“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate,
they can be taught to love.”
~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Last week I wrote about the hatred that exists, and has existed, in this country for centuries – a hatred that has divided our country, devastated cities, left hundreds dead and injured and others fearful for their safety. A hatred that nearly toppled our democracy just over two weeks ago. If you are someone who, like me, felt truly sickened with grief at the images of rioters at the U.S. Capitol, it’s time to develop a plan to organize against white supremacy and hatred in 2021.
The FBI reported 7,314 single-bias hate crime incidents involving 8,559 offenses and 211 multiple-bias hate crime incidents involving 260 victims during 2019. Of these, 58% were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, 20% were motivated by religion, 20% were motivated by gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, and 2% were motivated by disability.
None of us can eradicate hate single-handedly. Good people need to stand up to promote tolerance and inclusion. When a hate crime occurs or a hate group rallies, good people often feel powerless, wondering “What can I, as one person, do to help?” Here are some suggestions:
Hate must be exposed and denounced.
Take seriously the smallest hint of hate – even what might seem to be simple name-calling. The Department of Justice has warned that slurs often escalate to harassment, harassment to threats and threats to physical violence. In the face of hatred, saying nothing will be interpreted as apathy by perpetrators and worse, the victims. In the face of hate, silence is deadly. Goodness has a First Amendment right, too.
- Spread tolerance through social media and websites, church, synagogue and mosque bulletins, door-to-door fliers, letters to the editor, and print advertisements.
- Speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity.
- Denounce hate groups and hate crimes and speak the truth about hate’s threat to a pluralistic society. An informed and unified community is the best defense against hate.
- Challenge injustice wherever you see or hear it.
- Speak up at your religious institution.
- Do not debate hate group members in conflict-driven forums. Your presence lends them legitimacy and publicity.
In one of my first newsletters, I provided tools that we can use to safely intervene against harassment.
The five methods introduced by Hollaback, a grassroots initiative to raise awareness about and combat street harassment, are:
To read more about each of these interventions, click here.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hundreds of active hate groups in the U.S. Some are small — a handful of people — but armed with a computer, email, and a website their reach can be immense, their message capable of entering a child’s bedroom.
Though their views may be couched in code words, members of hate groups typically:
- Want to limit the rights of certain groups they view as inferior.
- Want to divide society along racial, ethnic, or religious lines.
- Demonize the groups they hate with false propaganda and often outlandish conspiracy theories.
- Try to silence any opposition.
What can we do?
- Research the symbols and agendas of hate groups, extremist groups and militia groups. Through their literature and websites, hate groups spread propaganda that vilifies and demonizes African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, LGBT people and other groups. They sow fears of losing control of “their country.” It is important to have accurate information about those who are spouting hate.
- Recognize the impact. Hate crimes and bias incidents don’t just victimize individuals; they torment communities.
Hate usually doesn’t strike communities from some distant place. It often begins at home, brewing silently under the surface. It can grow in communities where residents feel powerless or voiceless, communities where differences cause fear instead of celebration.
The best cure for hate is a united community. As Chris Boucher of Yukon, Pennsylvania, put it after residents there opposed a local meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, “A united coalition is like Teflon. Hate can’t stick there.”
On the other hand, the seeds of hate take root and thrive in communities that are receptive to it.
- Promote acceptance and address bias before another hate crime can occur.
- Expand your comfort zone by reaching out to people outside your own groups. For suggestions on how to start, see my newsletter dated 8/30/2020.
- Join networks. From regional “human rights coalitions” to local “peace and justice” groups, member organizations can connect like-minded people around issues of tolerance and social justice. These networks make a powerful force for responding to bias incidents and lobbying for change. The Many and One Coalition, for example, formed after a white supremacist group held a rally in Lewistown, Maine, in 2003. The Coalition evolved into a large-scale diversity organization, educating and organizing residents, businesses, and community-based organizations to address personal and systemic oppression like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
- Create comfort zones. Bring together people from different backgrounds and belief systems, and provide them with a safe space to share thoughts and get to know each other. It’s a formula that can be replicated anywhere. A Connecticut-based group, Everyday Democracy, created dialogue groups where residents discussed issues of inclusion.
- Sponsor multi-cultural events. Multicultural festivals and other events to celebrate differences are important steps in helping community members feel acknowledged and appreciated.
- Hold candlelight vigils, interfaith services, and other activities to bring together people of different races, religions, and ethnic groups. In Boise, Idaho, for example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday has become an 11-day human rights celebration.
