Every other week when I was young, we went to visit my grandmother. The visit always started with her showing us the latest additions to her scrapbooks where she created pages about people that she hated. My grandmother was filled with hate for anyone who was different. She spent time each day working on scrapbooks decades before scrapbooking was a popular craft. She drew devil’s ears and tales on people of color or turned them into animals or savages. She put large noses and big hands on Jewish people who were trying to take all our money and control the world. She put bishop’s hats on Catholics and X’s across their mouths, as their thinking and speaking were controlled by the pope who had brainwashed them.
She colored the faces of Caucasians black and drew in devil’s horns for anyone in the civil rights movement, interracial couples, and liberal politicians.
These were real people whose photos she had cut out of magazines and newspapers.
As children, we were subjected to grandmother’s scrapbook and her venomous diatribe on every visit. We would look for ways to escape and play outdoors as we did not share hatred. My parents told us that she was a crazy, lonely woman who didn’t like other people. I don’t remember her having any friends or even talking with her neighbors. We weren’t allowed to play with the Catholic kids who lived across the street from her, and she never spoke to them.
Because of these experiences, I have been thinking about the difference between hate and anger. Anger is “an intense emotional response. It is an emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceive provocation, hurt or threat.” Anger is situational, often arising when we feel that we have been treated wrongly or unfairly, and often generates action to right the wrong. Anger can be evoked by injustice, hate speech, public harassment, and discrimination.
These cases, often called healthy anger, can motivate action and connect allies working toward social justice.
Audre Lourde in The Uses of Anger argues that “anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.”
Hate, on the other hand, is “an intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” Hate is an extreme feeling and usually is directed at a group of people. It can be manifested as a strong aversion where a perceived member of a group evokes abhorrence, disgust, and/ or hostility. It is not necessarily situational but often is evoked by seeing members of groups. As one of my friends said, “Hate takes commitment.”
Where did my grandmother learn her hate? She was angry about her life and afraid of losing what she had. Grandma grew up in extreme poverty; her father was disabled in an industrial accident. Among the oldest of 12 children, she often was hungry as a child. She was forced to leave school in the eighth grade because she needed to work. In her homogenous, rural world, outsiders were threats. She was overwhelmed moving to a city as a young wife and mother with the economic insecurity of the Great Depression.
Nelson Mandela shared my belief that hate is learned: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
If you met me, you would learn that my grandma’s lessons in hate didn’t take. My parents went to high school and college with people from diverse backgrounds. Entering health care professions at the end of WWII, they worked and became friends with people of all colors, religions and backgrounds. Diversity, tolerance and respect were part of my childhood.
Although I believe we can raise children who respect and value differences, the dilemma for me is how to change hate into love for people who are raised in what Dr. Walter Bonime characterizes as an angry culture.
Bonime argues that people battle to stay enraged because their self-identity and power are bound in opposition to the groups that they denigrate and dominate.
We need more than a kumbaya moment where love and kindness overcomes someone else’s hate. This will be a challenging and long process of deep conversations where we:
· Recognize our own anger and differentiate it from hate
· Listen closely to those with antithetical views as if we expected our minds to be changed
· Speak and act to affirm our own emotions (fear, anger, threat) and those of others
· Be willing to show our vulnerabilities
· Help people identify the fears that underlie their hate
· Model kinds of strength that are not based on hate and domination
Frank X. Walker gives me hope in his poem, Love Letta to de Worl’
We can’t pass the course on humanity
if we keep failing the lessons
and until we unlearn fear and hate.
Patricia MacCorquodale Ph.D.
Professor, Gender & Women’s Studies
Dean Emerita, The Honors College