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The America we must become: A response to Orlando

john a. powell, director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society | June 13, 2016

We have and we have not been here before.

The news that our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community in Orlando were singled out and targeted for a hate crime of unimaginable proportions fills us with an intense sadness and a deep heartbreak.

john powell

Professor john powell

That the attack happened on Latin night at the Pulse nightclub reminds us of the many layers of hate experienced by communities of color, and trans people in particular.

That this horrific crime came a year after the Supreme Court recognized the national right to same-sex marriage, and amidst global celebrations of Gay Pride month, adds another layer of grief.

That this hate crime happened a year after nine Black people were murdered in a church in Charleston, South Carolina—targeted simply for being alive and Black—adds yet another layer of pain in recognition of the ways that hate and violence continue to show up against communities who have been targets of violence and hatred far too long and far too often.

Hate crimes are classified as a specific and unique type of crime for a reason. Hate crimes are designed to be different, as their perpetrators consciously try to attack individuals solely because of a group they represent. A hate crime is someone attempting to say to a certain group that you don’t belong in our larger family. Hate crimes are an attempt to claim to an entire group that they are categorically and fundamentally different. In their attempt to send a message about an entire group, they try to deny the humanity of individuals.

We have to reject every part of that with everything we stand for as a country.

This attack is a deep injury to us all. While we grieve intensely and recognize unwaveringly that this is a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, we must also recognize that this is an attack on all of us. We are connected not only by our values, but by our shared humanity, so when you attack someone else, you are attacking all of us.

We must not let a tragedy of this proportion become a game of political football. We must claim the truth of what this attack signifies and resist political attempts to distort the facts or let the victims stories, lives, and deaths become diluted in fresh rounds of political maneuvering. Because the truth is that this is not the America we are.

We must become the America we want to be. We must ask ourselves: Who do we want to be as a society? Our best aspirations should be that of a society that practices love and inclusion.

The hateful bigotry and Othering being exposed during this Presidential election cycle is the opposite of our highest aspirations as an American society. We must not tolerate Islamophobic responses from our political or community leaders.

We must not give into the fear of the Other that will be on its ugliest and most base display in the following days. We must not give into the false notion that this attack should be met with retribution and further violence. We must not give into any distortion of the reality that this was a hate crime targeted against the LGBTQ community.

This is not just rhetoric. The killings in Orlando remind us of the real life-and-death consequences of how we organize ourselves as a society, of how we govern, of what policies we enact, of who we deem worthy of protection and regard, of who and what we value.

When I give talks, I often hear from those struggling to reconcile different beliefs—whether cultural, religious, or social—with changing policies and practices. These conflicts are real. But we must hold diversity and even disagreement within the spirit of love and family. We must recognize there is diversity not just across race, ethnicity, political parties, and religion, but there is also diversity of beliefs within our own biological families.

Simultaneously holding that we can disagree and that we can also still recognize our common humanity is part of the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln called for during the Civil War. This is the beloved community that MLK aspired to.

It is never wrong to love and it is never right to hate. We must rededicate ourselves to love as we resist those who seek to divide us. But these cannot be merely words — those words have to be tied to action, and those actions must be rooted in a set of shared values, including the recognition of every single person’s humanity and life.

We must do more. When we say “enough,” we must say it with conviction and meaning. We must turn our aspirations into a reality because we must, because we care, because we can.

Comments to “The America we must become: A response to Orlando

  1. If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody there, does it make a sound? Posting sentiments like these on a Berkeley Blog will have no impact – nobody reading this blog is likely to hold a different viewpoint anyway.

    Let’s repost this on websites who disagree and actually try to make a difference. Professor – are you brave enough for that or just pissing in the wind?

    • I don’t know what UCB you went to, but when I was an undergraduate there in the late 1980’s there was plenty of bigotry and bias. PLENTY. So, I think that posting these reminders ANYWHERE is helpful.

  2. Oh please, this is such drivel…. just as bad as reading UCB Equity czar equating Jihadism with micro-aggression.

    “Terror happens in grand acts, but also in small ones,” said Na’ilah Nasir, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. We need to mourn, she told the crowd, and then to “turn a close lens to ourselves” to see what we each can do to make UC Berkeley more welcoming to all.

    Love to see Powell try to debate Maajid Nawaz. (See his recent Daily Beast piece.)

  3. If ISIS is throwing gays from roofs, crucifying civilians, and giving people the United States the conviction to shoot up dozens of innocents, then we’ve every reason to be afraid of radical religion. So fear of Islam, i.e. Islamophobia, is not as unequivocally wrong as 21st-century college liberals assert…

    We have to draw the line, though, when it comes to hatred and fear toward moderate Muslims. That’s clearly wrong. Drawing this line is really hard. The human brain is not good at handling nuance when it comes to fear.

  4. Most people outside the LGBT community will never understand the level of acceptance and tolerance for people deemed ‘different’ – but you make a great guiding principle for us all to carry with us: “It is never wrong to love and it is never right to hate.”

  5. Fighting infection is mandatory for survival. All immune systems must “other” pathogens. Berkeley’s School of Public Health provides excellent templates that can be used as metaphors to develop fighting strategies against the (analogous) pathogens to which Director Powell alludes.

    • dave pacific: Fighting infection is mandatory for survival.

      YES! And since the pathogen in question is ISIS, which metastasized from (inter alia) Al Qaeda in Iraq, the response must target the growth mechanisms of the “franchising fascists” of the Islamic State, rather than targeting Muslims in general.

      We need higher-level thinking to deal with this terrible threat to women’s rights and LGBT existence, rather than simply reaching for hate.

      We are, after all, Berkeley.

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