By Donna Vickroy
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After Charlottesville, people across the nation have found themselves appalled and, simultaneously, conflicted about how to react. Columnist Donna Vickroy shares how some people are struggling to express themselves.
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.
How do you respond to hate without being hateful?
How do you denounce vitriol without spewing more vitriol?
In the aftermath of the Aug. 12. Unite the Right white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Va., during which an alleged Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring others, people across the nation have found themselves appalled and, simultaneously, conflicted about how to react.
Like many, I truly struggled with how to respond in a civil manner. I didn’t struggle with my views, but I did struggle with how to express them without sounding like a hater.
There are people in this world for whom hate seemingly comes easy. And they have no problem taunting others into a ring of fire.
And there are those of us who try to live our lives atop a foundation of love, acceptance and positivity, who believe everyone belongs, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, and who try to teach our children the same.
Typically, when hate does arise, we make a point of not letting ourselves be easily engaged by the haters, of not spewing, of not sending ugly vibes of white noise into the atmosphere, and of not letting it hijack our social media pages.
But when the fight is ugly and people are injured and killed while standing up to hate, it is hard to resist the temptation to don full battle gear and charge the enemy.
And then we look in the mirror. Must we become our enemy to overcome him?
Because of how volatile last weekend’s events were, some of my friends and family members have taken to avoiding the news.
Some bake more or Facebook less. Across social media you’ll see photos of kittens, gardens, families embracing. So many are trying to rise above the fray. But is that enough to make the fray go away?
Sure, we want the public to know we do not tolerate hate. We want those targeted by hate groups to know we stand in solidarity with them. But we also want the world to know we will not let haters reduce us to their level.
So how can you be true to yourself without hiding from current events or contributing to the mushroom cloud of rage?
I asked others: Is it possible to address the hate now engulfing this country without acting like the very thing you denounce?
“Absolutely,” said Fred Lyon, pastor of Flossmoor Community Church, “but it isn’t always easy.”
Lyon,who spoke during an Aug.13 candlelight vigil in Homewood held in response to the Charlottesville tragedy advocates responding to hate with love.
“Unfortunately, because some high profile religious people seem to have thrown in their lot with Mr. Trump, religion is getting a bad name,” Lyon said. “But all major religions have some pretty strong words about being loving in the face of hate, even in the most difficult of times. If you go to the sacred texts — the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, the Quran — there’s some pretty strong encouragement to face hate and anger and violence with love.
“Read your sacred books, not just parts of them, because over and over and over again the overriding message is that God calls for us to be loving and caring people,” he said.
Nevertheless, Lyon said, staying calm and nonanxious, as “essential” as that is, is often easier said than done.
“It takes discipline. One of the ways hate and violence work is they hook you and make you feel like you’ve got to get revved up,” he said. “If there are ways to cultivate a peacefulness within your own spirit, your own heart, your own mind, you can learn how to live in a way that doesn’t return evil for evil.”
Lyon suggested people who aren’t religiously minded turn to the works of Mahatma Gandhi, or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was religious but is often embraced by secular audiences as well.
“Even Malcolm X, who had a reputation for having an edge about things, toward the end of his life, moved toward a more conciliatory way of honoring all people and working toward an understanding that all people should be treated with respect,” Lyon said.
“It’s a total way of approaching things. Be calm. If you start reacting and fighting back, they’ve won. Try to take the higher road. But realize it may not always be easy. Still, it’s your decision whether or not to stay calm in the midst of the fray. It takes a lot of strength to be a peaceful person,” he said.
I wondered, is living by example enough? No, Lyon said, it is just a start.
You also need to be aware of subtle forms of hate, he said. In recent years, legislation in a number of states has taken back progress in respect for people of all different backgrounds. That has fanned intolerance toward people who are different from the white majority population, he said.
“So don’t get so sloppy that people who are agitators become emboldened,” he added. “If that happens enough people who are even more extreme see that as taking cover. They feel they’ve got cover from the legislature.”
Lyon added, “As much as a lot of the alt-right and KKK people are young men, what’s encouraging is that there are a lot of college students and folks under 30 standing up and bravely conquering. That gives me hope.”
