Charlottesville, part 2

Yesterday I wrote about how, figuratively speaking, our nation has always had a crack in our liberty bell.  Today I feel the need to discuss something that is rampant in today’s news, a growing tendency that is harmful rather than helpful.  That is the proliferation of the label “hate groups.”

If you’re wondering what you can do to help stem the tide of racism and violence, one step we can all take is to stop referring to people as “hate groups”—not because it’s inaccurate, but because it’s too easy.  It keeps us from engaging in discussion about underlying issues.  The KKK and its offspring are certainly hate groups, but specifically they are racist groups.  To merely say they’re a hate group is to dismiss them as bad guys; to say they’re a racist group gives us an opportunity to say why their views are wrong and discuss ways we can keep from being infected by them.  I am not arguing that the label “hate group” is always misapplied, but rather that it is insufficient.

It’s not just hate groups.  What about “hate speech”?  What is that?  Communication is impossible if we don’t define our terms.  What is hate?  What is a hate group?  Is this really the best way to categorize them?  It seems to happen way too frequently that one person says or writes something that another person disagrees with, so it’s condescendingly labeled “hate speech,” as though that necessarily means that the accuser triumphs over the hater.  It short-circuits the conversation.  When we call others “hate groups,” we deceive ourselves into thinking that’s the end of the conversation.  It’s not.  White supremacy—or any-race-supremacy—is hateful, but why?  That’s what we need to talk about.

We all belong to groups that others consider a hate group.  Whether you’re conservative or liberal, a God-worshiper or atheist, American or another nationality—someone considers you part of a hate group.  As a Bible-believing Christian, millions of people would say I belong to a hate group (a gross misrepresentation, since our founder explicitly insisted that we be known by our love).  But as a Bible-believing Christian, I don’t hate anybody.  So why am I perceived that way?  Because of the group label being carelessly thrown around.  The protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville both probably considered the other side a hate group.  (I’m not saying that both groups were hate groups, but that they both likely perceived their opposition that way.)  That shows how unhelpful the term is because it’s woefully imprecise.  This is how wars start: demonize the other side by dehumanizing them with a label.  And a war of some kind is indeed what seems to be brewing in this country.

Referring to certain groups merely as “hate groups” lets them off too easily—and it lets us off too easily.  I can feel good about myself because I’m not part of a “hate group”; I’m a white guy who doesn’t belong to the KKK, has black friends, and doesn’t judge people by the color of their skin.  The haters are those other people, and I don’t belong to their group.  But what about me as an individual?  Do I speak about people with political differences in denigrating terms which suggest they’re less than human?  Do I avoid eye contact with the homeless guy on the street?  Do I give the waitress a bad tip because the cook messed up my order?  Do I carry a grudge against a sibling or former friend because of something that happened years ago?  Do I avoid uncomfortable situations in which I could help people, rather than seeking out these opportunities?  Do I pretend I don’t see people and their needs all around me?  If I’m doing any of these things, who is the hater?  Am I off the hook simply because I don’t have an official membership in a club?

I went to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known—or so I thought—for tracking hate groups.  They even do a good job of defining hate crime as crimes where bias is the primary motive for committing the crime.  So I was quite surprised to see that, according to their own website, they blatantly exercise bias in determining what a hate group is; on their “Hatewatch” site, it says at the very top: “Hatewatch monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right.”  Hold up—what?!?  Then who’s keeping tabs on the activities of the American radical left?  What about the middle?  Does this mean that if hate groups have a liberal perspective, then they’re not hate groups?  This is one extreme, yet very prominent, example of how the term “hate” is manipulated for political purposes.  It is used to bring division rather than unity.  This is not to pick on liberals, but to emphasize that hatred does not belong to either the right or the left.  It’s epidemic on both sides.  Hatred is not a political leaning, but a sickness of the heart that is manifested in harmful ideologies and expressed in violence and oppression.

Pointing fingers at other people and calling them haters is easy and harmful.  Pointing our evaluative eye inward and choosing to love others is much more difficult, but is ultimately helpful.  Instead of wasting our time accusing others of hate, let’s devote our energies to making sure that we can be rightfully accused of love.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charlottesville, part 1

Today I went to Charlottesville, Virginia.  My trip had nothing to do with recent events—we had planned a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, which happens to be a few minutes’ drive from where this past weekend’s mob violence occurred.  Our experience there was a vivid reminder that the racial tensions we’re dealing with today are nothing new.  The university in Charlottesville was founded by Jefferson, who owned more slaves than nearly anyone in the country.  Insane as it sounds, he even enslaved his own children!  (I know, I know—it hasn’t been proven; but DNA tests show a relation, and people in his own lifetime knew it.  Besides, how did Jefferson’s slave give birth to kids who had white skin, red hair, and freckles… just like him?)

In the document which marked our nation’s separation from British colonialism, Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Less than 12 years later, he wrote in a letter to Edward Bancroft that “to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children.”  But like I mentioned above, this was a man who actually did enslave his own kids, at least four of them.

Before this famous line from the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that what followed was an explanation for why one group of people must sever their political connections with a government.  Less than a century later, Jefferson’s fellow Virginians would be among those who likewise wished to separate from their government—ironically, because they would deny their fellow man those same “unalienable rights.”  Their military leader was a general named Robert E. Lee, whose statue still stands a few miles from Monticello.  This statue was the site of the racially-motivated violence that still has the country reeling from this past weekend.  When I drove past the park today, it was still full of TV crews reporting on the story.

There are some other thoughts I’d like to share about all this, but I’m going to break it up over several days to make it more readable.  I hope this first post simply helps us realize just how deeply racial conflict and prejudice is embedded in our national psyche.  Sadly, we have never been healthy as a country in terms of race relations.  My dream is that by the time my generation passes from the scene, we will have made great strides in leaving future generations a society that experiences genuine racial harmony.

Lee statue

(This is the best shot I could get from a moving car as I drove past the statue today.)

Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment