Hate Has No Ideological Boundaries

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Wednesday’s attack on London’s Westminster Bridge has once again raised the specter of Islamic extremism and no doubt will unleash further animosity against Muslims living in the West. Although British authorities believe the terrorist, who died in the attack, had acted alone, ISIS claimed responsibility for inspiring the terror that killed 4 and seriously injured many others.

Without minimizing the effects of ISIS’s promulgation of hate against the West, I hope cool heads will prevail and leaders will not overreact to this instance of “lone wolf terrorism.” The truth is that hate, while inconsistent with the beliefs of any major religion, is unfortunately a universal emotion that plagues the human heart, and practitioners of religions ranging from Islam to Christianity to Buddhism have used a twisted take on their religious beliefs to justify their hateful and terrorist actions.

How else to explain why an Israeli Jew was just arrested for spreading bomb threats throughout U.S. Jewish centers? An attorney for the unnamed Jewish man is claiming mental instability as a cause for the cyberterrorism that has “sent a chill through the American Jewish community.” (Chicago Tribune, Friday, March 24, 2017)

And one need not go back very far to find instances of right wing Christian terrorism, such as the Planned Parenthood attack by Robert Dear or even the massacre of blacks in South Carolina by KKK admirer Dylann Roof. These individuals espoused extremist Christian ideology that justified attacking abortion providers and those who are not white.

Our great religions have striven over the centuries to inspire, comfort, and guide human beings in their quest for meaning. Many sacrifices and acts of heroism were guided by people’s religious beliefs. For example, numerous Christians acted to save Jews from the holocaust during World War II.

But humans being human, there are those among us who, for whatever reason, allow hate and anger to be the guiding forces of their lives. They also seek meaning in religion, but they must twist it to their violent desires.

At the risk of sounding trivial, the story of the Stars Wars saga puts it well: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.”

We will not solve the problem of hate crimes and terrorism by unleashing more hate or violence. We can only do that by strengthening the forces of love and community that might help turn some of these marginalized individuals away from violence and help them gain a sense of purpose that comes from healing, not hurting.

Glimmers of Hope

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ct-jewish-cemetery-vandalized-20170222Lisa See’s memoir On Gold Mountain describes the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. After the law passed prohibiting Chinese nationals from obtaining visas to come to America, racist hatred of the Chinese escalated into terrible violence against Chinese immigrants. That history so closely parallels Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban that it is scary. Even before the president instituted a ban against travel from 7 Muslim-majority countries, indeed immediately following his election, verbal and physical attacks against Muslims increased. Trump’s angry rhetoric about non-whites also awoke latent anti-Semitism in this country.

Yet with all these unwelcome developments since November 8, 2016, I see some glimmers of hope. First of all, the courts immediately struck down Trump’s initial ban, and I have hope that they may see his latest attempt as equally unconstitutional. The Administration has hidden behind vague and unspecified threats to American security in order to justify the ban. Perhaps the cooler heads of the judiciary will see through such tactics.

I have also noticed that Americans are standing up to the hateful racism that has become more overt since the November election. For instance,  when an airline passenger asked a Pakistani couple, “That’s not a bomb in your bag, is it?,” nearby passengers alerted the flight attendant and the racist man was booted off the flight. As he and his female companion gathered their belongings, passengers jeered, “This is not Trump’s America!” and “Goodbye, racists!”

Those “up-standers” were not unique. As a white male terrorist shot and killed two men of Middle Eastern descent at a bar, another white man came to their defense, getting shot himself. Thankfully, this up-stander is recovering from the gunshot wound.

Similarly, when the headstones at a Jewish cemetery were desecrated and knocked over, Muslim groups collected funds to repair the damage, and people of many religions and ethnicities gathered to do the work. People have also been taking it upon themselves to remove Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti from subways and other public spaces. Such actions make me hopeful and remind me that the vast majority of Americans are decent, well-meaning people who will not stand by while others are subject to hatred.

