Speaking Up Against Hatred

graduation-679945_640Welcome all you newbies! We are so glad to have you here. As Natalie said last week, “[#unitecloud is] an online presence; a grassroots, social media campaign, speaking out against hate speech in the St. Cloud area.” But why not more?
Why aren’t we hosting events & fundraisers, arranging speakers and the like? With lots of great community groups already at work doing these sorts of things there isn’t a need for another group to add to the mix. What there is a need for is helping average citizens, yes, like you, learn to speak up against hatred. Every army is made up of individuals fighting for one cause. We can be passive, attend events, educate ourselves, but until we put ourselves out there and start to speak up we will get no further than those already on our side. Speaking up is an intimidating thing for most people. There is this idea inside of us that holds us back saying “You can’t make a difference. You won’t change minds.” There is also fear of retaliation, fear of being disliked. After all, most of the people that you encounter saying unkind words are relatives, friends, or coworkers. These are people you will have contact with on a regular basis; speaking up becomes only that much more terrifying. The good news, folks, is that it doesn’t have to be.

How to Speak Up Against Hatred

  • In order to speak up against hate you must first make a personal commitment. (Do you see a theme here?)  It starts with you! It always does. Make a promise to yourself that you will no longer be part of the problem by remaining silent. Silence is not far off from consent.
  • Educate yourself. Now I don’t necessarily mean that you need to be versed in current statistics, ready to debate the political reasons for the continuation of the conflict in Somalia. If you can, great, but more often hate is spread because of fear. Because of an inability to empathize with another individual. Instead, listen to people’s stories so that you may be able to put a face to the dehumanized. Educate yourself on their general situation- What are their struggles? Their dreams? What keeps them from achieving that? Besides connecting you with others it will help to give you the confidence you need to speak up for them when the time comes.
  • Ask questions. Often, people have developed a bias and make negative statements despite never having thought through the reasons they feel this way. For instance, you may hear “I’m sick of all the Somalis living off of welfare.” A good reply would be, “What makes you think they are?” or “Do you mean all Somalis or just the refugees?” From that answer you can better obtain the reasoning that goes into this statement and better correct it. You may also hear, “Muslims are taking over this country and expecting us to change everything for them”. Here you could ask “What changes do you see them expecting?”. Other good general questions are “Why do you feel that way?” or “What makes you think that?” or “Why?”.
  • Use your facts. This is where your education comes in. Knowing what refugees receive in aid upon arrival to the US can help to clear up many misconceptions. Discussing the lack of ESL classes, particularly those taught by men, and how that contributes to language barriers. Having a general knowledge of the separation between church and state can be helpful on a number of levels, as well. Discuss what equality really means. If your opponent is using facts that you aren’t familiar with or seem untrue take time to ask where they got them. It’s okay to say, “I’m not familiar with that” or “I haven’t heard that. I can’t speak to that in particular.” Don’t make stuff up. Go with what you know.
  • [pullquote cite=”Kelly” type=”right”]What there is a need for is helping average citizens, yes, like you, learn to speak up against hatred. [/pullquote]Use your experience. While it’s helpful to know about the population your are discussing, I find that personal stories are much more helpful in putting things in perspective. For instance, I had a close relative speak up and say, “All people receiving welfare should be drug tested and forced to get jobs. Once they have a job then they could receive aid to cover the difference.”  There are many people out there that would agree with that statement on face value, but many lose sight of the faces of people that would effect. So I shared with them this: There is a mother I know, now single after leaving an abusive relationship, living here in St. Cloud far from her friends and family in order to keep her kids safe. She has 4 kids, two of whom have special needs. While two kids are able to attend school, one of the others is in preschool and the other is less than 1 year. She has been unable to work because she cannot afford daycare for two kids (the preschooler needing care after her two hours a day and days off). She cannot get daycare assistance unless she is going to school or has a job. She cannot return back to school or get a job until she has daycare assistance. See the vicious circle? Being a mother of 4 she is hard pressed to find time to meet new people who would be willing to help out- not that there are many people willing to take on two kids for free until she can afford to pay or send them elsewhere. So what is she to do?  It’s not always so cut and dry. It’s life. It’s never simple. Then there is the issue of drug testing. Sounds fair, right? But what does that mean for all the children of junkies who are not getting any services? Are they to starve? The kids don’t stand much of a chance getting removed from the household if their parents are anywhere in the system. They become forgotten. Not to mention it doesn’t even work. You see? There are faces to every story. Faces to make you stop and think. There are Somali women raising kids with complex health needs whose husbands work, taking their only car, leaving them unable to get to specialty appointments in the Twin Cities. With nowhere to stay when another surgery is needed and with other kids at home. She isn’t milking the system, she’s trying to be a good mother. There are thousands of stories just like these.[image type=”rounded” float=”right” src=”” link=”true” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]
  • Invite them out. If you are comfortable, help them to explore the other side. Maybe you could introduce them to a friend that might open their eyes and give them the chance to speak to someone of a different color/sexual orientation/religion; just a get together over coffee, you there to support him/her. Invite them along to a cultural event. Let them see & meet [pullquote cite=”Kelly” type=”right”]We can be passive, attend events, educate ourselves, but until we put ourselves out there and start to speak up we will get no further than those already on our side.[/pullquote]wonderful people for themselves and hear these stories first hand. You never know, it could just be that they never wanted to go alone, but would love to with some company.
  • Be willing to be the pariahYou need to know that speaking out may exclude you from further “bitch sessions” in the future. Be okay with that. Know that if you are speaking gently that you shouldn’t lose friends, but you may not be the person they come to when they need to vent their hatred. Of course, there are times that it may not be best (or safe) to speak up. This is different. If you are confronted with a deeply racist or hateful individual it may be best to proceed with caution. Some people are not open to hearing anything and can become violent. This is different. Use your judgement, but don’t refrain in fear of simply loosing popularity.
  • Keep trying. You won’t convince people to change their convictions the first time. You won’t. Hopefully, you will give them something to think about. Don’t let that discourage you. Keep trying. Keep speaking up. Do so with kindness and a willingness to communicate & educate. You never know, that person may just come back to ask more questions if they feel it is a safe environment.