or watched an advertisement for Canada’s upcoming birthday (one literally just played on Spotify as I typed that), I would be rolling in money.

This week, the Algoma University Students’ Union voted unanimously to not sanction or endorse events associated with Canada 150. Why? The university was once the site of a residential school, and, according to the Toronto Star, the student union president said that the decision was meant as an act of solidarity with Indigenous students at the school.

As the introduction of the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states: “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada.”

For some, Canada 150 is a celebration of a nation with an established reputation as a peacekeeper, a country with open arms for refugees and a country that fought in two world wars to support freedom. For others, Canada 150 is a celebration synonymous with a legacy of colonialism, genocide, racism and injustice.

Canada projects itself as a “global human rights beacon,” Christie McLeod writes in an article for Maclean’s. Yet within our own country, we have often failed to recognize and uphold the same rights we purport to champion on the global stage. McLeod gives the example of Canada introducing the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which would see states have an obligation to intervene when other states fail to protect their own citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This doctrine asking states to take action against genocide was announced in 2001—just five years after Canada’s last residential school, an example of government-funded cultural genocide, closed.

For those of us not negatively impacted by Canada’s colonial history, it’s dismally simple to see our country as a glorious land of justice, equality and human rights. But we should reflect on the fact that some 6,000 children died at Canadian residential schools, and that thousands more have had to live with the consequences of being stripped of their culture, community and dignity. We should also remember the current suicide crises in Indigenous communities and the “third world” conditions of water advisories on reserves. There are issues which all of us—Indigenous, and non-Indigenous—can play a part in working to solve.

There are, of course, many good things to say about Canada; so as we consider what we are really celebrating as Canada turns 150, we should remember that there are actions we can all take to make Canada an even better for everyone who calls it home.


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Trump’s Remarks About Journalists Are Unacceptable, But Unsurprising

So much of what is happening in America lately is, to put it simply, unfathomable. Many actions may seem appropriate for an earlier time period, but are strikingly out of place in the “modern democracy” of the United States (quotation marks seem necessary). I could reference about any number of topics, from the growing evidence that Trump tried to stop FBI investigations into ties to Russia to his expansion of a policy he revoked early in his presidency to give U.S. aid to abortion providers across the world. I want to focus, though, on something close to my heart: the treatment of journalists under Trump’s administration.

In the aftermath of the explosive New York Times report that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his also-former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, another appalling tidbit was lost in the chaos. Trump suggested that Comey “Consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information,” writes Michael Schmidt.

This remark is startling at best and deeply troubling at worst. It is reminiscent of authoritarian governments and starkly un-American values. It is also, sadly, not a surprise coming from Trump, who has displayed malice towards journalists at every step of his path to the presidency.

Now, in the Oval Office, he still can’t see that journalists are an essential part of a democracy. I mean, it’s probably hard for him to see this, considering the impact of journalism on his reputation. Just this week, outstanding reporting from journalists at the Washington Post and The New York Times brought quick and serious implications; from calculated throwing around of the word “impeachment” — from both political sides — to the worst day in the stock market since Sept. 2016.

Interestingly, as Politico reporter Josh Dawsey noted on Twitter, Schmidt, the journalist who wrote about Trump asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn, was the same journalist who first broke the story about Hillary Clinton’s private email server. So was Schmidt “out to get” Trump? Or did he simply use the same journalistic rigour he applied to a story about Clinton to write a story about Trump?

As a journalism student, I am inspired by the persistence of journalists who cover Trump. They are up against serious odds — barred from press briefings, not invited to meetings with foreign officials, for example — and often have to decipher fact from fiction when White House officials blatantly lie (this is not to say that there haven’t been problems with media coverage of Trump, because there have). Journalists keep going, though, because what they do is important. The public has a right to know what is happening in their government, and journalists fulfill this critical role of gathering and communicating information.

Trump’s treatment of journalists both on the campaign trail and as President is unacceptable. But it is also unlikely to change. As the newly-appointed special prosecutor begins his investigations, I can only see journalists rightly continuing to cover Trump. But, sadly, I can only see Trump continuing to berate and belittle journalists in return.


