Recently the KKK distributed fliers in Fairview Township announcing that they had formed a neighborhood watch. No matter the purpose, whether they are rebranding or just looking out for local residents, what the KKK promotes is hate.
Hate is divisive and tears at the fabric of our community.
I am happy that there was a response by the community and the police. Without any response — when there is silence — hate wins. Silence is a welcome mat for hate.
Many years ago, the York JCC partnered with Floyd Cochran to share his own perspective as a member of the Aryan Nation. In just two years, Mr. Cochran rose to the fifth-highest-ranking member in their organization. While he was in the Aryan Nation he felt like he was a part of something big and important. He left them after a leader told him that once the Aryan Nation took power he would have to euthanize one of his sons. His son had a cleft palate. According to them, having a cleft palate was a genetic defect.
It got him to thinking that it isn't right to kill someone just because of who they are. It was a defining moment that let him to leave the Aryan Nation to be a spokesperson for acceptance and respect.
The KKK and organizations like it prey on the vulnerability of people. They prey on those who may be fearful of or angry at the government for many reasons (immigration, taxes, etc.). They prey on those who feel left out and alone.
They slowly and methodically teach them their values and bring them into their organization, giving them an opportunity to feel wanted and accepted. Cochran once said, "The key is to work subtly, to win their confidence. I would just talk to people, not shout racial epithets or carry a gun or make violently sounding remarks or wear a uniform with swastikas. You want them to believe that you feel for them, that you are there to be their friend."
He also said, "Racist organizations know the strength of a need to belong. One of the first things I was told upon entering organized hate was that I was family, that I had a reference point of belonging. This told me I was wanted, and helped me to gain self-esteem. I now had an identity and purpose, and was part of something important and larger than myself."
It is important for everyone who is genuinely concerned about the KKK and organizations like it to combat their hate agenda. A great place to start is with the Southern Poverty Law Center's publication, "Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide," which provides what we can do to combat hate in our community.
According to the Community Response Guide, we should do the following:
1 Act. Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. Decent people must take action; if we don't, hate persists.
2 Unite. Call a friend or co-worker. Organize allies from churches, schools, clubs and other civic groups. Gather ideas from everyone, and get everyone involved.
3 Support the victims. Hate-crime victims are especially vulnerable, fearful and alone. If you're a victim, report every incident — in detail — and ask for help. Let victims know you care. Surround them with comfort and protection.
4 Do your homework. An informed campaign improves its effectiveness. Determine if a hate group is involved, and research its symbols and agenda. Understand the difference between a hate crime and a bias incident.
5 Create an alternative. Do not attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and for people's desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade to draw media attention away from hate.
6 Speak up. Hate must be exposed and denounced. Help news organizations achieve balance and depth. Do not debate hate-group members in conflict-driven forums. Instead, speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity.
7 Lobby leaders. Elected officials and other community leaders can be important allies in the fight against hate. But some must overcome reluctance — and others, their own biases — before they're able to take a stand.
8 Look long range. Promote tolerance and address bias before another hate crime can occur. Expand your community's comfort zones so you can learn and live together.
9 Teach tolerance. Bias is learned early, usually at home. Schools can offer lessons of tolerance and acceptance. Reach out to young people who may be susceptible to hate-group propaganda and prejudice.
10 Dig deeper. Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes. Build your own cultural competency, then keep working to expose discrimination wherever it happens — in housing, employment, education and more.
Locally, the York Jewish Community Center (yorkjcc.org) provides diversity services to children and adults in school, business and organizational settings designed to eliminate prejudice and encourage respect for differences. The YWCA has a Racial Justice Committee that meets monthly with the focus on a range of topics pertaining to race, privilege and human rights. Finally, the Hispanic Center of Hanover, a program of the Hanover YWCA, provides a regional diversity summit annually (Oct. 14).
To quote Martin Luther King Jr., "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
— Melissa Plotkin is the director of diversity and organizational development for the York Jewish Community Center.