Even in Republican states, lawmakers are showing some reluctance to further the divisive agenda of Donald Trump. Although Trump rescinded the executive order regarding transgender bathroom use in schools, proposed state anti-transgender bills have been facing intense backlash. These states are learning the lesson of North Carolina, which has lost quite a bit of revenue since passing its famous “bathroom bill.” Numerous sports organizations and other groups are refusing to hold events in the state until that bill is revoked. Once you hit them in the pocketbook, even the most conservative Republicans may yield to public opinion.

Finally, I recently read an article about white extremist “recovery” programs such as Life After Hate. Run by former white supremacists, Life After Hate seeks to help extremists leave behind their abhorrent ideology and find belonging with others who had learned to channel their anger into hatred of the “other.”

To be sure, we need to remain vigilant about attempts to undermine civil liberties in our country. We need to keep standing up for those who are attacked because of their race, religion, or gender. We need to remember our history and vow to do better than our predecessors at championing tolerance. Let’s not slide back but move forward proudly and compassionately to show the world that the greatness of America resides, not in our power or military might, but in our hearts and minds.

 

 

#Oscars So Awkward

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Jordan Horowitz, Warren Beatty, Jimmy Kimmel

The 89th Academy Awards closed with an embarrassing gaffe and a surprise upset win by the low budget coming of age movie Moonlight.

The telecast began in a more or less conventional way with a peppy song and dance number by Justin Timberlake, whose song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was nominated for Best Song. As the camera panned the A-list acting crowd, though, I was surprised at the lack of rhythm in a room full of performers.

There were the expected humorous digs at Donald Trump from Jimmy Kimmel, who was funny in a low key way. My favorite was when he tweeted the president with the message “Meryl says hi!” There were also many serious references to tolerance and inclusivity on the part of presenters and award accepters, including a protest statement by Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who had refused to come to the ceremony in protest over Trump’s travel ban.

Also as expected, the overrated La La Land began to clean up in the awards department, winning technical, writing, acting, and most importantly, directing Oscars. So it seemed inevitable when Warren Beatty, looking befuddled, fumbled with the envelope, and Faye Dunaway’s clear voice rang out, “La La Land.” The whole cast and crew, it seemed, trouped onstage to receive the golden trophy.

I was musing over the irony of the white producer, surrounded by mostly white actors and producers, rhapsodizing about inclusivity in the movies, when the unthinkable happened. Mid-sentence, Jordan Horowitz abruptly switched gears and told the producers of Moonlight that the Best Picture Oscar was theirs. I thought this was one of those self-important but slightly condescending attempts to honor a fellow movie-maker. But he was insistent and held up the Best Picture card for the camera to capture the word, “MOONLIGHT.” Apparently, someone picked up the Best Actress envelope, and it had been given to Beatty instead of the Best Picture envelope. I had never seen anything like it.

I have to hand it to Horowitz and the other La La Land folks. They were very gracious as they were replaced onstage by Barry Jenkins and the mostly black cast and crew of Moonlight. It surprised me that such a small movie about a controversial subject would be the favorite of Oscar voters. And although I haven’t yet seen the film, I’m glad La La Land, a sweet but unremarkable movie, did not sweep the Oscars this year.

There were other awkward aspects to the ceremony. Viola Davis gave an overwrought speech claiming artists are the only people to “celebrate what it means to live a life.” And Hollywood seems to have both a short memory and its own share of hypocrisy when you consider that Mel Gibson sat smugly in the audience, his anti-Semitic rants apparently forgiven and forgotten, and Casey Affleck, who settled a couple of sexual harassment suits against him in 2010, won for Best Actor.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Oscars spectacle. I love checking out the gowns, hairstyles, and personas of Hollywood stars. I like to see scenes from movies, and I always appreciate the solemn memorial to those in the movie business who passed away in the preceding year. I also think entertainment vehicles such as movies and television shows help marginalized groups attain acceptance in society. Actors and movie makers, themselves often from the fringes of society, do seem to understand the struggle for acceptance of differences from society’s norms.

Still, Hollywood’s elite could do with an occasional dose of humility and self-awareness. Maybe the big Best Picture gaffe will remind them that they too are only human.

White Men: Stop Whining

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Post-election analysis has concluded that angry white men tipped the scales for Donald Trump and propelled him to victory. These men apparently feel left out and disenchanted by government policies. Throughout the election, white men were portrayed as victims of bad trade deals and immigration policy, both of which have supposedly robbed them of jobs.

