Trying to make hate look pretty

love-hate

I was reading a story about the rise of hate groups, and a quote jumped out at me. The Columbus Dispatch interviewed the leader of a Ku Klux Klan organization about its plans to expand.

Near the end of the story, Amanda Lee defended her group’s actions as something other than hate.

“We don’t hate anybody,” she says in the story. “God says you can’t get into heaven with hate in your heart.”

Wait, what?

How can a group that reveres its history of lynching, bombing and terror contend that it’s not driven by hate? How can anyone think that there’s no hate involved in demeaning and hurting people who are different from you?

If that’s not hate, then what is?

Wait, what?

We’ve heard a lot of similar lines in the last few years from people trying to redefine hate into something more acceptable:

“I don’t hate black people. I just think they’re not as good as white people. And they should stop complaining about how they’re being treated. But that’s not hate.

“I don’t hate gay and transgender people. I just think they’re horrible sinners – unlike me – and I should be free to discriminate against them in any way I wish. But that’s not hate.

“I don’t hate Muslims. I just think they’re all dangerous and they should be prevented from practicing their religion in my country. But that’s not hate.

“I don’t hate women. I just think they should be submissive and accept that they’re not equal to men. And they should be quiet when someone says it’s OK to grab them by the crotch. But that’s not hate.

“I don’t hate refugees. I just don’t trust any of them – not even the starving babies – and I don’t want them near me. They make me uncomfortable. But that’s not hate.

“I don’t hate poor people. I just wish they’d get off the street corners so I wouldn’t have to see them. I think they’re all lazy and undeserving of help. But that’s not hate.”

There are many variations on the “I don’t hate (fill in the blank) people” theme. I suppose much of it involves people trying to justify their prejudices rather than confront them. Or maybe they’re trying to dress up their ugly ideas so they can gain a following.

Fill in the blank

But I also get a sense that some people who make these statements might actually believe what they’re saying. They think that because they don’t feel all angry and hateful and vicious toward others, then it’s not really hate that’s involved.

We need to talk about this.

Love and hate aren’t about emotions. They’re about attitudes and our actions. Love and hate aren’t about how we feel toward someone, but about how we treat them – what we do or don’t do to them.

To love someone means to treat them as we would want to be treated, regardless of how we feel. When we’re told to love our enemies, it doesn’t mean we feel warm-and-fuzzy about them; it means we respect their inherent human dignity.

Love recognizes that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be treated as such by our words and actions. Love values everyone’s dignity and worth as equal to my own.

By contrast, hate rejects another person’s equal value and worth. It sees those who are different from me as less than me in some ways. It creates the conditions for people to be abused and mistreated.

Hate is about attitudes and actions, not emotions.

Choose love instead

One of the most jarring parts of Viktor Frankl’s description of his time in a Nazi extermination camp was how people did such savage things with so little emotion. Hate becomes truly dangerous when human empathy is stripped away.

Let’s also remember that hate has an evil twin – indifference. Hate is given approval to do horrific things when people shrug and say, “Not my problem.”

And let’s not forget that hate and love exist within each of us. That’s what it means to be human. Spirituality involves an ongoing examination of our attitudes and actions to see whether they convey love, hate or indifference, and then choosing to do the most loving thing as best we can.

We need to challenge those who try to dress up hate and misrepresent it as something other than what it is. To do anything less is to give cover to hate and allow it to clothe us in its robes.

Choose to put on love instead.

And the young girl said: Don’t give up

Jogging

My jogging shirt and shorts were sweat-soaked and clinging. I probably could have stopped and wrung out my wristband. In fact, stopping was what I had in mind as I made my way up the short hill on my evening jog a few nights ago.

It was hot and extremely humid. My legs were pretty well spent. There was so much water in the air that each breath felt a bit like inhaling the whole ocean. And I still had a mile to go before I was back home.

Yeah, I think I’ll stop when I get to the top of the hill and just rest a while before I start up again.

Just then, I noticed three children approaching me on the sidewalk. Two boys, one girl. About 10 years old or so. African-American. They probably lived in the apartment complex right there, one where you don’t live if your family is well-off.

“Hey, how you guys doing?” I said.

“Gooooooooood,” they replied as a group, in the long “oooooo” sound that kids will make when you ask them that question. And then one of the boys asked a question back.

“How you doing?”

Normally I might say “gooood” right back, but at that moment I had to be honest.

“I’m strugglin’!” I said.

They moved aside to share the sidewalk with me. I thanked them. After I’d passed them, I heard one of the boys say to me, “You blazin’!”

I know that the expression has several connotations, but I took it to mean that he thought I was going fast. That made me laugh.

“I’m tryin’!!!!” I said.

And then I heard the girl’s voice call after me.

“Don’t give up!” she said.

Don’t give up. Wow! This young girl tells the plodding 60-year-old guy not to give up. All I could do was smile, turn back over my shoulder and say, “Thank you!!!”

You know those times when someone totally unexpected _ in this case, a group of children _ gives you a lift with their kindness and encouragement? Don’t those moments make you feel good?

We all need encouragement, and I have to admit that I struggle with that in some ways. Often, when I encounter someone who’s struggling with something, I’m not sure what to say. As a writer, I try to find the right word, and words are often so slippery.

