OPINION: I Fear Everyday Encounters More Than I Do Hate Groups

by Marcus Harrison Green

(This article is co-published under an agreement with The Seattle Times.)

Hatred’s been gorging on me for more than a year. 

That’s around the time I stood amid the sonic boom of voices set off from clashing groups outside the Renton Fairwood library. I was there to cover the controversy surrounding Drag Queen Story Hours, a King County library activity where professional drag queens read LGBTQ-affirming books to children. 

Predictably, the event attracted those who viewed it as a Satanic bewitching of children. But it also attracted nearly three times as many who affirmed the story time’s inclusionary values. Decibel levels soared as the supportive side roared “love” while the opposition hurled back “shame.” 

Between them marched children, some as young as 3 and carrying rainbow flags, entering the library to hear drag king Thadayus read “Julian Is a Mermaid.” But they weren’t alone. Menacing the proceedings were a group of white supremacists, their faces hidden behind masks, some a hairpin from unhinged, with guns holstered on their side, throwing up the white power symbol to me and a photographer.

Contempt devoured me. 

How dare they put toddlers — who’d barely been acquainted with life — at risk should violence break out. I was thankful supporters had largely blocked the white supremacists from the view of the children, but I walked with rage. It’s a rage I’ve carried with me as I’ve grown increasingly hateful of those who view this nation not as yours or mine, but solely theirs. 

It’s endured with every news report of an adherent to violent white supremacy who slaughters innocents in El Paso, Texas, assaults rabbis departing their synagogues in San Diego, and absurdly blames Asian Americans for our current pandemic in this woketropolis we call home.  

The Department of Homeland Security has billed white supremacy as the “most persistent and lethal threat” currently facing our nation. And although no one gathers locally in meaningful numbers to shriek about being “replaced” by fellow Americans, our city is not free of its own racist pathogens. 

As reported last week, Seattle has tracked with national, state and countywide trends showing an increase in hate crimes. The first six months of 2020 saw a 56% increase from the same time period the previous year, according to the Seattle Police Department’s online hate crime dashboard. 

Unlike FBI hate crime statistics cited for national reporting, Seattle’s data includes crimes not motivated by racial bias but containing elements of it, such as someone using a racial slur while committing a robbery. It also counts non-criminal acts like someone using the n-word. 

A word apparently streaming from the tongue here.  

Every month for the first half of 2020, Blacks were the leading targets of hate crimes. They make up only 7% of our city’s population but a third (34%) of hate/bias crimes in the city. 

And yet most of the acts aren’t conducted by members of the seven Seattle-based hate groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Those behaviors are more a product of everyday interactions than bald white supremacy, according to SPD’s Bias Crime Coordinator Detective Elizabeth Wareing.

“In the city of Seattle, hate crimes are much closer to home, much more down to earth,” said Wareing. “It’s someone walking down the street. It’s someone in your workplace. Someone where you’re out grocery shopping.”

That cold splash of water hitting me directly in the face is the reminder that even with a rise in hate crimes and hate groups, the existential threat is the racism in our everyday society, ready to be activated by uncertainty, scapegoating, fear and purposelessness. And that we are all potential victims and perpetrators of it. 

Even with Trump gone, we’ll do nothing but return to our regularly scheduled racism.

“You cannot get away from it. People just get sucked into the zeitgeist of white supremacy,” said Lonnie Lusardo, who conducts diversity and inclusion training as part of the Seattle-based Diversity Collaborative. 

Lusardo spent 13 years writing and researching for his book “The Anatomy of Organized Hate,” interviewing dozens of former white extremists to chronicle their journeys in and out of supremacist groups. The book doesn’t heroize them for turning their backs on hatred or gloss over their heinous crimes. But it does show the susceptibility of humans to being seduced by a simplistic view of an infinitely complex world.

His work urges a cultural audit forcing us to evaluate those we vote for, who we invite to our dining room tables, and who we include in our social circles. It asks for these assessments from human beings vulnerable to believing we can combat hatred with more of the same. It also provides a warning: We will inevitably become captives of the emotions we repeatedly embrace. 

Too irate, I took away the wrong message from that night at the library, when dozens of hatemongers were drowned out by a vast number clearing a pathway to where hate could not enter. 

These past four years have seen my hatred unable to overcome its propulsion, rolling over inhumane extremists, Trump supporters, apathetic voters and those clumsily awakening to the realities of racism. But I’m tired of hating. I’m tired of simply seething in a broken world, rather than advancing a better one built on mercy, justice and compassion.

Aren’t you?

Marcus Harrison Green on Twitter: @mhgreen3000. Marcus Harrison Green is the founder of the South Seattle Emerald, which focuses on telling the stories of South Seattle and its residents. The Seattle native writes a monthly column co-published by the Emerald and The Seattle Times.

Illustration by Vladimir Verano