We Cannot, Must Not Empathize With Hate

Hate cannot be loved into submission. Hate must be hated.

The world had been sad since Tuesday.

This is how Gabriel García Márquez begins his story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” And never has a sentence felt so prophetic, so precise.

Márquez writes of a seaside town in a dreamlike state where a family must daily battle the crabs inundating their home seeking refuge from a days-long rainstorm.

“The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish.”

It was in this light that Pelayo crossed his courtyard to throw the crabs into the sea. Upon his return, he discovered a wondrous being, a very old man with fantastical features.

“He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings.”

In this story, Márquez, a master of magical realism, which pirouettes between the physical and the fantastical, satirizes our attempt to familiarize the extraordinary. Pelayo gets his wife to show her the man in their courtyard, who Márquez describes as a nightmare with not only huge buzzard wings, but a bald skull and a nearly toothless mouth.

“They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar.”

Like all great stories, Márquez’s is open to interpretation; the old man could be seen as so many things. But in the wake of our current surreal reality, it led me to wonder: Has the strange beast of hate and bigotry become normalized as well? And if so, how do we resist this familiarity breeding dangerous inaction?

There isn’t time to accept indifference, because the world has been sad since Tuesday and we must channel this universal despair into something greater, into our future.

But first we must get one thing clear. We must continue to hate oppression; we must continue to hate the oppressor. Hate cannot be loved into submission. Hate must be hated. And we cannot require or expect anyone to forgive the hatred that brought us here.

If you’re not fully invested in the most vulnerable among us, then you’re standing in the way of progress and deserve every particle of shame that it is humanly possible to feel. Those of us fighting do not have an iota of energy to spare for bruised egos. There is no time nor room left for meaningless slogans. “Love Trumps Hate” is now and has always been a lie. If standing up against hate with all the rage, contempt, and horrified anger that can be mustered is an act of hate in and of itself — we must embrace it.

We must denounce the lie of White Supremacy that if we “refuse to hate,” then the ugliness in the world will somehow go away. This isn’t a fairytale, a game, or an alternate reality — this is real life. We cannot lovingly call someone in from the darkness. No, we scream at the top of our lungs, “You’re killing us!” We can no longer stand there and cower, unable to act due to shock or fear.

Those of us fighting do not have an iota of energy to spare for bruised egos.

In order to conquer the ugliness in this world, we have to defeat the ugliness within — the defensive tone, the hurt feelings, the endless amount of excuses we make so as not to take responsibility for the pain caused to someone else. But too many see things differently and are clinging to the lies that brought this darkness upon us.

A week before the election, Colby Itkowitz authored a piece for The Washington Post entitled, “What is this election missing? Empathy for Trump voters,” in which he interviewed sociology professor and author Arlie Russell Hochschild. When asked about what Trump is tapping into, she stated, “There are fundamental differences, but there are yet more fundamental commonalities. He speaks to their underlying feeling of invisibility and being disparaged.” Hochschild later argues, “Progressives have to get out of their corner and reach out . . . Extreme blame-pinning rhetoric tends to extinguish empathy toward the ‘other’.”

After the election, Michael Lerner demanded on the New York Times opinion pages that we “Stop Shaming Trump Supporters.” He writes that shame played a role in Trump’s victory. “Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed.” He concludes, “The left needs to stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear, [and] if the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base.”

The myth of two sides states that two contrasting points of view, by virtue of opposition, are equally valid and worthy of consideration. When this untruth is accepted as matter of fact, we see anyone who challenges anyone else as the perpetrator of undue shame . . . when in fact, if one group is having its very livelihood and welfare threatened by another group, it should have every right to react with anger.

Daniel Sznycer, coauthor of “Shame closely tracks the threat of devaluation by others, even across cultures,” published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “The function of shame is to prevent us from damaging our social relationships, or to motivate us to repair them.” Coauthor Leda Cosmides added, “When people devalue you, they put less weight on your welfare. They help you less and harm you more. This makes any information that would lead others to devalue you a threat to your welfare.”

The lie of two sides needs to die a fiery death before it consumes us all and there is nothing and no one left. Michael Lerner wrote, “The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable . . . because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing).” We know the supposed threat to their welfare is based on a racist, sexist, hateful lie, and whether they do or not is irrelevant. Their actions have deadly consequences on the most vulnerable in our society.

Causing them to feel shame isn’t the problem; the bigotry they accepted as a means of self-protection is.

There is no escape from the world now that the era of “Hope and Change” is over. The bigots are emboldened. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the first five days following the election, there have been more than 400 documented incidents of harassment and intimidation Suicide prevention hotlines have been bombarded with calls. Black university students are being threatened with racist violence. Literal symbols of hate have been scrawled onto buildings. Muslim Americans are being attacked. Pride flags have been burned. Our friends, neighbors, and relatives tell us stories of abuse they experienced in school, at the gas station, on their way to work, doing nothing differently than they did on Monday — if you haven’t heard those stories, either no one feels safe telling you, or your circle is filled with the bland, cishet, white men and women that brought this painful era upon us.

Now the monsters have taken off their masks and feel safe. They should never feel safe.

The bigots are in the streets unafraid of repercussion for their violent actions, and we’re supposed to listen to what they have to say? Because if we don’t, their feelings will be hurt? The bruised ego that shame may cause will never be equivalent to the physical, psychological, and spiritual violence that racism, transphobia, queerphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, sexism, ableism, and every other form of bigotry enacts on the marginalized every damn day.

In Márquez’s story, Pelayo and Elisenda overcame their surprise and found the wondrous being, hunched in the mud before them, familiar. The horror they first felt was extinguished. How familiar has bigotry become in our eyes?

As I wrote before:

“When a professional abuser is uncritically profiled in a magazine, or a president of a hate-group is presented as an opposing expert in a reported piece, it perpetuates a cycle of violence on our psyches and our bodies and maintains the status-quo of discrimination, inequity, and inequality.”

Now a transphobic, abusive, ableist, White Supremacist, KKK-endorsed, sexual predator has been elected President of the United States and he’s filling his cabinet with like-minded individuals whom the media has always presented as “just another side to consider.” And we’re supposed to empathize and refuse to shame those who put him in office? FUCK. NO. That request is an act of violence, and those who refuse to hate the hatred that brought us here are perpetuating the very thing they profess to stand against.

Now the monsters have taken off their masks and feel safe. They should never feel safe.

The most privileged among us keep murmuring that it’s all going to be okay. No, it’ll be okay for them, but the rest of us have to fight because those that don’t have to will never fight hard enough — their survival does not depend on it. As I wrote before, “Living with trauma means learning how to cope and few people will ever approve of how you cope because empathy is the enemy of capitalism.”

There’s going to be more people than there ever were before who are going to have to learn how to cope. And if you cannot fight — if you’re too tired, too drained, too overwhelmed from the world kicking you over and over again — we’ll take care of you. We, those of us fighting alongside you, will clear a path for you, get you to safety, protect you. And when you’re rested, and renewed and able, ask one of us if we need a break. Don’t believe us when we say we’re fine.

We have to look out for each other now because the world has been sad since Tuesday, and we must do everything in our power to make it better for all those grieving.

The author has chosen not to show responses on this story. You can still respond by clicking the response bubble.