Editorial: Confronting hate in America

  • A man stands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. AP

Thursday, August 17, 2017

We assume that most of our readers, regardless of their politics, are repulsed by the white nationalists who parade their hatred on American streets and campuses.

We also assume that a few of you will say you are appalled by neo-Nazis before reflexively demanding that counterprotesters be held equally accountable.

That’s a problem, as a president of the United States or casual student of history should very well know. It is simply wrong to equate the deeds of violent white supremacists with the deeds of those who stand against them – even when that means meeting violence with violence. While we cannot vouch for the character of every one of the counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, we can say with certainty that they were on the right side of the battle. The president may believe there were “very fine people” among those chanting “Jews will not replace us” and Nazi slogans like “blood and soil,” but we don’t. Anyone who aligns themselves with neo-Nazis is one of the bad guys, and that is where the debate ends.

The question then is, what form should opposition to the torch-wielding terrorists take? We understand why some people feel compelled to confront the hatred of racists with violence, but that we cannot support. There were no winners in Charlottesville. Nobody is wiser because punches were thrown. Nobody is enlightened because lives were lost. This battle in the streets left a residue of pain, anger, anxiety and sorrow – little else.

There is a better way, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has articulated it well in a community response guide available on its website, splcenter.org. We urge everybody to visit the site and read the guide in full, but here, briefly, are the “Ten Ways to Fight Hate”:

Act: “Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance by the perpetrators, the public and – worse – the victims.”

Join forces: “Reach out to allies from churches, schools, clubs and other civic groups. Create a diverse coalition.”

Support the victims: “Hate crime victims are especially vulnerable.”

Speak up: “Hate must be exposed and denounced.”

Educate yourself: “Understand the difference between a hate crime and a bias incident.”

Create an alternative: “Do not attend a hate rally.”

Pressure leaders: “Elected officials and other community leaders can be important allies.”

Stay engaged: “Promote acceptance and address bias before another hate crime can occur.”

Teach acceptance: “Bias is learned early, often at home. Schools can offer lessons of tolerance and acceptance.”

Dig deeper: “Look inside yourself for biases and stereotypes.”

In this time of high tension, we especially want to highlight the SPLC’s position that attending rallies to confront hate groups serves only the perpetrators. Instead, people should organize alternative events that stress unity, with music, food, speakers, etc. The dueling optics are powerful: At one rally, hate-filled racists carrying torches and shields; at another, neighbors celebrating community diversity.

In the wake of Charlottesville, and after the president’s troubling press conference on Tuesday, we heard a lot of people say, “This isn’t America.” But that’s incorrect. There may not be clashes in the street every day, but the hate is always present here – in every city, in every state. And that hate is the enemy.

America is better than this, and it is time to show it. This administration and its enablers in Congress won’t lead, so the good people must.