- Honor history and mark anniversaries. In Selma, Alabama, a multicultural fair is held on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when voting rights activists, trying to cross a bridge in their march to Montgomery, were beaten back by police. In 2019, a historical marker was unveiled in Florida to honor those killed in the 1920 Ocoee massacre. Become an advocate for such markers.
- Visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In April, 2018, the nation’s first memorial dedicated to America’s history of racial equality opened in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial is dedicated to the legacy of people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. If you can’t visit, consider donating.
- Break bread together (virtually until the pandemic is behind us). Some communities have dinner clubs that bring together people of different ethnicities and income levels for a meal. These groups typically have no agenda, no speakers, and only one rule at their dinners: Sit next to someone you don’t know.
- Move from prayer to action. In California’s San Fernando Valley, an interfaith council formed “home dialogues” with people from different faiths and cultures meeting together in their homes. In Covington, Kentucky, churchwomen conducted a letter-writing campaign to support hate crime legislation; they later promoted teacher training in race relations.
- Begin a community conversation on race. Discussion groups, book clubs, chat rooms, and library gatherings can bring people together. Effective community conversations allow individuals to tell their stories, their immigration history, their daily encounters with discrimination, their fear about revealing sexual orientation, and so on.
- Consider building something the community needs, and use it as an organizing tool — from a senior center to a new playground. Make sure residents from different backgrounds are included in the process.
- Create a Facebook page or an online community discussion board celebrating diversity and inclusion.
PERFORM ACTS OF GOODNESS
Identify victims of hatred in your neighborhood and community. Performing acts of kindness during a pandemic is difficult, but not impossible.
- Identify who is in need. The homeless. Women. Children. Healthcare workers. Minority populations.
- Think about what others need right now. Companionship. Food. Clothing. Conversation. And provide it.
- Gather items in your home that could have a new life in someone else’s home. What can you part with? It’s winter now. Can you part with a sweater? Jeans? Some blankets?
- Reach out to your local homeless shelter. Call and ask what they need and when they can take it.
- Deliver. Drop off those sweaters and jeans to a women’s shelter. Bring toilet paper and hygiene products to the church, synagogue, mosque or shelter that helps immigrants. Make a Zoom visit to the nursing home in your community. Call your local fire or police department and ask when you might send over a food delivery, free of charge.
- Repair acts of hate-fueled vandalism.
Victims of hate crimes often feel terribly alone and afraid. Silence amplifies their isolation. Victims need to know that they are valued. Small acts of kindness — a phone call, a letter, a meal — can help.
Often, hate attacks include vicious symbols: a burning cross, a noose, a swastika. Such symbols evoke a history of hatred. They also reverberate beyond individual victims, leaving entire communities vulnerable and afraid. Support victims in removing symbols of hatred.
And because victims may fear “the system,” some may welcome the presence of others at the police station or courthouse. Local human rights organizations often provide such support, but individuals also can step forward.
Activism is complicated, but there is power in numbers. Asking for help and organizing a group reduces personal fear and vulnerability, spreads the workload, and increases impact. Working with others lets us share the challenges and find solace in shared ideals. A hate crime can often create an opportunity for a community to come together. Here are some ideas:
- Form a group. This can be easy. Invite one person who shares your values for coffee. Then invite others to join you. Inviting like-minded others lets you work with people you can count on.
- Call on groups that are likely to respond to a hate event, including faith groups, labor unions, teachers, women’s groups, university faculties, fair housing councils, the YMCA, and youth groups. Involve businesses, schools, human rights groups, houses of worship, politicians, children and members of targeted groups.
- Call on local law enforcement officials. Work to create a healthy relationship with local police. Ask them to speak with neighborhood groups about how to report incidents and make everyone feel safe.
- Reach out to your community and tell them you have their backs. Work with neighborhood groups or use community watch listservs to open a discussion about who is vulnerable and what you can do together. Tell your fellow community members you’ll be there for them if they feel threatened. Set up a real-world response team as well as one that operates on social media.
- Host a showing of a Not In Our Town film. NIOT films help people open the conversation about how people can work together to stop hate. After the screening, ask people to talk about who is vulnerable to hate and intolerance in your community and agree to make an action plan together to address it.
CREATE AN ALTERNATIVE
Hate has a First Amendment right. Courts have routinely upheld the constitutional right of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to hold rallies and speak their message. Communities can restrict group movements to avoid conflicts with other citizens, but hate rallies will continue. Focus on channeling people away from hate rallies.
- Do not attend a hate rally. As much as you might like to physically show your opposition to hate, confrontations serve only the perpetrators. They also burden law enforcement with protecting law-abiding citizens from hatemongers.
