Taking on Hate in the Academy

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Written by SpearIt

Recently a colleague forwarded me a call for papers by The Journal of Hate Studies at Gonzaga University’s Institute for Hate Studies.  The symposium theme, “Hate and Political Discourse,” immediately captured my thoughts and led me into a daydream daze about potential topics.  It was at once stunning and intriguing that there’s so much hate to think about.  My impromptu brainstorming conjured themes of religious hatred as well as hatred in the prison environment.

I naturally thought about recent legislative trends in “hate crimes” or “bias motivated” violence, which targets an individual because of religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, age or other personal characteristics.  Hate crime laws, however, are nothing new in the United States, which passed the first of these laws after the Civil War.  Later legislation includes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to injure, intimidate, or interfere with individuals engaged in protected activities due to “race, color, religion, or national origin.”  In 1978 California became the first state to pass a hate crime statute that provided for penalty enhancement in murder cases.  Today, almost all states have hate crime statutes.

Hate crimes led me to consider the American religious landscape, and how hatred of Islam has become a part of social life.  Islam is without a doubt the most hated religion in America.  This is evinced in court battles to prevent a mosque from opening near Ground Zero to Quran burning in the South to fears of jailhouse jihad.  Although one might still find Christians dressed in cow costumes protesting Hare Krishna parades, new religious movements are no longer the religious threat they once were perceived to be.  That distinction clearly belongs to Islam.  Americans hate Islam so much that Sikhs and Hindus have been harmed just for looking too much like Muslims.

In my reverie, I had already plunged into the freefall of hate, but hadn’t even gotten to the expansive depths of how much Americans hate gays, lesbians, transgenders, and practically any other identity other than heterosexual.  This type of hatred cuts across all lines, and hatred of gays has a doctrinal pedigree far more ancient than the obsession with Islam.  In the Book of Genesis, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah tells of Lot who offers up his two virgin daughters to be ravaged in order to prevent the homosexual rape of his male guests.  From this story we learn that raping innocent women is preferable to the shame of homosexual sex.

Hatred of gays plays out prominently in the prison setting.  Although prisons are known for segregating inmates to prevent violence and riots, prison trends show that gay and transgender inmates suffer high rates of rape victimization.  This is why they are often isolated.  If there’s anything that unites inmates, it is hatred of “fags,” “sissies,” and others deemed “queer,” attitudes which may arise because inmates perceive another as too effeminate.  The hatred may internalize such that sexual victims harm themselves to the point of self-cannibalism, gender mutilation, and suicide.

The prison as an institution also hates homosexuality.  This may have something to do with why sex among inmates is proscribed behind bars.  Although some facilities permit conjugal visits, historically these have been limited to heterosexual unions, to visits from a “spouse.”  Although in 2007 California became the first state to allow for same-sex visits, for almost a century, carefully worded rules afforded no room for same sex conjugal visits; what appears outwardly as merely penal policy is really a cultural code of contempt for homo-sex.

In my musings, I hadn’t even considered debates about immigration, same-sex marriage, or white supremacy’s ongoing force.  The breadth and depth of hate, enough to fill a symposium and support an institute, is a sad commentary on ourselves—despite the luxuries, technological advances, and standard of living we enjoy, we are still haters.

Symposium editor, Robert Tsai, explained to me that this is nothing new since “mobilization of animus for political ends…has a long pedigree.  Gaining electoral advantage, advancing economic policies, consolidating parties, building social movements, warmaking–are all activities that have, at one time or another, depended on mobilizing hatred of others.”  The same holds true today.  We all have a stake in this important issue—from the streets of New York to churches of the South and prisons across the United States—because hate really is everywhere.  But where are the haters of hate?