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Hate Crime Survivors Speak Out In New Book 'American Hate'

Arjun Singh Sethi, author of American Hate
Les Talusan
handout | agency
Arjun Singh Sethi, editor of "American Hate."

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Even as society has become more diverse and tolerant hate has not gone away. In fact many observers believe we're seeing increased examples of hate speech and hate related incidents. In the new book "American Hate: Survivors Speak Out," Arjun Singh Sethi shares 13 stories of people and their families who have faced hate crimes. And he believes the problem has gotten worse since Donald Trump was elected president, and attributes at least some of that directly to Trump's rhetoric or refusal to call out racists or other hate groups. Sethi will be in the Valley at Changing Hands Bookstore later this week and is with me now. Arjun, how much do the people you feature in this book really have in common?

ARJUN SINGH SETHI: I think overwhelmingly the sentiment that the survivors I met have is that hate preexisted Donald Trump and hate will endure after Donald Trump, but that he has exercised the worst form of bully pulpit. That as president he has fostered hate on the basis of almost every human characteristic including faith, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, race and the like.

GOLDSTEIN: Do you feel that the hate that people experience now is perhaps stronger but as expressed by fewer people and yet because those who hate hate so vehemently that it seems as if the problem is getting worse?

SETHI: If you talk to community activists and you talk to community organizations who track reports of hate every day, they will tell you that hate is spiking and that it is just an incontrovertible fact. That's what survivors are saying. That's what community activists are saying. According to a survey like the National Crime Victimization Survey, there are as many as 250,000 hate crimes a year. So I think it's great that citizen journalists are stepping up and increasingly capturing incidents and stories of hate on camera. But I think there is no question that not only is hate intensifying but that it's also spreading.

GOLDSTEIN: Well if we're saying that this hate existed of course as it did before President Trump, perhaps in a slightly different form, why is hate spiking? What are you seeing out there that is indicating that people are feeling the need to express this in such a negative way?

SETHI: Well I think in large measure it's because of the rhetoric and policies of this administration. When President Trump says he's going to ban Muslims and refugees, when he decides he wants to cage and separate immigrant families, when he calls Syrians snakes, Mexicans rapists; all of the insults that he's levied on the undocumented community, on women, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrants, Muslims; I mean name a community and he's gone after them. I think that puts a target on our back. If the government is going to treat us as second and third class citizens, if the government is going to treat vulnerable communities as subhuman so will everyday Americans. And that's why I continue to think that this president and this administration through their policies and through their rhetoric is really inciting and emboldening people to act hatefully across this country.

GOLDSTEIN: When did personal responsibility stop being a thing? When did it become that hatred is ok because this person who's occupying the White House for a limited amount of time says these things or permits these things? I mean does this indicate to you that at our core we're simply not real good human beings because this opportunity allows us to be to treat other people like garbage? Because to me it seems outrageous.

SETHI: Well to me, it actually shows that a lot of these really ugly forces like xenophobia, sexism misogyny, anti-black racism, anti-Semitism have been around for a long time. They've just been under the surface. And what Trump has done is that he mobilizes and catalyzes a lot of those forces. He appeals to people who harbor those terrible beliefs and he encourages them to act out. You know I say on page one of the book, the United States was built on a hate crime; the decimation and destruction of native communities, and was furthered on the basis of additional hate crimes, including mass incarceration, slavery, Jim Crow and alike. And I don't think the United States has done an adequate job of understanding and reconciling this history.

GOLDSTEIN: Let me ask you to go back in time a bit to earlier in the 21st century. When you think about post 9/11 and where we're at now post 2016 election, how do you parallel those in terms of hate here in America?

SETHI: You know, the difference between the sort of the post 9/11 moment and today is something that comes up in the book a lot. And many communities actually say they feel so much worse today than they did then because Donald Trump won a Democratic election. This is a man who ran on a racist campaign platform, and still won. 9/11 was a terrible atrocity committed by terrorists. So the overwhelming sentiment amongst Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh communities is that this moment is more difficult, believe it or not, than even that painful period after 9/11.

GOLDSTEIN: Arjun in "American Hate," there are obviously several perspectives offered in the book and I'm wondering if there's a couple of examples that really exhibit what we've been talking about and that are represented in American Hate?

SETHI: These are stories of hate in America but they are also extraordinary stories of resilience, hope and optimism. You know one story that immediately comes to mind is that of Taylor Dumpson. Taylor Dumpson is an African-American woman who decided to run for student body president at American University. Last year, in 2017 Taylor Dumpson won. She won the election. And then the day she took office at American University, four miles from the White House, nooses were found hanging across campus. Right, now if you weren't following in the news you might think this might have happened 40 years ago, but this happened last year in Washington, D.C. And then she talks about how days later she got back to her apartment and was being trolled by the Daily Stormer and other white supremacist outfits. All because she won a student election at American University.

GOLDSTEIN: Arjun Singh Sethi is the editor of the book "American Hate: Survivors Speak Out." He'll be in the Valley on Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Tempe Changing Hands as part of a panel discussion. Arjun thanks very much for the time today.

SETHI: Thank you so much for having me.