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Dear School Boards: Stop Blocking Social Media

Four schools in Madison county have instituted a program to block students from accessing over 30 social media apps, AP reports. Closer to my home, the Toronto District School Board is similarly banning social media apps at school, though their measures are expected to be temporary until their Internet systems are replaced.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the recent string of school boards banning social media use in high schools, but I also can’t say that I support the decisions. My high school epitomized a twenty-first century learning experience — with no textbooks, only laptops. I became an avid supporter of this, speaking to educators at conferences and parents at school events about the values of this style of learning.

A point that I was always careful to emphasize was that our use of laptops (and programs like Google Classroom, Google Plus, and even Twitter and YouTube) were accompanied by lessons on digital citizenship. We learned how to use these tools effectively (and safely) and we also learned how to use them to foster real-life collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

My high school opened when I was in grade 10. That year, the school board raised the question of Internet filtering, and students in my school responded in full force, leaving insightful comments on a trustee’s blog about why the proposed filters would not work. I was one of two students who, joined by a team of teachers, spoke at the school board meeting where the filter was voted on. We felt that filters sent a message to students that they couldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions.

Plus, students with cell-phone data would be able to bypass the filters, and many tech-savvy students said they’d find ways to block the filters. Ultimately, the filters were not implemented in high schools. Many board members said that they were glad to hear a student’s perspective, since the issue directly impacted students. I think this is an important point — involving students in consultation and planning processes is a good way to ensure that the outcomes are beneficial for them.

In terms of the recent decisions of schools to ban certain social media apps, like Snapchat, Netflix, and Instagram, I understand that students’ use of social media takes up bandwidth and Internet usage. But if students are not engaged in what they are learning they will find ways to distract themselves, with or without social media. By incorporating social media into the lessons (such as asking students to find examples of, say, racism on Twitter, or using Google News to analyze headlines in news articles), students will be less likely to distract themselves from what they are learning.

Students use social media to communicate with each other, learn about the world, and develop their digital identities (something which is hugely important in our increasingly digital workplaces and world). Banning social media altogether means taking away a huge part of a student’s identity. Not only this, but it sends a message to students that they’re not responsible enough to choose how they spend their time in class.

Once students graduate, they’re in a filterless world. Now that I’m in university, I can’t tell you how many students I’ve seen watching Netflix during lectures. It is the decision of those students what they do with their time. Come exam time, I’m sure those students realized that paying attention in class would have been beneficial to them. Allowing students to learn this on their own makes the learning so much more valuable than having it enforced through a top-down filter. And allowing students to learn this in high school means students are better prepared to enter post-secondary education and, ultimately, the workforce.

I understand that for some school boards, allowing social media use to continue is simply not feasible. I hope, though, that school boards can understand the negative implications of their actions, especially when they have implemented a filter without listening to the thoughts and concerns of students.


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Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth day; the President of the United States thinks climate change is a hoax propagated by China. Many of his fellow Republicans similarly deny climate change. Because why take the time to look into valid scientific data when you can simply play the whole thing off as an economic ploy, or as #fakenews? In case you weren’t aware, climate change is real. During the last century, the global sea level rose 8 inches. The temperatures in 2016 were the warmest ever recorded. Ice sheets and sea ice are melting, and glaciers are retreating. Extreme weather events are becoming more common. These facts, from NASA’s Climate Change site, are not a Chinese hoax.

Happy Earth day; one scientist believes climate change has passed “the point of no return.” Meanwhile, many of us are doing the bare minimum to protect the environment and not planning to do more. There are many reasons for this: unless you live beside an ocean, or in the Arctic, climate change is not immediately visible to you. And so long as there are a few cold days sprinkled in with the hot ones, many people are satisfied that the climate isn’t really warming. Except it is.

Happy Earth day; people are protesting in over 600 marches today because of Trump’s refutal of basic scientific facts, the proposed defunding of the EPA, and his denial of climate change. “March for Science puts Earth Day focus on global opposition to Trump,” a Guardian headline reads. Will this global opposition cause Trump to reverse his views on climate change? Probably not. What it is more likely to do is inspire grassroots change. While this is great, it would obviously be beneficial to have the support of the White House on topics as critical as climate change and environmental issues.

Happy Earth day; what are future generations going to say about us? “Oh, those lucky ones alive in the 2010s — their air was clean enough to breathe without an oxygen mask”? While we certainly feel some of the effects of climate change, future generations will feel those effects even more. And, if action is not taken, they will likely resent the people (politicians and otherwise) who left them a degraded planet with depleted resources.

