Surviving and Conquering Hate: Reflections on Arjun Sethi’s “American Hate”

“Speaking out is the most basic and vital form of resistance.” – Arjun Singh Sethi

I spent some time reflecting on Arjun Sethi’s “American Hate: Survivors Speak Out,” which was published over a month ago. I also had the opportunity to hear Arjun speak about his book at the Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, on August 30th, which was quite the gift. I want to take a moment to share my reflections and experience with this incredible, timely and much needed book.

Arjun Sethi presents a breathtaking anthology, capturing the voices of survivors from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, many from vulnerable populations impacted directly or indirectly from policies/propaganda during Trump’s presidential campaign and current administration. The book is a courageous and powerful documentation of the crimes, abuses, and experiences, directly from the purview of survivors. Along with sharing their story, each survivor reflects on how we should tackle the epidemic of “hate” in America.

The survivors were appropriated for the mainstream spotlight to serve the anti-Trump agenda and rhetoric. Stories were heard, used for political motives, and then, as usual, forgotten with time. Sharing the experiences from the survivors’ lens shines a different kind of light. Sethi’s intentional account of varied experiences from Muslim,  Sikh, Jewish, Women, Palestinian, Transgender, Queer, Disabled, (etc.) and their intersections, supports this critical concept of “intersectionality,” which originated in gender studies, particularly among  literature from black women feminists (coined first in the context of feminism and race by civil rights advocate and leading race scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw), and has become increasingly prominent over the past several years. Essentially, “intersectionality” is a method or concept for understanding how inter-related factors (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and class) interact and are acted upon in public life, social systems and structures, and public policies.

As it relates to a dominant theme I address in my blog, the critical identity intersection or factor that most people like to avoid discussing, (one that is mentioned in the literature of “intersectionality”), emerged with almost every essay in the book: MENTAL HEALTH.  1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America, yet a national mainstream conversation about mental health and stigma doesn’t seem to gain traction beyond celebrity suicides or mass shootings. In the context of Sethi’s project, we neglect to consider how hate speech and violence can impact the mental health and well-being of the survivor. But, as Sethi points out in his conclusion, these heartbreaking stories revealed the lasting effect that horrific abuses of power and acts of hate could have on the psycho-social well-being of the victim.

From murder, hate speech, assault, hate crimes, bullying, etc., these events negatively impact our emotional, mental, and physical well-being, and that’s the “double tragedy” of all of this, which is even more gut-wrenching, as many mental health issues manifest from identity struggles and intersections that ultimately become most vulnerable to attacks and assaults by bigots.

Many of us are confronted with different types of injustices, based on the intersecting elements of our identity, concomitant to how we relate to the world, and the surrounding environment. Many of us have experienced similar types of hate speech, crimes and abuses. So many of our stories are unheard, undocumented, and left in the margins of the mainstream conversations. Sethi, in various platforms, has mentioned that there is data showing approximately “250,000 hate crimes” occuring in the US every year. We can imagine there are many more of related injustices that are not reported or documented.

Each story we read from this book provides an opportunity for reflection. It may have exacerbated my insomnia a bit, but I think it was important for me to take a moment after each testimonial to grieve for those survivors. In a sense, there were moments I felt I needed to grieve for myself. I am certain many others felt the same after reading. Although there were events that are beyond my comprehension, some of the experiences that the survivors shared resonated with me, even at the micro level. I revealed some of my experiences in previous posts. Sometimes certain things you experience during your childhood stays with you, and returns at other stages of your life, especially because you don’t understand what has happened to you then, and because of that, you are not given the chance to grieve. We don’t want our children to grow up with the same struggles we have, because we are enlightened enough to know how it could affect their overall well-being, especially at a later stage in life.  I have only recently discovered how certain events contribute as primary sources of my continued anxiety and depression that impacts every aspect of my daily life. I have received and continue to receive a lot of stigma in my own little communities and social networks from my openness to speak about my debilitating illness, when, for many of us, to “speak out” is an essential part of our healing and recovery.  But unfortunately, we take the risk of marginalization, as many of the survivors in this book experienced, and it makes everything harder. Further, I must add that women of color have a very difficult time navigating the barriers in every sector in life. In my case, women academics/scholars in public policy confront another layer of challenges, and I hope to share more on this in later posts.

