By Michael Sainato

In Raleigh, North Carolina, City Council Candidate Zainab Baloch’s campaign signs were defaced last week by racists. Baloch, a first generation America whose parents are from Pakistan, was called a “sand n*gger” in the vandalism of one of her large campaign signs on October 5. The sign also had “Trump” and a Nazi symbol spray painted on it.

After posting the image on Twitter, Baloch was subjected to more racist comments from Trump supporters. “Just proves you need to go back to where headscarves are prevalent,” one user wrote.

“We woke up to that image,” Baloch said in an interview. “It’s very disheartening and then again, not exactly surprising. At first, it was just disheartening. You’re angry and obviously, regardless of whether we expect it or not, it was still hurtful.”

Baloch, 26, currently works for the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, and is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Administration at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is one of 20 people running for seven seats on Raleigh’s city council on October 10.

Baloch said that her campaign has experienced plenty of similar racist comments on social media, but the vandalized billboard is the first time she’s experienced it in person during the campaign.

“I’m born and raised in Raleigh and I’ve never experienced something to that extent,” she said. “This is the reason I decided to run in the first place, because I saw the hateful rhetoric that was going around in our country. I knew that if we had people in government that were different, that represented people from all backgrounds, races, religions, that way we would have a better understanding of each other and the people we serve. We’d be able to do better as leaders and serve them, and not make policies against them.”

The racist vandalism is symptomatic of an anti-Muslim racism that has been emboldened first by the campaign and the the presidency of Donald Trump, whose name appears on the billboard beside the scrawled swastika and slur.

Baloch has campaigned on pushing back against this divisive, racist rhetoric rather than choosing to ignore it.

“We have to engage people in conversation,” she said. “There’s no, ‘Hey, we’re above this.’ Everyone stays away from people who think like this because they’re like, ‘Oh, well they’re crazy anyways.’ Well, we have a president right now that is saying all this hateful stuff because a good portion of our country thought that way. Until we start engaging people in this conversation and having this discussion and really trying to make our voices heard with them, we’re not going change how people think.”

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