Happy Earth day; let’s not wail in our despair and ask, “What have we done?!” Instead, let’s ask, “What can we do?” From contacting your local political representatives to using energy-efficient light bulbs, there are many individual actions you can take to reduce the impact of climate change. One of the simplest ways might be to get educated on the facts, and, unlike the President of the United States, choose to believe that climate change is not a hoax, but rather one of the most pressing issues facing our world today.


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When Did Donald Trump Become the President of the United States?

Lately, people seem obsessed with pinpointing the exact moment Donald Trump became President of the United States. In a literal sense, he became the president-elect on Nov. 8, 2016, and was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017. But, according to CNN’s Van Jones and Fox News’s Chris Wallace, Trump “became president” after his Feb. 28 speech to Congress. And, according to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Trump “became president” after launching airstrikes on Syria on Thursday night.

It matters when Trump “became president” because to a lot of people, he was never a legitimate political leader. A recent GenForward poll suggests that the majority of young adults in America view Trump as an illegitimate president. “Though Trump has legal legitimacy, he totally lacks political legitimacy,” Nancy Altman and Ira Lapu wrote in a Dec. 2016 Huffington Post article.

This explains Zakaria’s appraisal that Trump became more legitimate after the Syria airstrikes. As Zakaria said, “President Trump recognized that the President of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose.” Trump’s recognition of international norms has, in some people’s eyes, made him more like past presidents, and therefore more legitimate.

However, not everyone saw the airstrikes as “presidential”. In a Facebook post on Friday, Dan Rather, a former CBS anchor, wrote that “The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as ‘presidential’ is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation.” Rather continued that war is “not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative.”

It seems, though, that gaining a narrative of legitimacy is something that matters a great deal to Trump and his team. Trump “has this deep fear that he is himself not a legitimate president,” author Michael D’Antonio told Politico. D’Antonio also said that Trump’s fear of being illegitimate is one of the reasons why he tries to delegitimize America’s intelligence community; it could also easily be a reason why he has continually tried to delegitimize Barack Obama, from accusing him of wiretapping Trump Tower to blaming him for the situation in Syria.

Trump’s legitimacy could be called into question primarily by the fact that while he won the electoral college, he did not win the popular vote. More people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump. As well, the countless controversies that have plagued Trump and his administration—accusations of sexual assault, refusal to release his tax returns, collusion with Russia…shall I go on?—could also contribute to the view that Trump is illegitimate.

The legitimacy Trump may have gained from his February speech to Congress is very different than that gained from last week’s airstrikes. Early polls suggested that viewers approved of Trump’s speech to congress, although many people also remarked that the bar for Trump to succeed was set very low. “Donald Trump read from a teleprompter and wore a nice suit, and suddenly he’s ‘presidential’?” wrote Emily Atkin for the New Republic.

There are certainly many people who saw Trump as presidential the moment he assumed the title (or even the moment he announced he would run in the election). But there are many others who still do not see him as presidential. The critiques of journalists that certain events represent the moment Trump became president are a fascinating insight into the way Trump is viewed by the people he is supposed to represent. Because, if even a small amount of Americans do not view Trump as a legitimate president, what does that say about the state of democracy in America?


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Hillary Clinton and the Paradox of Female Success

If you are successful, people like you. Right?

Not always.

“The more successful and ambitious a woman is, the less likable she becomes,” said Hillary Clinton on Thursday the Women in the World Summit in New York.

Clinton is, of course, no stranger to this paradox of female success. She was one of the most qualified individuals who has ever run for the president of the United States. And yet, every step of the campaign, from the primaries to the debates, she was dogged by uneven standards. These standards allowed Donald Trump to do things like brag about sexually assaulting women, and still become the president of the United States.

Certainly, there are some key reasons why Clinton lost: failing to campaign in certain states, FBI Director James Comey releasing information about the investigation into Clinton’s emails just days before the election, and the controversies over her involvement in Benghazi, her private email server, and her husband’s affair.

Still, “a candidate guilty of Trump’s many transgressions should have been decimated by a competent opponent” such as Clinton, Lauren Heuser wrote in The National Post after the election. Again, there are several factors which caused Trump to succeed. Disenfranchised voters, fear mongering, and fake news all played roles of varying importance in Trump’s win. But there was something else at play in Trump’s win, and in Clinton’s loss: sexism.

