COMBATTING BIGOTRY, RACISM, ANTI—SEMITISM, XENOPHOBIA AND HATE GROUPS

 

What difference does it make if we tolerate, become accustomed to, rhetoric and acts that are hateful toward others, based on race, religion, ethnicity, color or sexual orientation? Even if we are afraid, is there a way to justify expressions of hatred? If we turn our backs on our neighbors, we lose our individual compassion, decency and heart and essential American values.

 

There appears to be growing acceptance of support for white nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic perspectives in our country. Tolerance for expressing hatred, especially online, has grown exponentially. The internet has been a very effective tool for fomenting hatred as it enables people to anonymously voice hatred, connect with other hate groups, actively bully others, all under the cover of anonymity. The internet is fertile ground for waging “secret’ propaganda campaigns by disseminating misinformation and conspiracy theories to susceptible people. The tactics and operations are very similar to those used by radical ISIS groups to radicalize those susceptible to brainwashing techniques.

Many say that they appreciate the freedom to say what they think without “political correctness” and do not see themselves as bigots, racists, anti-Semitic or haters of any group. They often state that the expression of hatred is only in fringe groups and is not widespread. Many others do not agree that denouncing hate speech, anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism is “political correctness.” The idea of moving toward the goal of inclusiveness, tolerance of differences and respect for the sensitivity of others is the right direction.

Clearly the US is very divided, highly polarized about these issues at this time. A definition of political correctness is “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” This is baffling topic to discuss as it seems to be about where one falls on a continuum from moderate to extreme and also about the use of “dog whistles” in politics.

For many, it is a slippery slope to say anything or take any action that would exclude, marginalize or insult others so the practice is to be respectful at all times. This also avoids the “dog whistle” phenomenon, described as “a subtly aimed political message which is intended for, and can only be understood by, a particular group.” Using a “dog whistle” approach enables politicians to say something that can sounds innocuous but, in fact, represents an unacceptable or unlawful position such as overt discrimination or suppression of voting.

Allegations of voter fraud are a good example. Many conservatives say in public that they are trying to root out voter fraud, but there is no corroborating evidence that voter fraud exists. The “dog whistle” aspect is that the underlying motive is to create laws that keep people from voting, especially people of color.

Another example of the moderation vs extremism continuum is often found in telling jokes. For some, it might be OK to make a joke, based on the stereotype and actual experience, of Mexicans and landscaping. However, it would not be OK to advocate actual discrimination in housing for Mexicans. For others, any joke about Mexicans and landscaping is unacceptable as it perpetrates a stereotype, is insensitive and lays the groundwork for actual discrimination. A complicating factor is that many, in the Mexican group, acknowledge that they do a lot of landscaping, are proud of it, and don’t mind the jokes.

 

MONITORING HATE AND STRIVING FOR TOLERANCE

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a leading voice in teaching tolerance, which is helpful in sorting out the complexity of “political correctness” and “ dog whistles.” The SPLC is also a leading voice in tracking and exposing the extent of the expression of hatred, white nationalism and anti-Semitism. To fully understand the extent of what is going on in our country, the site provides a “hatemap” showing the location and type of hate groups in the US. It provides commentary, “hatewatch” to inform about hate group activities and also focuses on teaching tolerance and seeking justice.

It is chilling to read this information about our country but it is also time that we squarely face the facts about our country. There are, according to their information as of this writing, 892 active hate groups in the US and they are not on the fringe anymore. Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart and now strategic advisor to Trump, has provided a website that is supportive of, and enabled, alt-right, white nationalists and other hate groups to establish a firm hold in American culture.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a target of hate groups as it is a major source of information about the operations of hate groups. Conservative Christian leaders and organizations are skeptical of the information from the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2014 they described the SPLC as being linked to domestic terrorism and were successful in getting the SPLC link removed from the FBI site as a place to report hate crimes. The timing of this action is likely related to conservative Christians’ strong opposition to the growing national acceptance of LGBT rights. Some Christians believe that their own religious and civil liberties are endangered by the existence of rights for the LGBT community. Other organizations that are active in identifying hate and taking action are the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Black Lives Matter. Many religious-based organizations, ecumenical groups and other speak out against hatred as well. A PBS article explaining the complexity of hate in our country also featured an independent documentary, Welcome to Leith, about a hate group taking over a North Dakota town. A comprehensive list of organizations that are dedicated to civil rights is the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

As with all of the issues before us as a nation, we are very polarized and divided. The way forward is not to accuse each other of hateful speech, acts or thoughts. We cannot know what is in each others’ hearts. We can, though, listen to one another and watch what happens. What policies will this administration put in place? Ones that enable or “wink” at hatefulness or ones that forcefully and actively promote policies that condemn all manifestations of hate.

A Spring 2017 report on hate and bullying from the SPLC identifies a “Trump effect” that articulates the role that Trump’s behavior and words, or silence, on the rising expressions of hate in America. Some people report that Trump is an inspiration and that justifies beating immigrants, those that should be deported. In the area of anti-Semitic behavior, there have been over 60 instances of bomb threats at Jewish day care centers and the desecration of graves in a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Black Lives Matter provides an almost endless stream of instances where black individuals have been the target of hate speech/crimes, discriminated against and mistreated.

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Common Ground
We don’t need to search any further for common ground in our country. We have it.
We all want the same things – a safe, prosperous, free, democratic nation with opportunity for all. At the same time, we will all be harmed if our democracy, our free press, our Constitution and our core American values are threatened. We will all certainly be harmed if reckless behavior triggers any number of potential armed conflicts.

None of us know how this will all play out so let's make a deal. Let’s get up to speed on the issues, establish some facts, take action and watch what happens together . . .