Commentary: SDARJ says hate has no home here

There is ‘better use for your energy’

By Sara Ford

On Nov. 21, the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice (SDARJ) hosted a webinar in response to what we consider to be a hate crime committed against Charlotte King (chair of SDARJ), when her property in Lewes was vandalized.

Sara Ford

In a matter of days, members of SDARJ had gathered together a diverse and powerful group of speakers, including Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long, Attorney General Kathy Jennings, State Representative Ruth Briggs King, members of clergy from various faith traditions, community representatives, Captain Mary McGuire DSP from Troop 7, several children, and Denise Kearn, a local business owner.  In total, there were 18 speakers and over 270 people in the virtual audience. 

Recently, there has been an “uptick of hate crimes” (Lisa Blunt Rochester) across the country. There is a certain immediacy and extra relevance when it happens in our own community. Not only was it powerful to see all who spoke and to realize how many were listening, but the eloquence of the words spoken and the strength of emotion and commitment expressed by all the speakers were a resounding testament to Charlotte, to Black Lives Matter and to the words “hate has no home here.”

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester was the first speaker, and her emotion rang in her words: “While an act of hate and vandalism brought us here, it will be the fuel to drive us harder toward justice and propel us in love toward peace.” This theme of turning an incident of hate into a galvanizing call to action echoed throughout the webinar. Most importantly, the call was not to retaliate in kind, hate for hate, but to confront hate with love — in her words, “radical” love.

Radical love, like the Greeks’ agape, is unconditional love. Faith traditions, as Rabbi Beth Cohen said, talk of the love of God for all creation, a love that all participate in and can act from. Radical love is also implied in all versions of the phrase, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Whether one belongs to a faith tradition or not, these words lead to a recognition of the fact of our shared humanity. Imagine how much less harm would be done if every person paused to take that message in.

Yet, as evidenced by the rage and fear and turmoil that have been engulfing our country and the world, living by these words is neither simple nor passive, another theme echoed throughout this webinar. “Our hurt and fear bring out our anger” (Rabbi Beth Cohen). It is the easy, often automatic response. One could argue that it is the underlying motivation for those who perpetuate these crimes, their reaction to perceived injustices, to challenges to their supremacy and their terror at losing what little or much ground they may have. When this fear and rage are stoked as they have been in recent times, violence against others, be it physical or verbal, increases.

Father Jeffrey Ross said that it’s not enough to lift the people out of the water they’ve been thrown into. We have to go upstream and find the source and challenge the perpetrators. This kind of challenge does not imply retaliation but rather showing another way, one of compassion and respect for the humanity, even of those who act in hate. Such compassion does not imply acceptance of the acts but of the shared humanness of those committing the acts. It is a recognition that we all, as part of being human, have the capacity to lash out and inflict injury on others. It is recognizing ourselves in the other and helping them recognize themselves in us.

This call to action resounded through the webinar. Action entails learning to listen to others, seeking out conversations with people who disagree with you, finding common ground. If we see an act of injustice or hear racial slurs, we must have the courage to challenge them, not duck our heads and wish them away. Denise Kearn and her husband, owners of Ryan’s Beach Shop on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, exemplify not just talking the talk but living it. Throughout their 23 years owning the store, they have actively supported all people — Black, White, Brown, LGBTQ. The signs in their store reflect their commitment. And they have been harassed for it, verbally and with actions, their SDARJ shirts with “Enough is Enough” and “Racism Hurts Everyone” tossed to the ground. Yet they don’t respond with fear; they neither lash back with equally angry words nor take down their shirts and their signs. And they challenge other businesses to do the same: “Lead with our values, and business will follow.”

In the final words of the webinar, Charlotte King echoed and deepened all the words spoken. She was fierce and powerful, as she said that this hate crime failed to intimidate; rather, it energized. “Aimee and I believe in the greatness of our country,” she said, asking all to join in love and unite. She called on the perpetrators to “give up their ignorance,” saying there is “better use for your energy.” And she asked all of us to “protest peacefully, to speak out, stand up and replace misinformation with factual information.”

It takes courage to stand up to violence and hate with love, with compassion. It takes courage to listen and to empathize. All who spoke in this webinar and who listened joined in a common commitment to that courage, to a firm resolution that “hate has no home here,” and they invite others to do the same.

Sara Ford is a retired teacher and educational consultant.  A member of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, she lives in Lewes where she works on her music and art, and studies and writes about social and racial justice.