Clinton was (and remains) undoubtedly ambitious. Before becoming the Democratic nominee, she had already achieved a high level of success in the political arena. And this, as she said on Thursday in New York, made her less likable. But as Heuser points out in her op-ed, Clinton was not just disliked by men. Heuser quotes Hadiya Roderique, a student who studies gender, who says that “Women buy into the patriarchy as much as men.” In fact, a 2010 study by two Yale professors found that women and men were equally likely to “have negative reactions to power-seeking female politicians.”

Many women still have problems with other women’s success, even if they do not explicitly admit it. Misogyny is something that affects women, but it is also something that some women contribute to, even if it is internalized. Women did not have to support Clinton, simply because she was also a woman. However, the fact that some woman had problems simply because she was a woman is indicative of the larger issue here.

You shouldn’t admire someone (or vote for them) just because they are successful. But ambitious and successful women being continually held back by what should be perceived as positive traits demonstrates that something needs to change. As devastating a loss as she endured, Hillary Clinton remains an inspirational symbol in the fight for female politicians and leaders to be viewed as equals to their male counterparts.

Clinton was poised to break the glass ceiling. Instead, misogyny prevailed. What happens next is up to us. 


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Is Liberty Dead?

“Is Truth Dead?” Time magazine asked on a recent cover, a clever nod to their 1966 “Is God Dead?” cover. I can’t imagine the words “Is Truth Dead?” boldly gracing a cover in any other year but this one. The events of Nov. 8, 2016, changed the course of the world dramatically, as did the months of campaigning that led up to that fateful night. Donald Trump’s victory made “Truth” into a buzzword—because suddenly, we were forced to consider the reality that there are often several shades of the truth.

Truth wasn’t the only concept distorted by Trump’s win and subsequent actions as president. Freedom, often symbolized by an-American bald eagle, has taken on a new meaning. Are American citizens truly free if the colour of their skin or the religion they practice makes them the target of a discriminatory travel ban? Equality is another word that has changed drastically; because while America’s founding fathers held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, many of the words, actions, and policies of Trump’s administration are at direct odds with the very notion of equality.

There’s another word that I think has been missing in many discussions of Trump’s government: liberty, as in the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and also as in the statute of Liberty  (which, I may add, has seen a significant increase in visitors since Trump took office).

Maybe it’s just me, but “Liberty” hasn’t been as widely-discussed as some of the aforementioned words. Liberty is very similar to freedom, but the definition of the word liberty on its own struck me as having particular relevance to Trump’s administration. Liberty is, according to the trusty dictionary.com, “Freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” Another definition: “Freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.” And another: “Freedom from control [or] interference.”

My mind jumped to Russia as I read those definitions. The investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia took a dramatic turn this week when former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn offered to testify about Russia in exchange for immunity. America is, of course, relatively autonomous; but the overwhelming evidence of links between Putin and Trump’s government makes me question just how free from foreign rule America really is, especially considering the Russian interference into the election. There is also evidence that some of Trump’s actions have been influenced by his businesses. For example, the first version of his travel ban excluded countries where he has business interests.

George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” So here is something that you may not want to hear: many of America’s traditional values are shifting, perhaps not for the better. If you value things like truth, freedom, equality, and liberty, then you need to speak up and fight for them to remain an essential and unwavering aspect of democracy. Because at the rate things are going, Time is going to have a field day with all of the “Is [insert important concept here] dead?” covers.


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Lynn Beyak and Indigenous Education in Canada

First, the European settlers came to what is now Canada and took land from the Indigenous people. They brought with them diseases and the mindset that this land was theirs, despite the fact that other people were already living on it. Then, the Europeans continued to colonize the land, forming governments which shunned the Indigenous people. Those governments decided that the Indigenous people needed to be more like them, so they created schools for them. These were, of course, residential schools, where Indigenous people were forced to speak English, abused, and forced to do manual labour. Many did not make it out alive, and the legacy of residential schools is a haunting stain on Canada’s past.

So why did Lynn Beyak, a Canadian MP, say that “some good things” came out of residential schools? And why is she now defending that statement, adding that she has “suffered up there with them (Indigenous people)”?

