1. Spread Tolerance
Like other behaviors and attitudes, prejudice is learned at an early age. Teaching children to be accepting of differences in others is imperative to a healthy, peaceful society. Pay attention to the language you use in everyday conversation and be aware of who might be listening. Children take their cues from their parents and adults they look up to. Give them strong role models to emulate. Consider the messages and stereotypes they may get exposed to through media, video games, movies and television. Talk with them about what they see and hear. Discuss issues of racism and intolerance the same way you would drugs and alcohol.
2. Be Self-Aware
Everyone grows up with a certain amount of prejudice instilled in them. Avoiding stereotypes is almost impossible, but being aware of your own natural or learned biases can go a long way toward stopping the cycle of hate. Examine your first reaction to the people around you. Are you quick to draw conclusions about people based on appearance? Do you use labels, slurs and/or epithets to describe people? While it may be an uncomfortable process, discovering and changing your own set of personal prejudices is a vital step toward changing our society.
3. Do Your Research
Satire and fake news reports have existed for many decades; however, with the popularity of social media, the easy dissemination of and belief in false news reports has grown exponentially. These stories often have incendiary headlines and mimic the look of legitimate news sources. As more people read and share the false information, belief in them grows, adding credibility and provoking people to take actions against innocent victims. Before reading or sharing a “news story” on social media, research the source. Verify the story with more than one credible source.
4. Create an Alternative
Peaceful assembly is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of the group. This means hate groups are well within their rights to hold gatherings in your town. Many times these groups will stage rallies in locations and environments where they will elicit the strongest opposition. For example, in 2005, the National Socialist Movement marched through a predominantly black neighborhood dressed in full Nazi uniforms, sparking a riot by residents and counter-protestors.
It is difficult not to confront hate head-on, but, sometimes, it is best for the community to offer an alternative in a different location from the hate event. Consider holding a rally of tolerance, a prayer event or neighborhood fair several blocks away from the hate group. Without an audience to engage and fight with, most hate groups will go away.
5. Speak Up
As Plato stated, “Your silence gives your consent.” When you do nothing to speak out against hate, it gives these groups and ideologies room to grow and infect your community. Let business owners and leaders know with your wallet and vote that you will not accept hate where you live, work and shop. Write letters or send emails to your elected officials urging them to take a public stand against intolerance and hate. Ask them to support legislation that promotes equality. Help educate community leaders about the diverse cultures in your area, so they can represent all of their constituents.
6. Pay Attention
In many instances there are warning signs that an individual or group is preparing for violence. Below are some possible indications:
Spending a lot of time reading violent extremist information online, including in chat rooms and password-protected websites
Using several different cell phones and private messaging apps
Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious
Researching or training with weapons or explosives
Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building)
Using code words or unusual language
Looking for ways to disrupt computers or other technology
Staying away from friends or family while becoming very interested in violent extremist beliefs and propaganda
Posting comments encouraging violence on social media sites or online forums.
Separately, these signs alone do not necessarily mean a person will act. Use common sense. Think about whether you have seen any sudden or suspicious changes in behavior. Maybe you have noticed something that doesn’t seem quite right or have seen something on an individual’s social media account. Remember, extremist thoughts are not against the law. However, the warning signs above could mean that someone plans to commit violence. If you come across something suspicious, don’t hesitate to report it.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or you suspect a hate crime, call 911 or local law enforcement.