Stronger than Hate. This is a statement that abounds in the wake of tragedies. Here in Pittsburgh it can be seen on t shirts, bumper stickers, in store windows. It became more visible following the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue on October 27th, 2018.
I see it popping up here and there (specifically among white presenting people) following the horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
People are grieving. Some have been grieving these types of atrocious murders virtually their entire lives. Some are new to feeling the impact of such terrors.
While I know this message is meant to be hopeful, inspiring, strenthening, I find myself resisting it as written.
Why? Our bodies are not stronger than hate, not really. If a hateful person turns up with guns and uses them, even accidentally, our bodies likely will not withstand that hateful action. People are likely to not survive their chest or neck being crushed by a person filled with contempt and hate. A law written and carried out with hate in mind can and will be used to rob people of their freedom, restricting people from using their bodies in joyful ways. Hate overpowers bodies all the time, despite people having incredible strength of mind and kind loving hearts.
I was in a car accident once (it was not the result of anything hateful, a true accident). Afterwards I had a lot of injuries and was in pain. The medical providers gave me medicine for the pain which I gladly took for a week or so. Soon I noticed that the medicines took my pain away AND dampened the gravity of the situation in my consciousness. When I felt the physical pain a bit, I was more in touch with my body and my feelings (which were sad). I stopped one of the medicines that day. No one had told me this explicitly, but on some level I knew that experiencing my real feelings (physical and mental) was important.
I suppose that is my problem with the phrase Stronger than Hate. It is meant to make us feel better about situations that are horrible, appalling, tragic. Feeling better is good, mostly. The part that disturbs me is that for some folks, using this phrase or others like it works TOO well. It distances them from the very real pain and suffering that exist, sort of deceptively soothing if you will.
For folks that are less directly impacted by recent tragic events (in this case white people), I want you to think carefully about how you seek comfort and soothing. Is Stronger than Hate your call to action? Does it give you some extra strength to ACT with purpose and bravery? Great! Or do you wear a t shirt that says Stronger than Hate or share a facebook post with that phrase and feel satified with yourself? If the latter is the case, I think you are doing it wrong. I do not believe such displays will get us very far in the crusades against hate, especially violent murderous hate. If anything the complacency created just makes things worse. It slows down progress.
To my white friends, my privileged friends, folks less likely to be subject to murderous attacks: In order to be truly stronger than hate, we have to use our bodies or do something tangible. We may need to act as a physical barrier for people who are in danger. We can and should use our actual voices to literally speak up when we encounter verbal or written hate, even sneaky hate (like focus on looting vs. root cause of looting). We should try to support anti-hate efforts financially. We may be supportive by making phone calls to people in power expressing, asking for swift, concrete action. There are more than enough things to go around and certainly actions exist that fit most personal circumstances.
An amazing person I worked with many years ago has been SO VERY PATIENT with her white friends in recent days. When folks offer sympathy and condolences, she so kindly and gently asks them “what is the action?”. Jani, thank you nudging us to DO SOMETHING.
Need help to find something to do? Please do not ask your friends of color or folks directly impacted by violent murderous hate. Read things already written. There are excellent books, articles, blog posts, TED talks. Do a google search if you have to. Ask your white/privileged/not being attacked friends. If you love the message Stronger than Hate let it fuel your actions and not your complacency and comfort. Action makes us strong.