I find it ironic that the same people who have for years been decrying political correctness, identity politics, and the victim mentality of minorities have themselves been playing the victim. But who are they kidding? Take a look at the composition of governmental bodies, corporations, law firms, banks, and even most manufacturing concerns, and you will see a preponderance of white males. We have had one black president and no women presidents in over 200 years of our existence as a nation.

The fact is that white males are still the dominant group in American life. Not only do they hold the reins of political power on both the national and local levels, but white men are more likely to be your bosses and school administrators. While the economic dislocation caused by loss of manufacturing and automation has affected all working class people, it has hurt minorities more than it has harmed white men.

If you are a white male, you are less likely to be stopped randomly by a police officer. You are less likely to be beaten or killed by a spouse or intimate partner. You are much more likely to see yourself portrayed in movies and on television as a hero. Guess what, white men? Your places of worship are not being terrorized or burnt to the ground. You’re not cowering in the shadows worried about being deported. If you commit horrible crimes, no one calls you thugs. They describe you as “disturbed.”

I have great sympathy for individuals who find themselves struggling financially. If I were president, I would be concentrating my efforts on providing retraining for workers displaced by the loss of manufacturing jobs. I would widen the safety net, not shrink it. Yes, I feel for people of all races who are hurting economically in this country.

But the one group I am not in the mood to coddle? White men.

Hidden Fences

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At the Golden Globes, Michael Keaton mixed up two movies with predominantly black casts and called one Hidden Fences. He was roundly criticized for his racial insensitivity by the left and then attacked for political correctness by the right when he apologized profusely for the gaffe. Such is the state of race relations in modern America.

No doubt Michael Keaton means well. He is not a closet Klansman, as Bill Maher sarcastically pointed out on Real Time. However, his well-intentioned mixup does indicate what is a natural tendency: to lump together people of the same race or ethnicity. I did this once myself as a high school teacher. I had two Asian-American male students in my class, and I once called one of the boys by the other one’s name. I was filled with chagrin at the mixup, even though I meant well. Today, as the mother of a Chinese-born child who is sometimes confused with her Asian classmates in school, I feel even worse about that mistake from long ago.

The fact is that even seemingly innocent acts of overgeneralizing or stereotyping can be harmful and prevent people from seeing each person as an individual. And as we know from our history, such stereotyping can lead to outright discrimination and worse. In today’s America, where Middle Eastern Muslims are looked upon with deep suspicion and black citizens are far too often stopped for the crime of “driving/walking/sitting outside while black,” we need to make an honest effort to change things.

In his gaffe, Michael Keaton unwittingly used what could be a metaphor for today’s race relations. The “colored only” water fountains and restrooms are gone. Blacks are no longer relegated to the back of the bus. But there are plenty of “hidden fences” that block the equal treatment of minorities in this country. Racial segregation still plagues big cities, and schools in black neighborhoods get short shrift on resources. Blacks still struggle for equal access to good jobs. Studies have shown, for instance, that candidates with “black-sounding” names are less likely to be invited for job interviews.  And even when they are hired, many people assume black employees are affirmative action hires who are not as qualified as whites. In the film Hidden Figures, the three black female mathematicians have to be brilliant, not just adequately smart, in order to be given their due.

The other reality Keaton’s mistake highlights is the fact that there are too few forms of art that portray the lives of black Americans. When there are only a couple of “black movies” in the awards season mix, it’s more likely that whites will unthinkingly bunch them together. If people of different races and cultures were interwoven in books, movies, and television shows in the same proportions as they exist in our population, viewers would stop noticing race and focus on individual characters and actors.

Whites have a long way to go in adjusting our attitudes and beliefs about minorities. In a telling scene of Hidden Figures, the mathematician Dorothy Vaughan’s white boss tells her, “I hope you know that I’m not against y’all,” referring to the dozens of black female “computers” Vaughan supervises. Vaughan gives her boss an appraising look and replies, “I know. I know you believe that.” As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his devastating book Between the World and Me, whites have a stake in “believing themselves to be white.” By believing in our own racial superiority, we can grab the most prizes: money, prestige, power. It’s a bitter pill to recognize that fact and work to do something about it.