- Hold a unity rally. Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity. If an event featuring a hate group, avowed separatist or extremist group is coming to your community, hold a unity rally some distance away, emphasizing strength in community and diversity. Invite like-minded organization to join your efforts. Examples are forums, parades, and unity fairs featuring speakers, food, music, exhibits, and entertainment. These events give people a safe outlet for the frustration and anger they want to vent.
- Create a United Against Hate Week. In an effort to visibly reject hate messages, the city of Berkeley created posters that clearly declared residents United Against Hate. The call for a week of action emerged from city and community leaders that were a part of the original poster campaign. During United Against Hate Week, cities convene and host events, including rallies, film screenings, art projects, speakers, community dialogues, and storytelling workshops. These activities provide a dynamic way to increase engagement, and support residents who are standing up to hate in their communities. You can explore ideas for action and download resources on the official United Against Hate Week website.
- Give employees the afternoon off to attend a unity rally.
The fight against hate needs community leaders willing to take an active role. The support of mayors, police chiefs, college presidents, school principals, local clergy, business leaders, and others can help your community address the root causes of hate and help turn bias incidents into experiences from which your community can learn and heal.
When leaders step forward and act swiftly in the wake of a hate incident, victims feel supported, community members feel safe, and space for action and dialogue can grow.
Too often, the fear of negative publicity, a lack of partnerships with affected communities, and a failure to fully understand hate and bias prevents leaders from stepping up. Their silence creates a vacuum in which rumors spread, victims feel ignored, and perpetrators find tacit acceptance.
- Form relationships with community leaders before a hate incident occurs. If your community group already has a relationship with the mayor, for example, you will be better positioned to ask for a public statement in the event of a hate crime.
- Educate community leaders about the causes and effects of hate. Sometimes, well-intentioned leaders don’t understand the far-reaching effects that bias-motivated actions can have across a community. Educate leaders about the impact of hate and the root causes of intolerance so their response can match the incident.
- Inspire leaders to confront hatred in the community. The Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project offers tools and resources to communities interested in partnering to foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice.
- Demand a quick, serious police response. The vigorous investigation and prosecution of hate crimes attract media attention to issues of tolerance and encourage the public to stand up against hate.
- Demand a strong public statement by political leaders. When elected officials issue proclamations against hate, it helps promote tolerance and can unify communities. Silence, on the other hand, can be interpreted as the acceptance of hate.
- Encourage leaders to name the problem. Local leaders sometimes try to minimize incidents fueled by hate or bias by not calling them hate crimes. As a result, victims and their communities can feel silenced.
- Push leaders when they show bias or fail to act. Healing in the wake of a bias crime or incident — and building a more connected community — requires more than official statements. It also takes hard work. Ask your community leaders to walk the talk. Ask for their public support and involvement in rallies, community meetings, and long-term solutions that address the root causes of intolerance.
HELP NEWS MEDIA
You can help news organizations achieve balance and depth by doing the following:
- Name a person from your group to be the main contact for the media. This keeps the message consistent and allows the press to quickly seek comment or reaction to events. Invite the press to public events you hold.
- Propose and/or write human-interest stories, such as the impact of hate on individuals.
- Educate reporters, editors, and publishers about hate groups, their symbols, and their impact on victims and communities. Put them in touch with hate experts like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
- Urge editorial writers and columnists to take a stand against hate.
- Criticize the press when it falls short. Remind editors that it is not fair to focus on 20 Klansmen when 300 people attend a peace rally.
- Take hate crimes and bias incidents seriously and report on them prominently. Monitor the impact of hate on victims and other members of targeted groups. Become an activist against hate, just as you are against crime.
- Focus on the “good news” as ordinary people discover unique ways to promote tolerance.
Bias is learned in childhood, often at home. By age 3, children can be aware of racial differences and may have the perception that “white” is desirable. By age 12, they can hold stereotypes about ethnic, racial, and religious groups, or LGBT people. Because stereotypes underlie hate, and because almost half of all hate crimes are committed by young men under 20, tolerance education is critical.
Schools are an ideal environment to counter bias, because they mix children of different backgrounds, place them on equal footing, and allow one-on-one interaction. Children also are naturally curious about people who are different. Schools can offer lessons of tolerance and acceptance.
In the Classroom
- Host a diversity and inclusion day. Reach out to young people who may be susceptible to hate group propaganda and prejudice.
