Monday, March 10, 2008

The Year in Hate -- New Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual report on hate in America documents that anti-immigrant rhetoric is fueling an increase in reported hate crimes and a resurgence in hate groups.

Also not surprising is that a leading immigration reduction advocacy organization has made the list of "hate groups" for the first time ...

The most prominent of the organizations newly added to the list, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, vehemently rejected the "hate group" label, and questioned the law center's motives. FAIR said the center was using smear tactics to boost donations and stifle legitimate debate on immigration.

"Their banner may be 'Stop the hate' but it's really 'Stop the debate,"' said FAIR's president, Dan Stein. "Apparently you can't even articulate an argument for immigration reform without being smeared."

The law center's report contends there is a link between anti-immigrant activism and the significant rise in hate crimes against Latinos in recent years. According to the latest FBI statistics, 819 people were victimized by anti-Latino hate crimes in 2006, compared with 595 in 2003.

Find the report online here.
See the map of hate groups in Virginia, here.

It may be debatable whether any group should properly be classified as a "hate group."

What is not debatable is that here in Virginia there is growing hostility to language minorities and people of color that is fueled by the anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric.

Anger, hostility, hate ... no matter where directed simply can't be neatly contained so that injury falls only on intended targets. There is already much collateral damage in this war of words, including kindergarteners who arrive home from tears seeking explanation for why their classmates are hurling the word "illegal" at them at school in tones disturbingly reminiscent of the pejorative use of the "n" word.

I hold leaders accountable for the effects of their rhetoric as well as their intent. It is time for conversation among all parties about finding solutions to quality of life issues such as overcrowding and for collaborative approaches to building inclusive communities.

Standing in our corners of the ring, hurling rhetorical punches and epithets across the physical or cyberspace divide is definitely NOT the answer.