The Unleashing

frog-postcard-back

A friend of mine received this recently in her office mailbox. On the front was an image of a frog – matching the anti-Semitic allusion to “Pepe the Frog” in the text of the card. It had been sent from London. Curious, she googled herself and found that she’d been listed on a few white supremacist websites in South Africa and Germany, and indexed, as these sites put it, among other prominent Jewish scholars engaged in a critique of whiteness.

She emailed me last night after forwarding the card, and I called her right away. We have been friends for twenty years. I held her first child in my arms when she first brought him home. She taught my daughter to play Clue. I know what she eats and what she doesn’t eat. “I can only talk for a second,” she said. She was about to pick up her son and she didn’t want him to be worried. In the end, we talked for a while, in the way that old friends do when they catch each other in motion – hurriedly and desperately, pressed for time, talking over each other to cram everything in.

Hate is delivered to many of my friends on a regular basis. Some people get terrified and need comfort. Some just ignore it. And some write or speak back or publish it. Often, how you respond is about the nature of the receipt. An email is less worrisome than a letter sent to your home, for obvious reasons. A phone call to the office is a lot less troubling than someone dropping into your office hours or showing up at your lectures. Hate can seem unnatural when it is delivered to our intimate spaces.

I have seen a lot of hate mail. In the past, the anger flowed from a sense of loss. A sense that things “used to be” or “ought to be” otherwise.

My friend was nonplussed, but this feels different. The tone of the postcard is so triumphant. The precise string of connections so worrisome. “Brexit … Trump … the Final Solution.” The London postmark. The white supremacist websites in South Africa and Germany. The implicit connections to other manifestations of racial victory since November 8: the enthusiastically spray-painted swastikas; the resentful invectives about Trump’s victory delivered to baristas and store clerks of color; the dramatically ripped-off hijabs.

Many have said this over the past few months, but it bears repeating: there has been an unleashing. A new sense that things are already different. And, in that unleashing, there is a deeply perverse excitement for the certain violence to come.