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24 years ago, on March 16, 1995, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified by all 50 states. Mississippi, which had not ratified the amendment until that year, became the last state to officially adopt the constitutional provision… kind of. For an unknown reason, the state failed to notify the federal government of its action and the entire effort was forgotten. 17 years later, Lincoln, a historical drama film focusing on the last months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, was released in US theaters. In that time, Lincoln worked to convince the US House of Representatives to approve a newly proposed constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The film had such an influence on a couple of Mississippi residents that they researched the amendment, discovering that their state had not officially ratified it. In a fantastic series of events, the state finally ratified the amendment on February 7, 2013.

What is most astounding to me, however, is not the bureaucratic error made on the part of the state 24 years ago, but that Mississippi ratified such an amendment 148 years after its addition to the Constitution. It’s astounding because the amendment in question abolished slavery in the US – an archaic, inhumane, and racist practice whose mark can still be seen in the present day. While slavery does not exist in its strictest form today, ignorant and racist policymakers have turned a blind eye to institutional racism. Policies such as voter ID laws are the norm in conservative states, while less blatant evils permeate the justice system, residential areas and schools.

But even these inconspicuous forms of racism have become acceptable thanks to the willingness of a substantial share of Americans to give opinionated, vocal racists large platforms. We saw this in 2015 as a failed businessman and entertainer, who was only polling at 11% in the primary season immediately after he announced, eventually rose to become the Republican nominee and then president of the United States in 2016. Since his inauguration, the president has taken full advantage of his new platform to spread his ideas of racism and religious intolerance. Several domestic terrorists in the US since he became president openly admitted that they were inspired by or were acting in support of the president.

Here in the United States, the spread of these ideas has proved dangerous and even fatal in some cases. Even more, it has exacerbated political, racial, religious and social divisions as well as encouraged the American majority to demonize the “other”. This is terrifying in and of itself, but it seems that this phenomenon has inspired racists and strongmen internationally. Both Brazilian President Jair M. Bolsonaro and Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte have resembled the US president in their words and actions, brutally cracking down on drug trafficking and revoking protections for members of the LGBT community. 

As the world mourns with the residents of Christchurch, New Zealand, we should take a look at ourselves and ask on what trajectory we are heading. The election of cultural or ethnic nationalists, of racists and religious intolerant, or the propping of these individuals on large platforms such as positions of power or mainstream media, must stop. Their ideas must be challenged every second they are vocalized. These ideas must be swiftly rejected and mocked for their idiocy and ignorance. If not that, then they must at least be countered with messages of tolerance and unity, and these messages must be so loud that they drown out the opposing argument.

Political science major
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