The Rev. Peggy McClanahan, pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn, agreed that it is possible to combat hate without becoming hateful.
“I do not think anyone can effectively combat it by becoming hateful because it just fuels more hatred and becomes a never ending cycle,” McClanahan said.
She cited theologian Walter Wink, who said: “We become what we hate. The very act of hating something draws it to us. Since our hate is usually a direct response to an evil done to us, our hate almost invariably causes us to respond in the terms already laid down by the enemy. Unaware of what is happening, we turn into the very thing we oppose.”
So the answer, McClanahan said, is to “ground ourselves in love. I try to do that by continually grounding myself in God’s love. When I’m grounded in God’s love, I cannot hate anyone or act in hateful ways toward them because God does not hate anyone. God grieves deeply over hateful deeds and seeks to transform the hater with love. With God’s help I try to do the same.”
King was a man who had every reason to hate and, yet, McClanahan said, he didn’t. “Instead, he said, ‘We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.'”
Sometimes, McClanahan said, hating back at a hater is a knee-jerk reaction.
“It is easier to hate than to forgive,” she said. “It is easier to hate than to want to forgive. But there is no hope of truly countering hatred unless we learn to care about the hater. If we dehumanize the hater by hating them we bring more hatred into the world and violence increases.”
Annie Lawrence, an administrator of the south suburban chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow (actionforabettertomorrow.org), which organized the vigil in Homewood, said one way to combat hate is to simply address it when it arises.
“Don’t let things slip by. If someone makes a joke, don’t just laugh along or dismiss it,” Lawrence said. “If we can tamp down on some of the accepted speech, it will send a message. If it’s not OK to joke about it, it’s not OK to mean it.”
She said she realizes that can be difficult, especially when hateful rhetoric arises among family and friends.
“Don’t back off, bring yourself forward,” she said. “Tell them, ‘This is who I am, this is what I believe.'”
Lawrence said if you care about people, show it.
“There are not necessarily more haters out there, they’re just more willing to be seen because they think they have the administration that backs them. They think we approve this as a nation,” Lawrence said. “But we don’t.”
Though the rise of hate groups may take some by surprise, especially people who thought America had moved beyond civil rights clashes, Lawrence said for many people of color or of a specific sexual orientation, the hate has always been there.
What can you do to make a positive difference? Lawrence said support those who are marginalized; and be visible. Participating in vigils is one way to do that.
“Vigils are representation to the rest of the community. We were on a visible street. Let the community see you and know what you’re about. That can make a big difference,” she said.
She said ABT, which has 35,000 members across Illinois, has plans to open Facebook conversations.
“We will guide it so that it doesn’t go into an angry and ugly place,” she said. “The way this discourse has gone in the media and on social media has been ugly. We are trying to talk about our views without getting personal or angry or accusatory, because that doesn’t help. It’s very important to have conversations calmly.”
A group of progressive southwest suburbanites has found a way to combat hate through peaceful actions.
Southwest Suburban Activists (find it on Facebook) also held a candlelight vigil in Frankfort’s Breidert Park the day after Heyer was killed.
Founder Emily Biegel said the grassroots movement began in January as a “huddle after the Women’s March with 10 people at my kitchen table writing postcards to their senators.”
The group, which has held unity and pride marches since then, as well as a Nasty Woman art exhibit in June, has grown to some 550 Facebook followers.
“There’s a real need, I guess, in the community for people to feel they are a part of something, and a part of something positive,” she said.
“It’s so easy to become angry. There’s a lot to be angry about,” she said.
Yes! magazine recently published an article about resisting with love.
“That spoke to me,” Biegel said. “A lot of what we do is rooted in that.”
She said instead of reacting in anger, group members hold events and write public officials, trying to get them to do their jobs — “to make our state or country a more accepting place.
“Our events are about spreading kindness, love and tolerance and diversity in our area,” she said. “In my opinion the things we are fighting for — equality, denouncing white supremacy — are nonpartisan and not controversial.”