Monday, August 28, 2017
by Jeremiah Ho
The timing of the Charlottesville incident earlier this month is a curious one for those of us returning to teaching also in the same month. Hate rhetoric against identity politics seems to have persisted during our collective summer break. The intense summer drama within U.S. politics allowed for heated rhetoric for all sorts of topics from global warming to health care—sustaining an extremely fractious tone across our current political theater. Charlottesville and its aftermath are the latest examples bearing that tone, voiced in part by those focused on hate and superiority toward others and their differences. Nationwide, I have heard the trepidation of colleagues—at various law schools and other college disciplines. The possibility that demonstrations by hate groups (whether stoked from within the student populations at their schools or from outside) will disrupt teaching and learning makes many of us cautious about coming back to school this fall. If there has been a perception that the 2016 elections gave permission for people to be uncivil, why wouldn’t that perception extend to the classroom?
My colleague, Professor Drew, recently posted her answer and solution to that rhetorical question in the law school context. I add to her discussion more generally. A few days ago, I came across the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guidebook on responding to hate groups, Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide. It was released shortly after Charlottesville and many of you might have already seen it. For those who have not, I share the link to that guidebook here.
Although the guidebook is brief, I think it effectively outlines constructive activities to counter hate groups and events that propagate bias and hate. My observation is so because the ten things that the book suggests all target the underlying ways that hate arises in addition to confronting hatred itself. They include:
- Taking action in the face of hatred.
- Joining forces with others.
- Supporting the victims of hate.
- Speaking up.
- Educating ourselves regarding hate groups.
- Creating alternative outlets for hate group events.
- Pressuring leaders.
- Staying engaged.
- Teaching acceptance.
- Digging deeper within ourselves to disrupt our own biases.
In an earlier post this summer, I alluded to the importance of searching for truth in this moment. We who teach and write in academia must use our academic freedom to push for truth in a time when it seems that the politics of division have never before been so prevalent. Unscrupulous politicians have been elected, in part, by stoking the minds of many folks who have felt left behind by the political process. These political figures have distorted and stereotyped the images of certain other groups of people in order to scapegoat them for this country’s social and economic problems. Ultimately, such distortions, where successful for electing politicians, have also led to sustaining overt bias and hate. Understanding the rhetorical strategies and how they have distracted many from confronting the truth of our national issues allow us as teachers and experts to diffuse hate by showing how irrational much of that hate is and exploring the real sources of our country’s problems. Several of the above suggestions from the Southern Poverty Law Center targets the search for truth over hate.
I have also had a series of posts on civility as a means to maintain a truly meaningful dialogue on controversial issues. Some of the above suggested activities from the Southern Poverty Law Center also make us aware of civility—for instance, tactic number 6, which urges creating alternative outlets and events when hate groups stage their activities publicly. Violence and confrontation takes away the energy and focus from true and meaningful processing of issues and debates. Spending energy and time on an alternative venue is a civil way to perpetrate and explore issues and topics, such as race and gender equality.
A third virtue that the Southern Poverty Law Center encourages in its (not one, but ten) ways to fight hate is one that I have not mentioned before in my prior posts. And that is persistence. We must act persistently against incidents of bias and hate and encourage our students to do so. There is not just one constructive strategy to address hate and bias incidents; there are many. The horrific violence and hateful displays at Charlottesville were meant to break the persistence of values espoused by western liberalism such as freedom, equality, truth, justice, and democracy. In this narrative of American and western democracy, setbacks will happen from time to time, but they cannot stall us permanently from progress for all. Thus, persistence is another important virtue that the guidebook underscores to diffuse hate.
None of us can predict what the next campus incident of hate and bigotry will be after Charlottesville. But certainly, that thought has placed many of us on edge. Hopefully, the guidebook from the Southern Poverty Law Center is a beginning point for brainstorming what we can do for our students, our social institutions, and ourselves if and when something hateful occurs.