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.
I’ve worked to counteract the forms of everyday bias and inequality that keep hate going. Countering “hate” isn’t just about erasing swastikas and n-words from walls. The real goal is learning to treat all people and all communities as equally valuable in our schools and society.
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. And 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—meaning, practices treating “white” people as if we’re superior. Relatedly, Xenophobia (hate, bias and injustice toward immigrants). Islamophobia (hate, bias and injustice toward Muslims). Homophobia (hate, bias and injustice toward gay people). Anti-Semitism (hate and bias toward Jews). Sexism.
“Hate” feels most present when we scream or scrawl slurs. But I define the roots of 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.
- Taking a hateful tone or action that fuels more hate. (E.g., bullying, and standing by while others do it.)
- Repeating false ideas that some “types of people” are inferior or superior.
- Any situations that deny some groups 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. That’s why #USvsHate is about embracing inclusion and justice for all in our diverse schools and society.
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. We habitually treat “types of people” as if they’re less valuable than ourselves.
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 are treated as somehow “inferior.”
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, every day.
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 nearly 20 national teacher support organizations. These lessons help us start the deep work of fully valuing and including all people in a diverse society.
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 nearly 20 teacher-support organizations to share favorite lessons for deep “inclusion.” The #USvsHate lessons they offered for creating inclusive school communities help us build our friendships, learn about other people’s experiences, fight stereotypes, and tackle key issues of empathy, allyship, and in-school “bullying.” The lessons tap our emotions as well as our brains. They 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.
Our message isn’t just to “be nicer” to each other in school. We want this project to be a portal to adults and youth learning together over time about the society around us, the false notions about inferiority and superiority that society puts in our heads, the unequal access to resources people have experienced, and all the experiences and diversity that make us US. Our lessons on specific forms of hate, bias, and inequality also help us learn about and address historic and current habits of treating specific “groups” as “less than” in our society.
Put together, these lessons bring alive Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards, inviting students to explore issues of identity, diversity, justice and action in schools.
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 links to other schoolwide programs.
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!
And the key thing when finishing any lesson is to ask, What’s Next? What will we learn and do next to counteract hate, bias, and injustice where we live?
Getting Started walks you through the entire simple #USvsHate process.
Finally, here are some #USvsHate Principles guiding this work for me personally. The Principles combine ideas from Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards with two books I’ve created, Everyday Antiracism and Schooltalk. The Principles convey that publicly rejecting “hate” jumpstarts much deeper proactive work to value all people from all communities:
● 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 more valuable than others (Justice).
● We stand up against harmful treatment or opportunity denial. 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)
For me, each #USvsHate message insists on treating every person and all groups of people as equally valuable human beings—people whose talents and contributions we need!
This kind of work supports us all. We can do this! #USvsHate!