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Part 3 in the Democracy in Distress series about the five key threats to American democracy and what you can do about them today.

Threat 3: Hate 

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

– Maya Angelou

Imagine a young professional, dedicated and skilled, being denied a dream job not due to a lack of qualifications, but because of her gender identity. This type of injustice, sadly not rare, embodies the harsh reality of prejudice and hate in our society. Many Americans feel the sting of this discrimination firsthand and hostility due to race, economic status, gender, ability, and religion.

Discrimination based in hatred doesn’t merely deepen societal divisions; it erodes the very essence of our nation’s highest values. What do we do about it?

Understanding the Roots of Hatred

Hatred doesn’t arise in a vacuum. Children are raised with misconceptions, fears, and ill-informed stereotypes of certain groups. A family or community’s deep-seated prejudices and historical biases are perceived as normal and brought into adulthood, unexamined.

While it’s easy to point the finger of blame at racist, misogynistic, and/or homophobic people, every person that tolerates discriminatory humor or subtle aggression effectively condones hatred too. We all have a part to play in changing an unjust system.

Understanding Its Impact

After 9/11, hate crimes against Muslim Americans spiked. This is now happening again to both Jewish and Muslim people as the Gaza conflict commands headlines. Our trans and non-binary neighbors are increasingly targeted. Since the FBI started collecting voluntary reports of targeted violence, the number of incidents have only continued to increase

Acts of hatred inflict emotional distress and trauma on its targets, making the world feel unsafe. Currently, the Equal Rights Act goes unpassed. Members of the LGBTQ+ community lack official legal recognition of their equality at the federal level, and may thus legally be denied housing and employment.

Even with legal protections, disabled people, for example, live with the daily fear of losing their job or the likelihood of finding a better one. People in poverty fear not finding safe, affordable housing or being able to keep it. Women and pregnant people fear repercussions from their employers if their pregnancy status is made public. All of these are examples of how bias and hatred show up in the lives of Americans.

Embracing Solutions

Despite its daunting nature, various avenues exist to address pervasive hatred. These steps and initiatives clear a path toward a more inclusive and empathetic nation:

Solution 1: Awareness: 

While education is a powerful tool in dismantling prejudices, many well-intentioned training solutions are not effective at creating real change in attitudes. As adults, we must look within to identify how our own assumptions perpetuate injustice. To understand our own biases, consider taking Project Implicit’s self-tests reveal them and offer steps for unlearning.

Solution 2: Education

Programs that promote cultural understanding from an early age can reshape mindsets and nurture tolerance. Everyday conversations can change hearts and motivate actions of solidarity. See the previous article in this series about open dialog that overcomes bias and misinformation.

Telling our stories is a way to lift the veil on our experiences systemic oppression. Listening to and believing the stories of our neighbors helps us understand how hate and intolerance touches their lives too.

Solution 3: Legislation

Advocating for policies that champion equality and fair treatment is crucial, and is a feature of the Americans of Conscience Checklist. Contacting and collaborating with policymakers to enact anti-discrimination laws creates new legal protections. A good example of this is a recent law introduced in New York City that increases the number of recognized hate crimes. Communicating with your elected officials (of any party) about anti-hate legislation can lead to similar changes today. Make a commitment to do so today (we have an action this week that could use your help).

Solution 4: Advocacy

Legislation alone is not the only solution, however. Speaking up in solidarity with marginalized communities is essential. This means making calls, sending emails, and showing up in support of their goals. In 2009, for example, when Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, citizen involvement played a crucial role in the momentum that led to its passage. Through their sustained efforts, highlighting the urgency of addressing hate-motivated violence influenced its passage. In a democracy, it’s our collective voices—consistently over time—that achieve justice.

Ending hatred, one action at a time

In our Checklist, calls to action often originate from organizations with a long history of ending hatred. We encourage you to consult any of the following for clear actions

ADL (Anti-Defamation League) focuses on fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate by providing educational resources, advocating for policy changes, and offering training programs. In particular, they address ways to quell hate speech online and promote anti-bias education.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) addresses racial and economic injustice by providing legal representation to marginalized communities and advocating for criminal justice reform.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is specifically oriented toward organizing white people for racial justice by working in solidarity with communities of color and advocating for structural change.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been advocating since 1980 for LGBTQ+ rights, providing resources, and working to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Their legislative advocacy, educational resources, and community outreach has led to much positive change.

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a disability rights organization, advocating for full civil rights for over 60 million Americans with disabilities. Their goals include promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation of Americans with disabilities.

By allying with grassroots and lobbying organizations, we lend the weight of our presence and increase the number of people agitating for necessary change.

Toward a Brighter Future

Hatred corrodes social harmony, human rights, and growth in our society. Addressing it is vital for fostering justice and inclusivity. While changing the deep-seated roots of hatred cn seem painfully slow, sustained and collective efforts are the key to achieving a society rooted in true justice and equity. By understanding and dismantling oppressive systems one by one, we lay the foundation for a future in which every individual is embraced for their unique attributes. 

Fostering a kinder, more equitable nation demands concerted efforts, both on a societal and individual level. When we each do our part, together, we can build a future where hatred finds no harbor. 

We’re a community of Americans of conscience saving democracy, one action at a time. We’re Americans of every political party who believe we can create a kind and thriving nation by working together. If you’d like to join our effort, sign up for our twice-monthly Checklist of pro-democracy, pro-equality, pro-planet actions.