Since 2016, my colleagues and I have been leading public workshops called “Let’s Talk About Hate” at the Gandhi Institute, and for other groups and sites upon request. These events are inspired by a book so important to Martin Luther King Jr. that he is reported to have carried it during his travels: Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited. This slim, remarkable book relates Jesus’ persecution to the oppression of modern day people, including their experience with hatred. Thurman describes the perils to any society when hatred becomes respectable, and claims that hatred frequently grows unchecked because most of us prefer not to think about it, let alone understand or claim it as part of our own experience.
Reading this statement felt to me like a mandate to do something — hence the creation of this workshop. Skyrocketing amounts of hate-related content online, the rise of mass shootings fueled by hate, and a deteriorating public discourse especially among national leaders, fueled this interest. The fear and despair, as well as the courage and remarkable potential, of many young people I meet through the Gandhi Institute inspires me to take action too.
More than 250 people have participated in these workshops, of diverse ages, ethnicities, professions, and religions. Four of the most recent ones were offered in partnership with the Levine Center to End Hate, which launched this past fall. The first online version of this workshop will occur Sunday, April 19, 1:00-3:00 pm, in remembrance of Dr. King’s April 4, 1969 assasination.
During this time we generate definitions of hate, reflect on personal experiences of hatred, and examine it as a social trend. We discuss conditions that accelerate hate, needs met by hate, and the relation to self-hatred.
One closing exercise has been to ask each participant to imagine receiving a $5,000 check to reduce hatred, and brainstorm ideas for how to do so. The innovation and creativity expressed inspired us in 2017 to create a youth grant program with support from the Farash Foundation called Youth Healing Hate, grants up to $1,000 for youth aged 12-24 to create solutions to hate in their school, faith group, or community. Thirty projects from urban, suburban, and area charter school students, as well as some undergraduates, have been implemented.
My favorite way to wrap up is to read a beautifully illustrated book called Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, a version of the founding story of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) confederacy, which holds the distinction of being among the oldest governance structures in the world. The story tells of years of peacemaking among the five founding nations of the Haudenosaunee, including the reconciliation of the most fearsome warrior of the time, Tadodaho, whose evil deeds had literally twisted his physical form. The Peacemaker and all of the others came to confront this last obstruction to a lasting peace and instead of killing or exiling him, they heal him. After the confederacy is founded, the formal role of leader and historian of the people is named for him. Since the foundation of the confederacy, 118 people have held that role. The current Tadodaho is Sidney Hill. In this UN address, Mr. Hill emphasizes again and again the importance of our minds, and of bringing our minds together. All of the systems in the world that produce hate, and all that produces joy, beauty and peace, begin in our minds.
The moral imagination and strength of those choices made centuries ago in this region now called New York State thrill me. I wonder what might have taken place in the years since 9/11 if we had created a similarly influential national role called the Bin Laden, an advisor to help us remember that violence begets violence, that hate rebounds upon itself, and to affirm our social and biological interdependence, as the Covid19 virus is teaching us every day. Remembering all of these things is vital for all of us alive today who are creating the future that will greet our children in the days to come.