Undoing fear of hate among minorities

The killing of Muslims in New Mexico has prompted the usual fight-or-flight reaction. For many Asian Americans, hate violence has brought a different response.

An Imam leads a group of men in prayer at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Aug. 7.

A series of killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has sharpened the fears of Muslims across the United States. Already last year, Muslims reported a 28% rise in incidents of hate and bias, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

They are not alone. About 1 in 3 Black adults and 1 in 7 Hispanic adults worry daily that “they might be threatened or attacked due to their race or ethnicity,” according to a May survey by Pew. Those concerns have prompted some minorities to change their daily routines to reduce their vulnerability.

At different times in American history, minorities have felt motivated by hate or fear to seek political or social change. That motivation has been particularly pronounced for Asian Americans during the pandemic. Violence against Asian Americans spiked as the origin of COVID-19 in China was politicized. That aggression, however, has led to a range of alternative responses.

In Oakland, California, for example, Asian Americans formed an unarmed neighborhood watch patrol and reduced incidents of hate by strengthening their practice of community. In June, thousands of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders held a weekend “unity” rally in Washington, D.C., to counter stigmas against them.

In addition, Asian American educators have written new public school curricula on history and culture that have already been adopted or are being considered in a growing number of states. The only way to reverse hate against Asian Americans is “by teaching people who we are, what our history has been, and what our experience has led us to,” said New York state Sen. John Liu in support of a bill expanding Asian American history education.

These corrective initiatives, wrote Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, in a recent essay for The Christian Century, share a recognition that “we can’t address racism by vilifying individual racist perpetrators.” Addressing hatred, he argued, requires humility. “Instead of reacting with a fight-flight response of our own, which just perpetuates the cycle, we can try to see our enemy with empathy – since we all hold implicit bias.”

In Albuquerque, meanwhile, where police announced Tuesday that they have a suspect in custody, one prominent Islamic leader offered this advice on how the city’s Muslims could respond to the killings. “We should never let evil dictate our life,” Mahmoud Eldenawi, imam of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told The Guardian newspaper. His courage reflects a lesson many Asian Americans have already embraced: that hate and fear cannot flourish in the face of meekness and affection.

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