Maintaining social resiliency

What is needed for a community of diverse people and groups to maintain its resilience in the face of hateful attacks?

This question is particularly important for universities, which commonly seek to create a climate of welcome and respect for the various groups of students who make them up, and which are sometimes subjected to anonymous hateful attacks through graffiti, email, social media, Yik Yak, or other means. University communities have recently been thrown into harmful situations of fear, mistrust, and anxiety by hateful attacks — even when no physical threats of violence have emerged.

Hateful and racist attacks like these are deeply destructive to the cohesiveness of a community for several reasons. They undermine trust across groups — “do those other people think this way about me?”. They harden the separations that sometimes begin to emerge across groups. They may lead to a cycle of “tit for tat” hostilities, which have the inherent possibility of escalation. And possibly they reinforce and amplify the latent hateful assumptions of some people to a more virulent and expressive form.

So how can a diverse and multicultural community best prepare itself for attacks like these? How can we “take on hate” in a university community?

One avenue is to devote the effort necessary throughout the community to establish strong forms of affiliation and trust across groups, so that members of different groups have a substantial basis for sustaining confidence in the motivations and allegiances of members of other groups. This means creating avenues of interaction and communication across groups in routine times, not just the occasions of crisis when threats to cohesion arise.

Another is for leaders to be explicit and passionate about the values of inclusion that hold the community together.

Third, an important source of social resiliency results from affirmative organizations that advocate for the values of mutual respect and inclusion and that have established strong networks of relationships throughout the community, both within and across groups. Student organizations can play the lead in creating and supporting such groups.

Another important source of resiliency is realistic communication about the continuing possibility of individual anonymous expressions of hate and intolerance. It is a fact that hateful expressions are possible in every social setting, and in fact we seem to be in a period where such expressions are becoming more common. So a community that is mentally prepared for such assaults is probably better able to resist their pernicious effects than the world that Mary Poppins lives in.

It also makes sense that a community will be stronger and more resilient if its institutions establish confidence in mutual protection. Fear is a toxic emotion in a multicultural community. If a community can ensure that racist actions will be appropriately addressed, and that no one needs to fear racist or hateful violence, then the anxieties created by anonymous hateful messages should have less effect on the cohesiveness of the community. This means that effective and predictable policing and law enforcement is an important source of community resilience.

So we might say that a resilient multicultural community is one in which there are lasting inter-group ties through organizations and person-to-person relationships; in which leaders from civil society and from important organizations publicly espouse the values of inclusion and respect; where there is a broad understanding of the dynamics of hate and the possibility of occasional hateful occurrences; and where there is deep confidence in the ability of the community to provide safety for all its members through effective law enforcement. These circumstances are likely to build the ongoing trust and commitment to positive intergroup loyalties that will make the community resilient to the efforts of hateful outsiders (or insiders) to disrupt its harmonious fabric of civil life.

Here is one of the effective community-based organizations in metro Detroit that is striving to develop the strategies necessary to “take on hate”.