Residential schools were not “good,” and if you are not Indigenous, you have not suffered in the same way Canada’s Indigenous peoples have. Full stop. End of story. Except, for Beyak, it is not the end of the story. Beyak is, unbelievably, a member of Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee. Yes, you read that right: there is really a member of the Aboriginal Peoples committee who believes that residential schools, which were “more deadly to attend than to serve for Canada during WWII,” did some good, too.

If this isn’t shocking enough, Lynn says hundreds of people have agreed with her that “the positive side of residential schools went unacknowledged,” according to the Huffington Post. I would be willing to bet that the people saying that are not Indigenous—that they did not attend a residential school or have a family member who did. I would also be willing to bet, though, that those people did not receive adequate education about Indigenous history.

Despite learning about Canada’s history in elementary school, I only learned about residential schools in grade 10, when I was fifteen. I remember being shocked that I hadn’t learned about them earlier. Looking back, I could have educated myself on the topic, but I guess I just never realized how necessary it was. Now, I make a conscious effort to do more research about Indigenous history and issues. I believe it is important for all Canadians to know about the horrors of residential schools, and the issues that continue to face Indigenous populations.

I think mandatory high school and post-secondary courses about Indigenous history are a good start, although it may be better to start even earlier and make the subject mandatory in elementary school curriculums. I also think that as Canadians, we need to dedicate ourselves to listening to Indigenous people and standing up for issues that affect them. Lynn Beyak’s remarks about residential schools demonstrate that we still have a lot of work to do in understanding the true atrocities of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.

But these are things that Beyak should know. She is, after all, a member of the Aboriginal Peoples committee. If politicians don’t even understand the past issues Indigenous people have faced, how is the government going to make impactful legislation to help Indigenous people with the issues of today?


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London Terrorist Attack: Do Not Use Tragedy to Justify Hate

As a writer, someone who loves words, I am rarely speechless. There are always words at my fingertips, on the tip of my tongue, in the depths of my brain. But there are some moments, some days, that leave me unable to form my thoughts into words and my words into sentences. Today, reading about the attack in London, England, is one of those days. Because what do you say when tragedy strikes?

You say you are thinking of the victims, of their families. You try to focus on the tragedy at hand, the incomprehensible nature of it all. You try to be a little nicer to the people around you, because, now more than ever, the world needs love. But in the back of your mind, as you turn your speechlessness into constructive words, you know that this is bigger than one attack, that there are more victims than the four senselessly killed yesterday.

There is a kind of cycle that unfolds whenever there is a terrorist attack. There’s immediate fear, of course. This gives way to panic, which is not always immediate. This panic manifests in isolationist policies, in orders to ban people from certain countries of certain religions. And this serves as propaganda material for terrorist groups, who then perpetrate more attacks, which triggers the cycle all over again.

Caught in the middle of this cycle are the innocent Muslim people who are not terrorists, who are, themselves, victims of terror. It seems so painfully obvious to me to say that not all Muslim people are terrorists; Dylann Roof was a white supremacist who committed a mass murder at a black church, and no one calls all white people murderers. But this simple fact is one that many people—including, unfortunately, many people who are key decision makers in governments around the world—do not understand. This is not helped by media reports which are quick to judge any attack as an Islamic terror attack, and any attacker as Muslim.  

There is so much anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and Islamophobic sentiment in the world right now. Inevitably, some people will use yesterday’s tragic events as proof that this rhetoric is justified. Some may even take their beliefs a step further and commit hate crimes against Muslim people. This is not okay. Nothing can justify acts of hate.

The terrorist attack in London is a tragedy. As more information unfolds in the coming days and weeks, I implore you to spread the message that this tragedy cannot justify hatred. Do not use this horrific attack to condone Trump’s travel ban, or his Islamophobic and xenophobic statements and actions, or the decision to not admit refugees, or any acts of violence or hate crimes targeting minorities.

When a shocking attack happens, you may feel speechless, at a loss for words. But try to move past this. Find something productive to say; find an important message to spread. Let your words, and your actions, help the people who are suffering. I am heartbroken about yesterday’s terrorist attack, and grateful for the emergency responders who helped out on the scene. Those two things are part of the message I want to spread. As is this: that, as tragic as the London attack is, it cannot be used to justify hate.


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