A Personal Letter to Educators and Older Students
by Mica Pollock, an #USvsHate leader
Why did I start #USvsHate with educators?
First off, because of my grandparents.
As a child, I learned that my Jewish relatives were killed in the Holocaust as if they were inferior “kinds of people.”
My grandparents’ siblings and parents paid the ultimate price for that false idea.
My grandparents, as “survivors,” carried that pain and loss for their entire lives.
How to intervene against the American version of this hate has been the driving question of my life.
My mother was allowed into the US as a refugee toddler in 1950. I grew up treated as a “white” person in the United States.
As an adult, I’ve focused my work on education, and on repairing our nation’s own history and habits of treating some fellow human beings as less-than. Anti-blackness. Anti-brownness. Racism. Relatedly, Xenophobia (hate toward immigrants). Islamophobia (hate toward Muslims). Homophobia (hate toward gay people). Anti-Semitism (hate toward Jews). Sexism.
I define hate as any time people treat a “type of person” as if they are somehow inferior to some imagined-superior “type of person.”
● Hateful speech or symbols that demean and hurt people.
● Repeating false ideas that some “types of people” are inferior or superior.
● Taking a hateful tone or action that fuels more hate. (E.g., bullying, and standing by while others do it.)
● Any situations that deny people opportunity or well-being as if they are less valuable.
● Accepting such harm to others.
“Hate” is about explicit cruelty to others, like when we shout slurs or bully or push someone in school. But it’s also about standing by passively while people are hurt in schools or society.
“Hate” doesn’t just show up in moments when people scream cruel words. Hate also happens whenever we treat people as less valuable than ourselves, or accept situations where people are treated that way.
#USvsHate is about standing up when people get hurt, whether that hurt is subtle or not.
Hate incidents have spiked across the nation in the past few years. On campuses across the country and across our communities, hate-filled actions have been on the rise as students react to divisive rhetoric and policy treating some “types of people” as less valuable. Explicitly racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, and just cruel
The recent spike is the newest version of an old problem.
A few years ago, I went with my kids to the town in the Ukraine where my family members were murdered in the 1940s for being Jewish. We also went to Warsaw’s Museum of the Polish Jew. It has an exhibit where you are looking out the snowy window of a simulated train. You glimpse the Jewish ghetto with its emaciated people, big eyed and miserable. But you are a non-Jew passing through. You can turn away. You can continue to travel on. You can go back to your life, your warm bed.
It made me think about how many of us have traveled by or ignored the pain of others for our whole lives. Past systemic inequalities. Past everyday injustices. “White” people (like me) particularly are raised to drive by, to look the other way as people get hated or hurt.
To think “they” are not “us.”
I get up every day to get off the train. To say “we” ARE “they” ARE “us.” To pursue human connection and fight inequality. To say all people are equally valuable!
It’s deep work to change our society so we treat everyone as equally valuable.
Can we get this started in schools, right now?
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the best people I know to do this work. The question, as always, is how.
Here’s #USvsHate’s plan.
We’re inviting teachers to teach anti-hate lessons offered by 20 national teacher support organizations. We’re then inviting youth to create anti-hate messaging. While the national hate spike is positioning many folks as somehow less valuable than “us,” #USvsHate’s anti-hate messaging will say publicly and loudly that everyone is part of “us.” That human beings are “equal in dignity and rights.” That everyone is equally valuable!
To get us rolling, we asked 20 teacher-support organizations to share favorite lessons for deep “inclusion.” The #USvsHate lessons they offered help us consider how to stand up when people are explicitly cruel to others (like shouting slurs) and as people experience ongoing hurt in schools or society. The lessons tap our emotions as well as our brains. They help us build our friendships, learn about other people’s experiences, and tackle key issues of empathy, allyship, and in-school “bullying.”
But our message isn’t just to “be nicer” to each other in school or to “stop bullying.” Our lessons also get us learning about historic and current forms of “hate” treating people as “less than” in our society. We want this project to be a portal to adults and youth learning together over time about the society around us, the hateful scripts society puts in our heads, the unequal access to resources people have experienced, and all the experiences and diversity that make us US.
So, we’ve designed this whole website to lead to more learning. We link you repeatedly to the broader resources of Teaching Tolerance and all the organizations represented here. We flag pre-and post-lesson learning experiences you might find useful. We share Teacher Stories of educators’ journeys with particular lessons. We offer a large section of Professional Resources, including tools supporting classroom dialogue and school anti-hate activity overall.
And while you might just try one lesson, #USvsHate teachers say that for deepest results, they are combining multiple #USvsHate activities with ongoing efforts to learn in their classrooms, clubs, and advisories. Many teachers are planning to enter all three contests this year!
Finally, here are some #USvsHate Principles guiding this work. #USvsHate lessons and activities get us fighting hate by putting these Principles into action. The Principles combine ideas from Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards with two books I’ve created, Everyday Antiracism and Schooltalk:
● We reject false ideas about “inferior” and “superior” people. Every person and each community is equally valuable and deserving of respect. We can be proud of whoever we are without putting anyone else down! (Identity)
● We refuse misinformation about other people’s lives. Instead, we build
● We call for inclusion and opportunity for all “types of people” across our society. We reject any situation or action that treats some “types of people” as worthier than others (Justice).
● We stand up against harmful treatment. Through our anti-hate messages, we insist that all people should be respected, fairly treated, and supported. We ask others to act, as one 3rd grader put it, like “everyone belongs”! (Action)
When we invite students to make public anti-hate messages after #USvsHate lessons, such messages also activate all the Principles above!
An #USvsHate “anti-hate” message does one or more of the following:
● explicitly address, explore, and refuse racism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, or other forms of hate in schools and society. (Each of these terms are defined, here.)
● communicate that people across lines of difference contribute to our communities, regions, and nation and deserve access to opportunity and well-being.
● bust a myth (challenge a stereotype) about a “type of” kid too often misrepresented.
● ask people to treat each other kindly, fairly and respectfully, so schools stay safe for learning and society includes us all.
Whether messaging ends up on one classroom wall or gets shared digitally to thousands, we hope #USvsHate’s public anti-hate messaging will help reshape the speech, symbols, and messages students across the U.S. see, hear and repeat every day. Publicly saying no to hate is our place to start. Our messages insist that all people are equally worth it!
This kind of work supports us all. If we only stand up when “we” are hated, hate will hurt us eventually. We have to stand up together against the hate itself.
We can do this! #USvsHate!