Readers Write: Fighting hate is all our responsibility

Readers Write: Fighting hate is all our responsibility

In 1946, Albert Einstein said the following: “There is a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.” 
Although the words were spoken more than half a century ago, and civil rights and liberties have come a long way since then, Einstein’s assertions on racism and sexism is unfortunately and critically relevant at this particular time. 
In recent months, hate crimes in the United States have been on the increase throughout the country. 
Vandalism, bullying, and assaults, in the name of hatred, white nationalism, and white supremacy have become more frequent and brazen. 
This has become evident in our very own backyards. In recent months and weeks, swastikas have been found scrawled throughout the campus of Nassau Community College, at various times, and in other locales on Long Island. In Mineola, large portions of sidewalks have been vandalized with spray painted words reading “Make America White Again” and other denigrating remarks about African-Americans and people of Middle Eastern decent. 
On a Manhattan subway train, an 18-year-old Muslim woman from New Hyde Park was assaulted by two men, in the name of our President-elect. 
These are not anomalies; they represent only a few examples and a small portion of the alarming, increasing trend in egregious hate crimes.   
We must ask ourselves: Why is the increase in hate crimes happening on Long Island, in our very own backyards? 
Throughout the election cycle, and now in this post-election frenzy, have more of us become hateful and/or racist? 
Or, was there already the existence of an undercurrent of subdued racism, xenophobia, sexism, and white nationalism scattered throughout our neighborhoods? 
We must consider that once a charismatic leader begins to normalize the language of divisiveness, fear, bullying and racism, and begins to propose policies, plans, and behavior that would support such ideologies, subdued undercurrents suddenly become more lively and overt. 
As the official installation of the new administration approaches, the normalizing of such language and behavior will continue, and deplorable acts of hate will become more frequent.
Attempts to swiftly investigate Russian interference in the election, efforts to persuade electors to choose Clinton as the more responsible choice for our country, and plans for future elections are all crucially important. 
In the meantime, how do we “escape the feeling of complicity” in the face of these hate crimes? Einstein asserts that the only way he can escape complicity is by speaking out. 
Yet, how, where, and when do we speak out? In recent months and weeks, every time there is a hate crime on Long Island, or in the metro area, our local politicians have rightfully made statements strongly condemning such acts of hatred as cowardly and unrepresentative of the values of Long Island as a whole. 
Further, many of us may discuss the recent events as they are reported in newspapers, on television, and in social media. 
Surely, the majority of us are saddened, disheartened, and loathe the fact that this is happening in our own backyards. We can express our condemnation for these acts to our friends, family, coworkers, and through different forms of media. Still, as important as this condemnation is, it is still a reaction to events. 
Perhaps, some of the most dangerous complicity occurs during times when it is not a frequency of hate crimes that is obvious, but when undercurrents of subdued hate, racism, and/or xenophobia abounds.  
It is certainly easier to speak out against specific egregious acts, then it is to learn how to recognize and speak out against subdued undercurrents. 
How do we resist complicity in the face of these undercurrents in our own neighborhoods? 
As Americans, we live in a non-totalitarian society where we are at liberty think for ourselves and form our own opinions, ideas, passions, desires, etc. If our neighbors decide that their world-view and mindset will include an ideology of white nationalism, racism, xenophobia, or sexism, they are legally allowed to think those thoughts as long as those opinions do not precipitate hate crimes or other criminal acts. 
Still, although we cannot forcefully eliminate such ideologies, there are ways in which we can all speak out and escape complicity. 
The subdued undercurrent of racisms, hatred, and/or xenophobia that has been scattered around our neighborhoods begins in some of our own homes, at social gatherings, and in our neighborhoods. It is evident in the subtle judgments we hear some of our family, friends, and acquaintances often make. 
Many of us have heard others frequently state denigrating notions about various races, religious, and cultures. Maybe we hear those things, and although we may disagree with them, we remain silent. Many people don’t want to be faced with the uncomfortable notion of perhaps offending someone, ruining a peaceful acquaintanceship or friendship, or causing an argument. 
Often, we may also assume that our assertions against such prejudiced and disparaging remarks will be ineffective and futile. Still, we should certainly not assume that speaking our own opinions will necessarily break relationships, disturb the peace, or that our words will be inconsequential for any real and positive change of heart or mind. 
Just like the subtle undercurrents of this hatred, we can also be gentle, subtle, and effective at asserting our rebuttal to these undercurrents.  However, we often cower in the face of confrontation. Many of us justify our quietude by feeling that the remarks are mostly innocuous; they are not worth the effort.  
Our silence becomes complicity.  Yet, we know that words matter. They influence behavior and action. 
These actions may be legal, such as voting for someone with a similar prejudicial world-view. Or, at times, they may facilitate illegal acts of hate crimes.  
Many of us are feeling helpless and disheartened during this difficult time. Yet, if we acknowledge that words matter, then we can all do something. 
We can be mindful of the conversations that we partake in and not be afraid to rebut racism, xenophobia, and other prejudicial statements. 
We can make sure that we set good examples for our children, so that they will learn to understand ways in which we confront bullying and prejudice. 
Einstein’s solution to escaping the feeling of complicity is simple, but profound.  
We all simply need to speak out, wherever we are, and whenever we can. 
This will, at least in some way, help mitigate the subtle undercurrents of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and/or hatred in our own neighborhoods and surroundings. We need to be mindful of our words and also our silence.   
Martin Luther King Jr., said it best: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 
Diana Poulos-Lutz

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