The #MeToo movement (also mentioned in this book) as well as the misogyny of the current administration has reminded many of us survivors of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment, of our “status” as “victims;” and of those horrific experiences we continue to relive from time to time. Those of us who have experienced sexual abuse, (Note: 1 out of 4 women in the world experience sexual assault in their lifetime) have lived in this haunting “victim’s mindset” for too long. Although the Trump and Weinstein scandals have been a painful trigger, it was also a moment of “virtual solidarity,” (#Metoo) especially for so many of us who were not able to get the help we need to cope and grieve our assaults. Finally, there was some sense of justice and relief. But it isn’t over.

It is clear that many people endure multiple forms of abuse and injustice based on our identity intersections, as Dominick Evans suggested in his story as a trans disabled man. And because of these intersections, there are so many factors in our surroundings, so many more forces, barriers and boundaries that are working against us, our healthy livelihood, our success, our survival, our resilience. And there are untold or hidden stories of tragic encounters that so many millennials, those of us from the 9/11 generation for example, have experienced, and so many long before us as well. As Sethi has stated, hate violence in all forms existed before Trump, and during Trump and will continue to take place when Trump leaves office.

Sethi has mentioned that this book is for all survivors. It is quite profound that the survivors in this book provide critical guidance for action against hate. In a sense, their directive is to remove this stain of “victim-hood.” Their revelatory humility, compassion, resilience, faith, mercy, forgiveness, can console us and remind us that we are not just victims, we are not merely survivors, we are warriors, and we will overcome. 

Sometimes there is an “othering” of racism and hate violence, in and of itself. It is hence an “othering of the act of othering.” Too often we forget that this happens to “us”. This happens to people around us and sometimes we don’t think it happens in our own circles; OR we become so accustomed to some of the injustices at the micro-level, that we just let it happen. We don’t say anything, and when we do try to say something, people won’t listen. Not even our “allies.”

Sethi’s project has reminded us to stop this type of “othering.”

One of Sethi’s critical messages in the book and what he has stressed in various mediums is for “our white allies to step up.” Some of our white friends and colleagues may not realize their white privilege and supremacy, and the advantages they have over others, which may be more visible to people of color and minorities. When we try to engage in these conversations, it is unwelcome. It is time we have these conversations with our allies. We have to be comfortable having these conversations in our circles and we can strategically and diplomatically help others be comfortable with them.

Hate exists in all forms and sometimes it is not as visible. The “invisible hate,” what people choose to keep inside and show in other ways, some behind the doors, is what scares me the most.

People of color, minorities, and especially women of color, demonstrate immense tolerance and patience for the everyday racism, bigotry, misogyny, hate, whether it is a visible or more obvious attack, or something exhibited in more subtle and systematic ways. We let it go, those “microaggressions” (term applied in book) because “some battles are not worth fighting.”  It is time we make use of this built up “righteous anger” and resentment from our experiences, in a beneficial and strategic way, to make things better and sustainable for the generations to follow.

There was a part of me, at one point, that wanted to see the bright side of Trump’s election: We will just have to absorb any losses in these four years of Trump, and we should just ignore what this “child throwing a tantrum” spews out of his perverted mouth. A window of opportunity would be emerging, over time, for a more progressive inclusive political platform and agenda. Sometimes we have to go through real bad times to get to the good times. The more we give fuel to the fire, the more we lose. But the problem is that there are people who don’t ignore Trump, and for dangerous reasons, and that has led to this “spike on hate,” (Sethi’s words) and why people find a need to denounce both his policies and his words. Even though his ego feeds off of all the attention that he gets, “good” or “bad”, it’s all the more important to address his behavior, because of a large number of supporters who continue to embrace his ideology and politicize it.

The losses and tragedies we learn from these stories of survivors, and those that continue to struggle, are REAL. These are serious, tough losses, as indicative in the book.

