Hate crimes have a long history in the United States, Bill Schweers, executive director of The Atkins Center for Ethics at Carlow University, told the group of a few dozen gathered for a panel on campus this afternoon.
“Much of what I have to say today is grim and disturbing … but we cannot avert our eyes, that would not be the appropriate response,” he said.
Tuesday’s panel “Confronting Hate – A Discussion of the Tree of Life Synagogue Tragedy” covered an overview of hate crimes and explored what happens when first responders and members of the public experience trauma. Experts also offered ways to help the community.
This is the first of many conversations, said Mark Weir, Carlow’s assistant director of equity and inclusion.
Schweers and Weir, along with Sheila Roth, an associate professor of social work who works with first responders after trauma, shared their expertise as well as tips for what to do next.
Here’s their advice:
Learn the language
Know that stereotypes are what leads to prejudice, which are internal biases and pre-conceived opinions about people or groups of people, Weir said.
Discrimination is a verb — it’s acts of that prejudice that can lead to oppression, he added.
Oppression is systemic and acts of violence, he said.
Before hate can be confronted, it has to be acknowledged, Schweers said. He added that there is a long legacy of violence in America in the name of white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism.
Quoting FBI statistics, he said that last year, hate crimes overall rose 17 percent and anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 57 percent across the nation. And per the Southern Poverty Law Center’s map of active hate groups, there are 36 active hate groups in Pennsylvania.
Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance, Schweers and Weir warned. They advised the audience to find a way to confront hate and show that it has “no home here or anywhere else.”
Along the same lines, Weir urged people to not be neutral because oppression looks for ways to be normalized. He shared this quote from Desmond Tutu, an anti-apartheid and human rights activist:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Weir also warned against using the state as a measure of ethics, pointing out that the Holocaust and slavery and segregation were all legal, while hiding Jews, helping slaves reach freedom and protesting were all criminalized.
Know what trauma is
“Our brains constantly process information, but trauma is processed differently, Roth said.
She said trauma narrows a person’s perspective and prevents them from thinking clearly, making decisions and functioning in daily life.
Signs of trauma include a short temper, lack of focus, anxiety, sadness, changes in eating and sleeping and worrying about safety. The last one is a big one right now, especially in the Jewish community here, she said.
Roth added that it’s OK for people to get stuck due to trauma because there is help available.
One way to help others, and yourself, to deal with trauma is re-establish routine. Trauma is a disruption of a person’s worldview and is bound to impact work and relationships, Roth said.
So it is helpful to provide routine and familiarity into people’s lives, she said.
“This is a new normal for all of us in the city of Pittsburgh,” Roth added.
Offer something positive
Instead of focusing on someone else’s hateful action, go out and do something positive that unites people, Weir said. He added that people should strive to bring together different groups and people of different ages to draw attention from the negative to the positive.
Sometimes right after a traumatic event, people want to help and be supportive, but it doesn’t always last for a long time, Roth said.
So Weir challenged the audience to do just that and continue to move positive momentum forward by staying engaged, whether that’s being involved with different groups, reaching out to elected officials or just listening when people are ready to talk.