Racist Mailers Hurt More Than Just the Black Politicians They Portray

I have an 8 year-old African American son. One of his daily chores is to check the mailbox after coming home from school. We gave him this chore a few years ago, and watching him fumble and drop the letters at the age of 6 always left me laughing and left him frustrated. Over the past two years, his letter carrying skills and confidence have grown, and he enjoys this chore quite a bit. His favorite thing to do is going through the letters and sorting them by name. He is skilled at creating piles for me, his father, and “junk.” His favorite pile is the junk pile, which is often home to fake credit cards, coupons, and filers. 

Last week, while sorting the mail, the junk pile had an alarming amount of political ads, promoting the candidates from both parties. Thankfully, he was more interested in relaxing after a long school day than combing through the junk mail. If he had, he would have found harmful, racist images of Delegate Alex Askew hanging from ropes, sent by his opponent Karen Greenhalgh. Alex Askew looks like my son, his father, and all of the other black men in his life that he loves and aspires to be like. I wonder if Karen thought about how this image could have harmed him and other people in our community before sending it to each of their homes? Did she even care?

How can one not cringe when taking in this dangerous imagery representative of our nation’s past and recent history? How can someone who doesn’t value my existence expect me to give them my vote?

During the Jim Crow era, lynchings and killings of African American people often made headlines in the newspapers, affirming beliefs of some community members, while igniting fear in others. In a nod to eras past, Karen and other members of The Virginia Republican Party used a similar tactic to spread hate across the state of Virginia, delivering it directly to people’s homes via their mailboxes. Karen and her friends took the strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees of the south, and shoved it directly into the homes of our community members. Ironically, the tactics of Jim Crow were used to discourage people like me from voting. Now that same racism is being conjured to encourage me to vote for candidates who would then turn around and bring those same images to life.

In a Commonwealth where racial profiling and mistreatment from police officers exists, disgusting depictions of black men burning in fires and hanging from ropes is just plain menacing. 

These deep seated racists beliefs hidden in despicable political mailers, fuel the aggression of white men who chase down a black man in their pickup trucks wielding shotguns, who committ murder in broad daylight, in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  

These images justify the racist hatred of folks who will follow a teenage boy holding skittles, who is walking home from a convenience store, murdering him in his own neighborhood, before he can reach the safe confines of his home.  

These dehumanizing, appalling mailers serve as warnings to people of color who aspire to serve their communities through political means, and cause young children like my black son to question their worth and recalculate their dreams due to the terrorizing threat these images suggest.

While Karen and the Republican Party who approved these mailers may view their dehumanization tactics as light-hearted and no big deal, according to one study from Less Than Human, dehumanization “is a response to conflicting motives” that exist when “we want to harm a group of people, but it goes against our wiring as members of a social species to actually harm, kill, torture, or degrade other humans. Dehumanization is a way of subverting those inhibitions.”

The study goes on to say, “Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image. As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.”

Lastly, this research has found that “Dehumanization has fueled innumerable acts of violence, human rights violations, war crimes, and genocides.”

What is the end goal, with images such as these? Violence? Genocide? An outright war?

Putting violent images into the mailboxes of Virginia community members without even thinking of the harm they would cause, is a horrifying and reckless display that shows complete absence of the heart and care needed to serve ALL community members. 

When processing the hate masked in these fliers, which members of your community is Karen committing to serve? The ones holding the ropes and starting the fires? 

And which community members has she proven the inability to listen, communicate, and practice empathy with? The ones hanging from ropes and burning in fires? The ones that look like my son?

People like Karen Greenhalgh, and mailers like the ones she sends to our families, have no place in Virginia politics. Vote for progressives and put candidates in office that reflect the communities they serve. Read more about who’s running here