We can mean well, but we need to act and advocate for equality among all Americans if we are ever to tear down the hidden fences in our society.

Myths About Muslim Ban

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Here are answers to some of the erroneous beliefs being used to justify President Trump’s ban on Muslims.

1. It’s not a ban on Muslims. It’s a ban on people from certain risky countries. Given that the vast majority of people traveling to and from such countries as Iran and Syria are Muslim, I consider that a specious argument. Trump himself made it clear that this is about religion when he called for Christian refugees to get first priority in coming to America.

2. The ban is necessary to protect us from Islamic terrorists. Since 9/11, none of the few acts of violence linked to Islamic fundamentalism on U.S. soil has been the work of a Muslim who traveled to the United States specifically to commit terrorist acts. Omar Mateen, the Tsarnaev brothers, the San Bernardino couple, and Nidal Hassan, the Ft. Hood shooter, all grew up in the United States. Furthermore, the majority of the 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, a country not on the ban list.

This excuse is a smokescreen to enable the Trump administration to promulgate its xenophobic ideology.

3. The terrorist threat looms large in America. Statistics show that you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. The vast majority of violent actions in the U.S. are perpetrated by ordinary Americans. Maybe we should ban all Americans from America. That might make it safe.

4. President Trump’s ban is like the temporary one President Obama authorized in 2011. Pres. Obama’s order to halt travel from Iraq in 2011 was based on a current, specific, and credible threat of violence. Despite this, legislators regularly and persistently (and rightly, in my view) pressured the president to lift the travel ban. Pres. Trump has talked about his desire to ban Muslims from the country since early in his presidential campaign. His action is based on an ideology, not a specific credible threat.

5. The Left is overreacting. President Trump’s ban is limited and temporary. When a new president appoints as his chief strategist the chairman of a news site favored by white supremacists, any act of discrimination should be looked upon very seriously. In addition to the Muslim ban, candidate Trump had called for a registry of all Muslims living in the United States. If that does not raise your Nazi alert hackles, I don’t know what would.

I’m tired of conservatives implying that liberals are a bunch of alarmist namby pambys. As the saying goes, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

The Muslim ban is a racist, unconstitutional, un-American action. It must not stand.

 

 

Hate Crime

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In the same week that Dylann Roof told the court he had no regret over ruthlessly gunning down nine innocent people studying the Bible in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, four individuals (three of them teens) in Chicago kidnapped and tortured a mentally disabled 18-year-old man, streaming the abuse on Facebook Live. Both crimes are being called hate crimes.

What is a hate crime exactly? The dictionary defines it as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.” Calling something a hate crime can be important in the sentencing phase of a trial because hate crimes usually carry a more serious designation and lead to longer prison terms.

The twist here is that while the Dylann Roof shooting was a classic hate crime involving a white supremacist targeting black individuals, the recent Facebook Live torture incident involved four blacks assaulting a white man who also happened to be disabled. During the assault, the perpetrators flung racial slurs such as “F*&#  white people” at the man as they tortured him. But did they target him because of his race or disability? Although it seems obvious that they did, the facts of the case will ultimately prove or disprove whether this was a hate crime.

Hate crimes do not necessarily occur because of hate in the emotional sense. It’s the targeting of a person based upon religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or disability that leads to the designation of a hate crime. Although hate crimes against whites are less common than ones against minorities, they do occur. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, came out with a strong condemnation of the Chicago incident as a hate crime. “Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, declared the alleged Chicago assault a hate crime. ‘Whether this is a hate crime based on disability or a hate crime based on race, I think it is incumbent on the authorities to act swiftly,’ he said, calling the crime ‘incredibly shocking.’” (Joe Sexton, “Alleged Chicago Assault Reignites Issue of Hate Crimes Against Whites,”ProPublica, Jan. 5, 2017)

The four young adults in the Chicago case have been officially charged with a hate crime. Whatever the reasons for their abuse of a disabled man, their absolute lack of shame should be troubling to all of us. As a society, we are called upon to protect the vulnerable, not to prey upon and abuse them. We should have a propensity to hate crime, not to perpetrate a hate crime.