The moment we recognize hate speech as “politics” is the moment we take a large step backward as a civil society. Social unrest and violence are sure to follow.

Some observers are calling President Trump’s recent call for four congresswomen of color to “go back” to the so called “crime-infested” countries they came from takes us one step closer to accepting this hate speech as politics as usual.

We can’t let that happen.

The rate of normalizing hate has been on the rise since Trump took office. When he ramped up the “go back” rhetoric and began criticizing Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Somali congresswoman, his followers chanted “Send her back” in a particularly racist and hateful attack. Trump stood back and listened. For 13 seconds.

The next day Trump said he “was not happy about it” and “didn’t like it.” He later seemed to defend it taking aim once again at the congresswomen of color.

An in-depth report on the subject in Sunday’s Free Press showed how the president’s rhetoric can have a local impact on people of color everywhere. Many of the people of color who were interviewed for The Free Press story say they often heard the phrase “go back to where you came from” when they were children.

But it’s telling that they are now hearing it again. In one recent case, a woman told of a man pulling up across from her driving down the Highway 169, giving an obscene finger gesture and telling them to go back to where they came from. The motorist persisted with this harassing behavior for several miles.

Somali Mankato school board member Abdi Sabrie told The Free Press the lack of condemnation for the president’s words from other Republicans was alarming and taking us in a “dangerous direction.”

He’s right. The more hate speech is accepted and enabled, the more hate there will be.

Habiba Rashid, who works for a refugee resettlement program, likened the current environment to what she witnessed as a refugee in South Africa. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate speech lead to rioting and social unrest.

It’s troubling that reasonable people believe we’re getting that close to that kind of social upheaval.

The only way to combat hate speech and rhetoric comes from speaking out about it and challenging it. We all have a role to play.

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