A Community Response to Hate

Join us on Friday, March 6th, for the Arms of Compassion Around the NAACP.

Shawn Vestal’s article about Rachel Dolezal in this week’s Spokesman Review captured her courageous attitude in the wake of the hate mail and violent threats that were sent to her PO Box last week. While the article discussed the contents of the package, it also provided a glimpse into the complex challenge Dolezal faces as she processes how to respond. Not only is she balancing her personal safety and the safety of her family, but she is also anticipating how her response will impact her community. As a professor, Spokane NAACP president, and well-known artist, Dolezal is a high-profile leader. How to best answer back in the face of hate?

The greater Spokane community is also trying to find the right way to respond to such an appalling hate crime in our midst. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and other great leaders have taught us that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When one of us is targeted, harassed, assaulted, or mistreated, we are all vulnerable. We should be mindful that there is no “other”. We all feel pain, fear, and the desire for protection and healing.

Jim Sheehan, founder of the Center for Justice, explains that we, as a community, need to answer back. We cannot simply read about happened, and go on with our lives. “We must be intentional, and start by declaring that what Rachel experienced was unacceptable. We are responding because we feel with her. Her pain is our pain.”

Of course we must condemn the hate. What happened to Dolezal and her family last week was intolerable. We will not accept discrimination and threats of violence. The perpetrators of this crime need to be held accountable for their actions. And to anyone who might be emboldened by these actions, we send a message: This. Is. Not. OK.

But after that? How do we embody the wisdom of King and Gandhi? How to we turn empathy into practical support and action? How do we replace an experience of injustice with an experience of justice? These are important questions because, in the face of conflict, we decide what kind of community we are. They are important questions because facilitating an experience of justice after a hate crime is not solely the responsibility of law enforcement. Our community also must participate in the creation of experiences with justice.

This is our challenge. How do we do more than condemn the hate? How do we show love, and show love again? The consequences of hate do not fade with the newsprint of yesterday’s paper. We know the story is not over. It is essential that each of us absorbs what happened, turns inward to reflect on our responses, and follow through so that, with each gesture, we bolster those who have been harmed in our community with experiences of love.

Join us on Friday, March 6th, for the Arms of Compassion Around the NAACP.

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