Racism and White Supremacy: Not Just a Moral Blot but a Clear and Present Danger

(8/5/19) Our hearts are heavy with sorrow; in just over a week, our country has been hit with three mass shootings: last week in Gilroy, California (not far from ING’s home office), with three killed and 17 injured; yesterday in El Paso, Texas, with 22 killed and over two dozen wounded; and the same day in Dayton, Ohio, with 9 killed and 27 injured. And today is the seventh anniversary of a mass shooting at an Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara which took the lives of six people and wounded four others.

We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed or wounded in these horrific and tragic mass shootings and stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. We mourn collectively with the entire nation and look for solutions to this scourge of senseless violence.

White supremacy and racism appear to be behind at least two of the recent attacks, as they were behind the 2012 Oak Creek attacks and the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting.

The Gilroy shooter had a history of posting racist screeds online, while the FBI is, quite properly, investigating the El Paso attack as an incident of domestic terrorism, based on a manifesto the perpetrator posted online minutes before the mass shooting and the online ties that he had with extremist anti-immigrant groups and websites. The motivation behind the Dayton shootings is not yet known, but it’s hard to believe that the violence of the preceding week did not at least encourage the perpetrator on his way to mass murder.

These terrible events did not happen in a vacuum; mass shootings such as these are but the tip of an iceberg of hate crimes, which themselves pose a growing danger to our country.

A recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) at California State University San Bernardino shows that hate crimes rose 9 percent in major U.S. cities in 2018, for a fifth consecutive increase, to decade highs, while crime overall in major cities has declined in both of the last two years, by 3.5% in 2018 alone.

The report shows that crimes motivated by white supremacy and racism are a major component of this increase—particularly in hate crime fatalities. Homicides motivated by white supremacy went from 3 in 2016 and to at least 17 in 2018; clearly, as the tragedies still fresh in our minds prove, white supremacy and racism are an increasingly lethal danger.

Racism, moreover, is closely tied with other forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents (including but not limited to hate crimes), increased by 48% between 2016 and 2018, while physical attacks against Jews increased by 105% in 2018 over 2017.

According to a Pew report, anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016 surpassed levels in the period immediately following 9/11 by 37%: In 2016, there were 127 reported victims of bias-based aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 in 2015 and 93 in 2001. Additionally there were 257 hate crime incidents against Muslims in 2015 compared to 154 in 2014 (a 67% increase), and 307 in 2016 (a 19% increase). Another report found that in the last two years, 73% of Arab/Middle Eastern respondents say that they had experienced or witnessed hate.

Here in California, despite its reputation as a liberal state, hate crimes overall increased by 17.4% between 2016 and 2017, with hate crimes against Latinos up by 51%; against Jews up by 26.8%; and against Muslims up by 24.3%.

Less physically harmful, but emotionally damaging, discrimination against Muslims is rampant: another Pew report found that 64% of those whose appearance is identifiably Muslim experienced discrimination over the past year.

Political rhetoric undoubtedly plays a role in this. A study by political scientists at the University of North Texas found that counties in which Donald Trump held campaign rallies saw a 226% increase in reported hate crimes over similar counties where no Trump rally was held.

Another report, by researchers from Princeton University and the University of Warwick (UK), found a correlation between Trump’s Islamophobic tweets and a 38% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since the start of his campaign.

Furthermore, FBI data reveals that December 2015, when not only the San Bernardino terror attack but also the announcement of the proposed Muslim travel ban took place, was the third worst for anti-Muslim hate crimes since recording began, and that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes spiked an additional 23% after Trump’s rally celebrating the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the ban.

It’s not enough, however, to point the finger at political figures or other outside circumstances—however justified that may be. The threat of hate crimes and mass shootings must be met at a deeper level, by getting at the roots of hate crimes and bigotry—that is, at the beliefs and actions that underlie these overt acts. That is why the education and face-to-face engagement that ING provides is now more crucial than ever; it has become a matter, literally, of life and death.  We must uproot bigotry in all its forms, as a matter not only of moral integrity but also of public security.

Launching this fall, ING’s new Intercultural Speakers Bureau (ICSB), which draws together speakers of varied races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds to educate about and call for action against racism and bigotry in all their forms, is an ING initiative aimed at confronting this crisis in our nation. To book an ICSB panel for your classroom, house of worship or community organization write to [email protected].

Additionally, the following are actions that all of us can try to follow in our daily life:

  • Undo our own biases
    • Recognize that every human being has biases towards others
    • Challenge our instinctive thoughts and assumptions
    • Strive to overcome your biases
    • Make these steps habitual
  • Be open to criticism
    • Listen
    • Apologize
    • Avoid excuses
    • Be accountable
  • Be an Upstander: speak up when we hear or witness bigotry
    • Practice calling out ourselves and our friends, whatever their comfort level
  • Check in with co-workers/classmates experiencing bullying/bigotry
    • Ask if they need support and, if so, in what form
  • Intentionally engage with people who are different
  • Volunteer for community organizations that counter bigotry, such as ING
  • Continue educating ourselves about these topics

For more information, feel free to contact us at [email protected].