- Access resources. The Southern Poverty Law Center offers free resources to K-12 classroom teachers across the country. Teachers can download lesson plans to address a range of biases and order free, award-winning documentary films on themes promoting civil and human rights. Its Teaching Tolerance program also sponsors a unique program to help students move out of their comfort zone and cross social boundaries in their schools.
- Create an annual “Mix It Up at Lunch” Day, where students eat lunch while sitting next to someone they don’t know. Prompts from teachers or other students help guide the conversation. This national Mix It Up program has helped millions of students across the country examine their own biases and overcome their fears of differences. Go to tolerance.org to find these free resources and more.
Beyond the Classroom
- Examine your children’s textbooks and the curricula at their schools. Determine whether they are equitable and multicultural.
- Expose your child to multicultural experiences by intentionally expanding your circle of friends and experiences and taking them to visit museums, monuments and other sites to teach them about other cultures.
- Encourage your children to become activists. They can form harmony clubs, build multicultural peace gardens, sponsor “walk in my shoes” activities, and create ways to interact with children of other cultures.
- Examine the media your children consume. This includes everything from internet sites to the commercials during their favorite TV shows. Stereotypes and examples of intolerance are bound to be present. Discuss these issues openly, as you would the dangers of cigarette smoking.
- Model inclusive language and behavior. Children learn from the language you use and the attitudes you model. If you demonstrate a deep respect for other cultures, races, and walks of life, they most likely will, too.
- Mentor a child. Offer to tutor a child or children other than your own. Offer to help students who may have fewer available resources. Provide books or other materials. Work with the school and teachers to find out what help a student may need and what lessons the child struggles with.
Look inside yourself for biases and stereotypes. Human rights experts recommend starting with the language we use and the assumptions we make about others. Here are questions to ask ourselves:
- Am I quick to label people as “rednecks” or “illegals”?
- Do I look with disdain at families on welfare, or do I try to understand the socioeconomic forces that prevent many families from climbing out of poverty?
- How wide is my circle of friends? How diverse are the people who visit my home?
- How integrated is my neighborhood? My child’s school? My workplace?
- Do I have the courage to ask a friend not to tell a sexist or racist or homophobic joke in my presence?
- Do I receive information about other cultures from members of those cultures, or from potentially biased, third-party sources?
- Do I take the time to listen and learn from other people’s experiences — especially people with whom I might initially disagree?
- How often am I in the minority?
Commit to disrupting hate and intolerance at home, at school, in the workplace, and in faith communities. Acceptance, fundamentally, is a personal decision. It comes from a belief that every voice matters, that all people are valuable, that no one is “less than.”
We all grow up with prejudices. Acknowledging them — and working through them — can be a scary and difficult process. It’s also one of the most important steps toward breaking down the walls of silence that allow intolerance to grow. Luckily, we all possess the power to overcome ignorance and fear, and to influence our children, peers, and communities.
Many good books, films, and workshops can help guide you in self-examination. Reading the histories of other cultures and of different social justice movements — the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, the fight for LGBT rights, for example — is a good start. Here is a list to get you started.
Additional ideas for examining ourselves can be found on my website at sarahbirnbach.com.
FIGHT FOR SYSTEMIC CHANGE
Sooner or later, your personal exploration will bump up against issues that take more than one person to solve. Hatred and systemic discrimination continue to plague our country. These issues cry out for answers and people to take them on.
In any city and state there are dozens of problems to address: hunger, affordable housing, domestic violence, school dropout rates, police brutality — the list goes on and on. A caring group of people, having coalesced to deal with hate, working together could tackle any number of societal problems.
Luckily, many towns and cities have neighborhood or citywide organizations that bring together people of different backgrounds to work for change. If yours does not, there are plenty of resources available to help you start one.
SEE EACH OTHER
Look for what we have in common, rather than what divides us. All of us yearn for opportunity, security, dignity, health, safety, respect, and the basics of living – a roof over our heads, food on our tables, a quality education for our youngsters, peacefulness.
When we can see each other, not as different, but as people with shared goals and desires, we can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another.
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President Biden’s inaugural address prompted me to wonder, “When my days are through, will my children and my children’s children say of me that I helped to heal our land and erase hatred? That I taught them to open their souls in a spirit of love, embracing differences, rather than hardening their hearts in hatred? Will they think I did my best to make their world a better place?”
This is not the hour to be passive. Become part of a fight against hate. Add “make a commitment to human rights” to your list of goals for this new year. Maybe this moment in history will be the catalyst that brings lasting change. And, as Amanda Gorman urged in her inaugural poem, let us be brave enough to be it.
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A primary source for this newsletter is “Ten Ways to Fight Hate – A Community Resource Guide,” published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.