Yale professors discuss cultural basis of hatred

Hate does not deserve a place in the Yale community or in the world, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said Tuesday evening.

About 50 members of the Yale community gathered in Sudler Hall last night for a panel discussion about the sociology of hate, the third in a series of four discussions sponsored by Butler and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey following several racially charged incidents on campus last semester.

The panel, moderated by Butler, featured four Yale professors, who discussed the historical and cultural factors that lead to hate crimes. While the first panel in the series, held in December, attracted more than 100 audience members, the number of attendees appears to have dwindled since then.

“Universities have an obligation to cast light on these subjects precisely because they are ugly, precisely because they tear down instead of lift up,” Butler said.

In November, dining-hall workers discovered racially inflammatory graffiti spray-painted on a wall outside Pierson College. That incident, paired with allegations that some students wore blackface costumes on Halloween, prompted an outcry on campus and a rally and vigil.

In his remarks, Philip Smith, associate professor of Sociology and associate director of the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology, sought to provide audience members with background on how hate crimes are defined, tracked and punished.

He cited two databases of information about hate crimes in the United States — the FBI Uniform Crime Report, which uses strict criteria to define crime, and the Justice Department-sponsored National Crime Victimization Survey, which defines crime much more loosely than the UCR and thus collects more data from more individuals.

“We don’t know how much hate crime exists in America, and the measurement is very difficult,” Smith said. “It depends on the strictness of the criteria and the attitudes of the authorities,” among other things.”

Joanne Meyerowitz, a professor in the History and American Studies departments who focuses on queer issues, drew a distinction between “macro-level hate” — genocides, mass arrests and ethnic purges — and “micro-level hate” — everyday incidents that people are socialized to overlook, such as discriminatory comments.

According to Meyerowitz, the shooting this past Saturday of California teen Lawrence King was micro-level hate. King, a 15-year-old from Ventura County, was shot by a classmate after opening up about his homosexuality and wearing makeup and jewelry to school.

People can become so accustomed to this kind of micro-level hate over time that they form socially acceptable prejudices, Meyerowitz said.

Alondra Nelson, an assistant professor of African American studies, Sociology and American Studies whose research focuses on racial dynamics in science and medicine, spoke about how the interplay between rationality versus irrationality in people’s decisions influences hateful behavior.

According to Nelson, institutionalized structures such as Jim Crow legislation create “an architecture of racism,” which can lead people to commit irrational hate crimes.

Nelson warned audience members to be wary of racism that uses “the veneer of science” and to look out for people who seek to use bioscience selectively to “steer human justification for racism.” As an example, she cited the eugenics movement during the 1940s, which she said allowed Nazi Germany to justify racist policies.

The final speaker, Anthropology professor Shivi Sivaramakrishnan, spoke about the ways in which hate informs the caste social structure in India. Dalits, also known as “untouchables” in India, have long been victims of socially acceptable hateful acts, he said.

According to Sivaramakrishnan, although the Indian government passed a law in 1989 to hold individuals responsible for hate crimes against Dalits, the government has not yet built a legal infrastructure that can adequately handle the number of suits filed under the law each year.

Talking during an question-and-answer session at the end, one audience member seemed unsure of what the panel was supposed to accomplish.

“What is it that you as presenters want us to take away from this panel?” he asked.

Meyerowitz responded that the panelists hope to give “greater awareness of the large-scale impact that hate has had historically and of the everyday incidents that form the bedrock of hate.”

Butler added that the purpose of the talks is to reaffirm that “we have choices in our behavior, and when we choose, that choice ought to be honored.” He said that “hatred does not honor those choices.”

Comments

  • JoeMorgan

    I wonder if the politically correct understand that the dictionary defines hate as "extreme hostility"?

    Should Yale professors discuss the cultural basis of "hostility"? What about discussing the cultural basis of "anger" or "being upset"?

    You know that you are living in an Orwellian society when a negative emotion is used to define ideas, groups or speech.

  • Anonymous

    This panel is speaking to a specific definition of the word hate, that is to say hostile behavior engendered by conflicts of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. In other words, hatred for another human being not for their words or actions, but simply for the circumstances of their birth.

    In this case "hate" is a shorthand for a range of hostile actions. Much in the way "liberal" or "politically correct" seem to have become shorthand for anyone even remotely interested in interpersonal respect, social justice, and peace.

    Luis Medina
    Saybrook 09

    PS Orwellian? Is it so hard to go through the day without saying something racist or sexist? Is it really such an unreasonable request? Does your collar chafe every second you stand in front of a woman without verbally or physically disrespecting her? Do you begin to tremble from the effort of containing your favorite racist jokes and slurs around people of color? Get a grip.