When we get a new President in 2020, it may take many years of healing and recovery. We are nearing two years and have already taken some big hits. This will especially be the case for those who were directly affected by the President’s “bad policies” and “bad behavior,” that riled up his base, “emboldened hate” as Arjun states, and those who care about how it has affected minorities and communities of color. Our resilience will continue to be tested, and we have always been ready.

Ultimately, this book does multiple services to multiple players. Sethi has said that we need to “Center the Survivors”,  and emphasized the need for us to be “guided by the stories of these survivors.” It serves as a form of catharsis, healing and recovery for all survivors of hate and even survivors of other forms of abuse of power. “American Hate” is an opportunity for all of us to “grieve” as individuals and as a collective but to keep moving forward. In the process, similar to what I have emphasized for mental illness and suicide survivors, we must share our stories to create and maintain “connections” that will help us stay “alive” (both literally and figuratively).  Sharing our experiences and stories is part and parcel to the healing process for many survivors of mental illness, and survivors in general. There is no other tool quite as good, and profoundly influential, as storytelling for shaping and expanding our compassion for the human existence and human condition.

A critical related point that Sethi stressed at his book talk last month and at many other mediums, was the important idea of “Community.”  I have noted in previous posts, that a high level of social capital is highly correlated with saving survivors of mental illness and suicide, which is why it is critical to have conversations on mental health, regardless of the root causes.  Similar to people struggling with mental illness, it is not always easy to find a sense of “community” for survivors of “hate.”

“American Hate” is one opportunity. Gatherings are taking place all across America, within rooms overflowing with curious, passionate, concerned people that want to be a part of this critical timely, and emerging movement.

And after reading the stories in this book, a part of you may feel a little different, in a good way, and I hope that doesn’t go away. But it isn’t an effortless task. We do have to make an effort to ensure our minds and hearts remain active for these causes. Some of us have no other recourse but to fight and resist, on a daily basis. Resist the injustices, fight against our illnesses, the internal and external jihads alike! Though my insomnia has increased a bit, because of how much this book has moved me, it is part of the course and the choice we make. At the conclusion of the book, Sethi writes among his many “best practices” and recommendations about the need for self care and his personal struggles with this, during his experience. We must read these stories, but we need to remember to take care of ourselves during the process. The strength, courage and resilience from the survivors from this book will help us in that challenging task.

Thank you Arjun, for  being  a “light on hate,” giving us hope, and providing this platform for these extraordinary individuals to share their stories. It is a grand service that deserves great appreciation.

And thank you Asmaa Albukaie, Taylor Dumpson, Haifa, Victoria, and Rami Jabara; Jeanette Vizguerra; Alexandra Brodsky; Sarath Suong; Marwan Kreidie and Shahid Hashmi; Harjit Kaur; Tanya Gersh; Walia Mohamed and Destinee Mangum; Dominick Evans; Khalid Abu Dawas; and Ruth Hopkins for having the courage to share your stories.

We know your names and you won’t be forgotten.

This book is a critical read of our time. It will expand our hearts and open our minds. It will call us to take action if we take the time to harness it. It will give us the necessary hope we need to tread through the very difficult fight in the next few years, as an “all-inclusive” “intersectional” agenda finally emerges that will empower and uplift the voices of all disenfranchised and marginalized communities continuing to endure the wrath of senseless oppression in America.

The first step for ACTION is to read and share the value of “American Hate: Survivors Speak Out” among our friends, colleagues, and communities.

If you haven’t picked up this book, please do.

Here is a direct link to the website where you can obtain your own copy and also check out events near you:

“We will build a united front in and across our diverse communities. The coalitions of tomorrow will be deeper and stronger than those of today. We will forge a collective defense against hate and criminalization, where our diverse communities can find comfort and joy. We will teach our children to survive and thrive, even when others push them down. We will teach them to rise, just as we did, and remind them of what our ancestors endured long before us. We will teach them to forgive and reconcile, because empathy and tenderness are innate to who we are. We will build community and thrive. We will press on, just like we have always done.”   – Arjun Singh Sethi


Thank you for reading my reflections on “American Hate: Survivors Speak Out.”  Please do share yours.


Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,

Your Elsa

Warrior KQueen

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