You may want to watch your back, because according to the new hate crimes data released by the FBI this week, the haters are in full freak-out mode. The report cites that in 2008 there was an eleven percent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation and nine percent increase in religion based hate crimes. Half of all hate crimes are still racially motivated. The numbers of incidents against Blacks, for instance, increased by eight percent, making up 72 percent of all race-based hate crimes.
In mainstream media and legal vernacular, hate crimes are falsely depicted as a purely individualized phenomena, defined as actions that are intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. But there are countless institutional forces, which taken together, create a climate ripe for the fermentation of hate. History, culture, ideology and the interconnectedness of institutions and policies play a key role of codifying, justifying and normalizing hate.
Like it or not, we all engage in the systemic development of the -isms every day. The news we consume, the conversations we have and the joke we ignore add or subtract to the civility of our country. So here are five things that we can do to counteract hate in our communities.
1) Educate Yourself: We know that we can’t depend on the media or even our neighbor for information about the wide variety of communities that live with us. So go to the source. You might start by checking out groups like Facing History and Ourselves, The Council on American-Islamic Relations, The Center for a New Community and UNID@S, the National Latin@ LGBT Human Rights Organization.
2) Talk back: When your local television station runs a racist ad by the local anti-immigrant posse, call them and let them know that you aren’t having it. When the local radio whack-job spouts out lies about gays or the newspaper runs another series about the failure of Black families, do something. Write a letter to the editor. Call their advertisers and let them know that you are unhappy with the coverage. Speak up and encourage your friends, coworkers and your mama to do the same.
3) Challenge the cyberspace bigots: From unabashed stereotyping in the comment sections of online media, to racist Facebook and MySpace pages, nowhere is the hate growing faster than then through the anonymity of cyberspace. Sadly we all have that one acquaintance that forwards that Photoshop mash-up email of the President. Let them know how you feel. You don’t have to be mean or present a response packed with data. By simply stating that it is wrong and that you personally won’t stand for it, you as sending a clear message about the kind of world that you want to live in. And just as important, you are letting others who feel the same way know that they aren’t alone.
4) Vote: Less than a month ago, President Obama signed a new hate crimes law that lifts federal restrictions of investigations of victims engaged in legally protected activities, like voting and free speech. Get-out-the-vote efforts can be a dangerous business for groups attempting to secure the basic rights of a community in need. During next year’s Congressional mid-term elections, your willingness to step up and step out could make the difference in securing healthcare, quality education or just a safe place to live. So pick up that voter registration card, fill it out, turn it in, and go out and register ten others. It matters.
5) Don’t Give Politicians a Pass: One way racism is spread through our society is through the creation, promotion and passage of laws that institutionalize discrimination and disparities, and perpetuate stereotypes. When a city councilman, state assemblywoman, a Governor or President of any race, creed or any orientation does this, they should be called out for it. Write, call, and rally across community lines all so that no one gets a pass when it comes spreading hate.