02/2010

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide

1 Act

Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. Decent people must take action; if we don’t, hate persists.

A hate group is coming to our town. What should we do?”

“I am very alarmed at hate crimes…What can I, as one person, do to help?”

“I find myself wanting to act, to show support for the victims, to demonstrate my anger and sorrow…But I don’t know what to do or how to begin.”

If you’ve opened this guide, you probably want to “do something” about hate. You are not alone.

Questions like these arrive daily at the Southern Poverty Law Center. When a hate crime occurs or a hate group rallies, good people often feel helpless. We encourage you to act, for the following reasons:

Hate is an open attack on tolerance and decency. It must be countered with acts of goodness. Sitting home with your virtue does no good. In the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance – by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows.

Hate is an attack on a community’s health. Hate tears society along racial, ethnic, gender and religious lines. The U.S. Department of Justice warns that hate crimes, more than any other crime, can trigger larger community conflict, civil disturbances and even riots. For all their “patriotic” rhetoric, hate groups and their freelance imitators are really trying to divide us; their views are fundamentally anti-democratic. True patriots fight hate.

Hate escalates. Take seriously the smallest hint of hate — even what appears to be simple name calling. The Department of Justice again has a warning: Slurs often escalate to harassment, harassment to threats and threats to physical violence. Don’t wait to fight hate.

One Phone Call
When a cross was burned in the yard of a single mother of Portuguese descent in Rushville, Mo., one person’s actions set in motion a community uprising against hatred.

“I have been asked many times since that night why I got involved,” Christine Iverson said. “The
answer is simple. I was so upset after reading the article that I had to do something. So I got up and made a phone call. Everything else came from that moment of decision.”

Iverson, a disaster response expert and minister for Lutheran Social Services, called a friend
involved in the church’s anti-racism program. Then she called the victim. Then she called a ministerial alliance and asked to be put on the agenda. She went to the meeting with four proposals: a letter to the editor, a prayer meeting, flier distribution and a candlelight vigil. The alliance recommended all four, and Iverson was put in charge.

The result was a gathering of 300 people, a speech by the mayor, news accounts of the rally,
and the formation of a unity committee within the church alliance. More than 150 people marched for the first time in a Martin Luther King Day parade, and an essay contest was created on the theme “We Have a Dream.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Iverson said, “but we are beginning to do the work together.”

Do Something
When hate happens, we are faced with two choices:

Do nothing, and let hate go unchallenged.
Or do something — rise up, speak up and stand up against hate.

People across the country routinely choose the latter, making differences, small and large, in their communities.

>> A sixth-grade class in Morgantown, W.V., painted over skinhead graffiti on the outside wall of a convenience store. Their teacher had used the graffiti to discuss hatred and violence. After watching “Not In Our Town,” a video of how Billings, Mont., fought hate, the children concluded that, left to stand, the graffiti would convey community apathy. They became role models within Morgantown, with press coverage and congratulations from the state Attorney General.

>> In 2002, a Sacramento, Calif., man spearheaded a campaign to halt the sales of neo-Nazi clothing at Target stores in his community, sparking nationwide change. A clothing line with “88” symbols — H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and 88 is white-power code for “Heil Hitler” — had been shipped to 1,100 Target stores nationwide. Joseph Rodriguez, a Sacramento Target customer, alerted the Southern Poverty Law Center after being frustrated in his attempts to have the clothing sales halted. Target eventually stopped selling the items and apologized for “any discomfort” caused by the “88” clothing, saying it “does not and will not tolerate discrimination in any form.”

>> One woman, Ammie Murray of Dixiana, S.C., is credited with rebuilding the tiny black congregation St. John Baptist Church not once but twice after racist vandals destroyed it in 1985 and burned it to the ground in 1995. Discouraged and exhausted after the second incident and with continuous personal threats to her safety, the 65-year-old white woman nonetheless fired up a 1,000-person, multiracial work force that presented the congregation with a new church in November 1998.

>> When a white-power rock concert was announced in Traverse City, Mich., a group of citizens created “Hate-Free TC.” In a daylong seminar, human rights experts educated local people about neo-Nazi skinheads, their racist music and their connection to an international movement that includes Nazis, white supremacists and the Christian Identity church. They later held an alternative rock concert, and the publicity forced cancellation of the white-power gathering.

What Can You Do?

Pick up the phone. Call friends and colleagues. Host a neighborhood or community meeting. Speak up in church. Suggest some action.

Sign a petition. Attend a vigil. Lead a prayer.

Repair acts of hate-fueled vandalism, as a neighborhood or a community.

Use whatever skills and means you have. Offer your print shop to make fliers. Share your musical talents at a rally. Give your employees the afternoon off to attend.

Be creative. Take action. Do your part to fight hate.