In the wake of President Donald Trump calling Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa “shithole countries” when discussing immigration policy, people from these countries have been extolled by figures in the media as having an unparalleled resiliency, especially compared to a president who has never had to make a serious effort at achieving anything.

These comments are warranted considering how the Haitian people have not only faced endless tribulations, but have been held as poverty porn and perpetuated as an immutably destitute nation by all sides of the media. Anderson Cooper became visibly emotional when describing the island nation on CNN, exalting their vibrant culture and incontrovertible sense of strength and pride.

Members of several of these nations, including Haiti, responded by denouncing Trump’s comments as “abhorrent and obnoxious remarks.” The Senegalese president tweeted “Africa and the black race deserve the respect and consideration of all,” an innocuous request yet likely impossible for the repugnantly disrespectful Trump.

However, the disheartening aspect of this (aside from the reaffirmation that a blatantly racist man holds our highest office) is that we have come to a moment where we must exalt the values of citizens of different countries in response to racism within our nation’s highest office.

This is something that Americans of all stripes have had to confront daily, whether it be the xenophobic comments from our commander-in-chief or the Justice Department’s intent to deport hundreds of thousands of children who’ve lived in the United States under DACA. It would be comforting to imagine that on campus, we don’t have to support someone’s right to live, and to breathe and exist peacefully without someone threatening this ostensibly inalienable right.

This also has impacted campus as the University of Michigan indicates a willingness to provide a platform for white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak, suggesting that our supposedly safe campus is instead becoming a symposium for this same kind of existential deliberation. The University’s decision to offer dates for Spencer to visit campus undermines their once pro-student stance that serves minorities and marginalized groups. To avoid the risk of a lawsuit, they instead have chosen to let students ruminate over whether or not the larger Michigan community respects their rights with a haphazardly contrite message from University President Mark Schlissel.

This seems discordant with a University that has disputed the policies of the Trump administration by promoting the safety of undocumented students. Why would Schlissel seem invested in the protection of marginalized students on one issue, yet apparently unconcerned by another?

Classrooms have swelled up with questions of safety. Last semester, in several of my discussions, Jewish students and students of color collectively discussed not just whether or not Spencer should march onto campus but also how they don’t deserve the emotional and likely physical stress that will accompany an appearance by the bigoted nationalist.

Questions of whether Spencer’s appearance would turn into another Charlottesville became central to the discussion. This conjured harrowing images of tiki torches and anti-Semitic or racial slurs polluting the air of Ann Arbor; in this dystopian scene, the Diag suddenly morphs into a platform for Nazis and white supremacists to intimidate and aggress students of color and the Jewish community.

The most prominent aspect of the argument became less of a point of debate and more of a plea: to recognize the fear these groups shared if swaths of racist, torch-holding white supremacists arose when Spencer visits campus.

Why are students having to justify their existence to the University? This is the point we’ve reached on this campus, with students postulating the damage and violence they may face should Spencer arrive. Furthermore, racist demonstrations and acts have shown to have increasingly negative effects on mental health, with communities of color reporting higher rates of depression and suicide because of these aggressions. Must we even bring these statistics into the conversation to justify why students are concerned?

This unsettling argument feels akin to people defending the lives of Haitians when Trump conflates the identity of their country with a latrine.

These watershed moments feel indicative of the values we will continue to hold, like a fork in the road. Racism so apparent confronts us, and to fight back we must rationalize why people aren’t “shitholes” and why all humans, whether on our campus or having emigrated to our country, deserve equal chances.

Individuals of all races should not be forced to justify their right to live by defending their character. Yet in this country, much like at this University, we have been forced to wrestle with our officials and administration just to justify a right of existence. And that is a depressing sign of where we have gone and are continuing to go.  

Joel Danilewitz can be reached at joeldan@umich.edu.

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