Karina Brown thought she was in for a fun night.
On March 18, Brown and her childhood friend went to see Bon Jovi at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus. They were celebrating her 45th birthday. Toward the end of the show, another concert-goer turned to her and said, "You don't belong in this country."
Brown, the daughter of a Japanese immigrant and U.S. military veteran, was shaken and disturbed by the woman's comment. She left immediately. But in the days that followed, she realized something even more alarming. Several of the people she told about the incident tried to justify it, or told her she was exaggerating its impact.
Then, after documenting the night on Facebook, she received many negative comments.
"There were these various ways of making what happened to me 'okay,'" Brown said.
Brown decided to report her story to Documenting Hate, an online database that aims to track and spread awareness of discrimination across the country.
As a mother and administrator at Columbus State Community College, Brown said she wants to be a role model and "do what's right."
"It’s important that, even though I am reluctant to tell my story and uncomfortable with the potential exposure, that I do it anyway," Brown said. "It may help someone else that’s had something happen to them."
Brown grew up in Newark, a city of about 50,000 people outside of Columbus. Her mother, who came to America from Japan in the late 1960s, worked odd jobs to support her two daughters after she became estranged from their father.
As an Asian family that practiced Buddhism, they saw frequent discrimination.
"It was in my early years in that town where I experienced racism and xenophobia," Brown said. "People saying my mom was a devil worshiper and making all kinds of derogatory Asian remarks."
From there, Brown went on to study public relations at Otterbein University in Westerville. After college, she stayed in Columbus, where she met her husband. They now live there with their two boys, ages 14 and 12.
Violent hate crimes and instances of discrimination often go unreported, according to a recent study from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Documenting Hate project, created by nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, is an effort to document hate crimes and discrimination and spread awareness about how often it happens. The Enquirer is participating in the project.
"The data we have available to us now is really poor," Documenting Hate Partner Manager Rachel Glickhouse said. “It’s full of holes. It’s just missing a lot of information."
Brown said she reported her story because she wants people to know that hate can happen in the "most unsuspecting of places."
"Here’s this woman standing next to me, "Brown said. "She looks like someone I would see at one of my kids’ PTA meetings, and the look she gave me, the contempt she had for me.
"It floored me, I just couldn’t believe it," Brown said.
Although Brown isn't a stranger to discrimination, she attributes the incident to a shift in culture sparked by Donald Trump. Since his election as president, people feel more emboldened to express racism, she said.
"I think she felt empowered to say something like that," Brown said. "I think she felt entitled to speak up against immigrants."
There is some evidence for correlation between the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and subsequent acts of discrimination.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which documents hate, noticed a jump in hate violence and incidents of harassment and intimidation immediately after the 2016 election. In the first 10 days after the election, the center counted 867 hate incidents, excluding ones it found to be hoaxes.
What Brown likes about the Documenting Hate project is that it's a chance to show people that discrimination won't be accommodated.
"We’re going to shine a light on it. We’re going to expose it," she said. "I'm hopeful we can have dialogue about it, and find common ground, find a way to have political discourse without calling people names or dehumanizing them because they’re immigrants."
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