You might think that it’s not such a big deal. That people are overreacting. One instance of graffiti – some have said it was written in pencil, maybe in Sharpie – in a bathroom. 

“Whites only.”

Remove the graffiti and move on, right?

Here’s the problem. Since Nov. 8 there have been numerous reports of hate crimes and racist graffiti nationwide. Ugly behavior once kept private is apparently making its way back in to the public spotlight, as if permission has been given.

For anyone who belongs to a group that traditionally has been marginalized – whether it’s Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos or gay, lesbian and transgender people – this new freedom to hate represents a real threat and they feel its weight.

So one instance of graffiti in a bathroom stall at Riverside Brookfield High School in an atmosphere charged by the election of a man cheered by this nation’s most vile racists isn’t just overreaction – it’s an example of hate revealing itself at home. It’s unnerving.

We think the high school’s response to the incident was good, but officials need to reinforce that message often and in no uncertain terms. We also think officials ought to get ahead of such incidents, which will surely make their way around the student body and to families and onto social media. They need to address and condemn such incidents and set the record straight, so parents know what’s going on without having to speculate about it on Facebook. 

Permission for hatred is given only if people look the other way and allow it to be given. The temptation to knuckle under to this apparent new reality can be strong. No one wants to be on the receiving end of someone’s bile and no one except a bully wants incidents to escalate into something violent, so they can point and say, “See, we told you about these people.”

The students who stood silently and held up signs of protest in the wake of the graffiti incident ought to be commended for their courage and for helping shine a light on what appears to be an isolated, so far, incident at the high school.

Maybe a reaction like this will help keep it isolated.