Plus, it’s hard to know what to say to someone who is facing something that’s not part of my experience. For instance, feeling trapped inside the cages of racism, sexism, homophobia. Facing ostracism because of your religion or your sexual identity or your ethnic background. Being constantly judged by your looks. Fighting endlessly for your special needs child so they can get the opportunities they deserve.

I hear the daily frustration of those who are still – STILL, can you believe it! – having to push back against hatred and discrimination and indifference. They’re worn out and discouraged. They feel like they’re getting nowhere. They wonder why they should keep trying.

Me? I haven’t had to walk in their shoes; I’ve had the privilege of doing my daily jogs in cushy, comfortable ones.

And then, I meet three children on a sidewalk and they remind me of something important: Encouragement matters, no matter how it’s expressed or who it’s coming from. Sometimes, the few words of a stranger can be as powerful as any spoken by a friend.

A simple hug, a kind word – those make a difference. So does reminding someone that they matter and that their life matters. And yes, it’s important to acknowledge how frustrating it is at times. Then, it’s equally important to remind them that the arc is long, but their hands are bending it.

So keep blazing. Keep blazing those trails in our families and our neighborhoods and our schools and our religions and our cultures and our countries and our various circles of friends, including those on social media. Keep doing it even when we’re out of breath and our legs feel like they’re giving out and our energy needle is getting awfully friendly with the empty mark.

Do it even when we feel like we’re getting nowhere — especially when we feel like we’re getting nowhere.

And if we need to stop for a moment and catch our breath and wring a little sweat from our wristband, that’s cool. Everybody needs to take a step back from time to time and catch their breath before putting one foot in front of the other again.

Remember the young girl’s three powerful words. The ones that helped me make it all the way home without stopping on one hot night. And probably will many more nights, too — more than that girl will ever know.

Archie and me

Archie

I became well-versed in slurs during my childhood. I learned them in my neighborhood, in my church, in my extended family. I heard many different types of people demeaned with many different words.

I grew up in an ethnic area of Cleveland. Each immigrant group had its own neighborhood, its own tavern, its own bakery, its own church, and its own groups that it disliked because of past history.

Italians? They’re all in the mob. The Irish are drunks. The Poles are dumb. Blacks are uncivilized. Women are dim and emotional. Protestants are hell-bound. Jews are money grubbers.

On and on it went. There were demeaning terms for pretty much every group, including my group. And the mention of other groups could bring out the worst in some people.

That’s why Archie Bunker was one of my favorite television characters. I knew him. Also, I knew many people like his daughter and his son-in-law who regularly called him out for his prejudices. For instance, my dad would challenge my grandfather for using the n-word yet again.

The show came on TV at a time when another idea was taking root in America: People should be considered by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or any other superficial difference.

For a time, the slurs and the ugly jokes receded, although many people still felt comfortable telling them when they were around people like them. They’d complain that the country had become so “politically correct” that their slurs and jokes no longer drew nods and laughs, but criticism.

And they wished things would go back to the way they were. Back to the days when we openly judged people on the basis of the color of their skin or the country of their origin or the sex chromosome they inherited. And people would nod and laugh and agree.

Like Archie, they thought: Those were the days.

Well, those days are making a comeback in some ways, aren’t they?

A presidential candidate gets applause for saying a Mexican can’t be an impartial judge, or Muslims are dangerous, or immigrants are criminals, or women should be judged on their physical appearance. Or when he says that only rich people like him can be great.

And it’s not confined to politics. Religion is providing its own blast from the past: I’m going to heaven, but you’re not because you’re a sinner and I don’t want to have anything to do with you because I’m afraid it might jeopardize me. So go away.

My childhood, revisited.

Fearing those who are different from us seems to be our default setting as humans. It’s true for me. I’m more comfortable in groups of people who are more like me in some ways. People who think like me and have similar life experiences.

Yeah, there’s that little bit of Archie in me, too. It’s just a human trait, I suppose, woven throughout our history and religious texts. And so is this: The moral and spiritual imperative to push past our innate fears and learn to love each other and appreciate our differences.

Jesus loudly advocated for it, which got him into a hell of a lot of trouble. He reached out to the rejected groups of his times and welcomed them. He was constantly criticized for inviting the wrong people – the ones who were the objects of the slurs and the nasty jokes – to eat and socialize with him.

In fact, he made those people the heroes of his stories. It’s the dreaded, good-for-nothing Samaritan who is the model of behavior, not the religiously observant people.

Is it any wonder that people wanted to push him off a cliff?

So, what about us? Perhaps we start with never allowing anyone to be slurred or bullied or made the butt of jokes, even if there’s a price to be paid in standing up for them.

But it requires something more.

Perhaps the next time we encounter one of them people – as Archie would say – we could invite them for coffee or lunch. Instead of talking about our differences, we could share stories about what keeps us up at night, what breaks our hearts, what makes us feel alive, what we’d most like to change about ourselves.

And maybe along the way we’ll have a few laughs and change how we feel about each another a little bit. In doing so, we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere beyond the days that were great only for those slinging the slurs.