Why do people hate? Where does such a negative, destructive emotion come from? The secular literature provides an endless list of resources that address the origin of hate.
To simplify, but not be overly simplistic, hate is a learned attitude and discrimination is a learned behavior. Hate is learned at an early age from the role models in one's life and from one's life experiences. As we hopefully mature, we learn how to temper and correct some of those early learning experiences.
Unfortunately, a growing number of young people subtly learn to hate at home at an early age and never really face or confront those situations and circumstances.
Every semester in my sociology class at Suffolk, these concerns surface. Students openly express their hateful prejudices and ask why and how come? Most cannot respond. A small percent will point to a negative experience. Unfortunately, that one experience with a person of color causes them to generalize and group all people of color under that one negative experience.
This growing hate is very infectious and dangerous. It profoundly blocks a person's growth on a variety of levels. It paralyzes so many possible positive relationships. It cheats a person of the potential richness that people from every walk of life have to offer.
Unknowingly, we perpetuate this hatefulness by comments we make, humor we use, movies we watch and music we endorse. It is easy to dismiss something as joking or an unintended wisecrack, when one is not on the receiving end of a potentially hateful remark.
We have all heard the stereotypical jokes. They are directed at every ethnic group, religious tradition, lifestyle and sexual orientation. We don't have to like anyone, but I do believe we have to practice respect and tolerance, even if we are not always respected and tolerated.
Most hate comes from a dark place from within and is usually grounded in the unknown and terrible fear. Many times it shackles us or causes us to lash out with less than wonderful comments, which become our protection mechanism or weapon.
Children aren't born racists, anti Semitic, anti Catholic, homophobic, hateful of religious fundamentalists, or antagonistic towards the mentally ill or people with addiction problems. Children learn these hateful attitudes and unfortunate behaviors.
Thus, it is not surprising when a group of high school students spray paint a swastika on a public high school football field. When they get caught, they are shocked and appalled that they are arrested and charged with a hate crime.
Even more appalling are the adults who defend that behavior as merely a childish prank.
How can anyone minimize the use of a symbol that reminds any thinking human being that over eight million innocent Jewish people were exterminated by a very disturbed and hateful man? That can never be dismissed as just a joke. It is that attitude that perpetuates the anti-Semitism that continues to infect our world. That kind of acting out by high school students should never be dismissed as a childish prank. They need to be held accountable for that very poor choice, as should their parents (their first teachers).
As a society, we need to work harder at teaching tolerance and respect. The people who lead us need to model that behavior in every area, not just the areas that are comfortable. Our schools need to be more attentive to integrating tolerance and respect courses into their curriculums, not only for students, but also for teachers, staff, administrators and parents.
It is great to mouth pious platitudes about these delicate issues, but words are cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
A few semesters ago, I was teaching a social problems course at Suffolk Community College. It was a full class. As always, it was an enriching experience for me as a teacher. The class was comprised of a cross section of humanity. Some were fresh out of high school; some were returning students who were much older. Some students were clearly working on an associate degree; others were taking the class only for enrichment and a third group were stockpiling credits to transfer to a four-year college or university.
This particular class was very lively and expressive. Unfortunately, some spoke before they thought things through. Towards the end of the semester, various lifestyles and sexual orientations came up in class. A very vocal male made some flip remarks about sexual orientation. Another student who was also very vocal raised his hand and challenged the first student regarding his comment. He basically called him on his flip comment and disrespect. The peer confrontation was excellent. Both students handled it well. The first student ended up apologizing, and indicated that he had not intended to hurt or offend anyone. The confronting student thanked him for his response and ended his comment by saying "oh and by the way, just for the record, I am gay!"
The first student was shocked and embarrassed. The second student did not wear a sign identifying his sexual orientation, nor did he fit the unfortunate stereotypes that we assign gay men and women. It was an excellent lesson in tolerance, respect and not being judgmental.
A few months ago, a very bright, third year law student sought me out for a conversation. He said his parents, who were well-educated, religious people, were on the verge of disowning him. His Dad is a very successful corporate attorney. His parents are "baby boomers." The young man was embarrassed to say what his "serious sin" was.
After a pretty intense conversation, he uttered what the crisis was. He is dating a bright, articulate African American woman. When he shared this with his Dad, his Dad went ballistic. His mother just kept crying. When he asked why, they couldn't give an answer that made any sense, especially since they raised their children to be color blind and to respect all people, no matter what their race, religion or personal circumstance.
This circumstance is another example of the subtle hate that continues to infect the fabric of American life. We need to confront these feelings within ourselves and move beyond them, for the sake of our children.
A few months have passed and the law student continues to struggle with his parents' prejudice. However, his Dad did concede that he is wrong and now as a family they are working on this issue with a counselor. Not everyone is that lucky!