Valentine’s Day 2021–Love Your Sweetie, Hate Your Fellow Man

Did Valentine’s Day 2021 put love, rather than the coronavirus, in the air? Well, yes and no. Retailers made sure we didn’t forget that the only acceptable way to show our love is to buy things, the more expensive the better, for our beloved. But warm and fuzzy feelings for our fellow man are AWOL; even managing civility for him is seemingly a challenge. Beware if you are of a different race from someone else–particularly if you are Asian American. Arrows are aimed at you, and they aren’t from Cupid; they’re a message (and not of love) from your neighbor.

The coronavirus isn’t the only thing spreading in this country. News reports indicate a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment here in the U.S. Why racism against Asians and why now? Comments by then President Trump earlier in the pandemic referring to the “China flu” or the “Kung Flu” are believed to have spurred this animosity. Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clearly clueless.

The loveless sentiment directed at Asian Americans affects millions of people. According to 2016 census figures, Asian Americans number approximately 21 million, a majority of whom were foreign born. In fact, Asian Americans constitute one-fourth of all immigrants who have arrived in this country since 1965. The overall population of Asian Americans is highly urbanized and are concentrated in California and the western United States. Their highest populations can be found in the areas of Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. But in today’s climate, San Francisco’s Chinatown, the nation’s oldest and largest, may not be a safe place for Asian Americans. Their San Francisco treat could be hatred and violence rather than Rice-a-Roni.

Since actions speak louder than words, videos portraying physical assaults on Asian Americans have spoken volumes about the current climate of racial tolerance–or more accurately, the lack thereof. A gut-wrenching clip of a 91 year old man in Oakland’s Chinatown captured him being pushed face down into the sidewalk from behind in an unprovoked attack. Robbery was not the motive–hate and racism were the motivating factors. On the bright side, the attacker did have a mask due to the pandemic. (Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq4mHOtPQD0 to see the video.)

Sadly, that attack is just one of a growing number of incidents where Asian Americans are the victims. The president of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce cited more than 20 incidents of small businesses getting robbed and owners and customers assaulted recently. In light of such attacks, neighborhood safety patrols began handing out whistles in San Francisco along with Chinese-language pamphlets titled “How to Report a Hate Crime.” Under these circumstances, whistling while a Chinese small business owner works is not as peppy a thought as when the dwarves whistled while working in “Snow White.”

Where such physical violence occurs, women and people over age 60 are disproportionately targeted. Authorities suggest older Asians are targeted due to the stereotype they don’t report crimes due to language barriers. The physical attacks targeting senior citizens left many older Asian fearful of going out to shop for the Lunar New Year which fell on February 12th. 2021 may be the Year of the Ox, but such shameful behavior against seniors is frankly, bull.

Heartwarmingly, some people not only care about Asian Americans, but they have stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors of a different race. Take Jacob Azevedo, a Latino, for instance. Disturbed by the violence directed at Asian Americans, he put a call out on Instagram offering to accompany anyone in Chinatown going out to the store, running errands, etc. Jacob’s reasoning is likely based on what my dear Mom always said, “Safety in numbers.” In response, hundreds of people on Instagram offered to help. In addition, thousands of dollars were donated to help him buy a personal alarm device to be distributed to older Asians in the community. Now there’s an example of showing love to your fellow man.

Incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans, sadly, have not been limited to the West Coast. The NYPD has created an Asian Hate Crimes task force to deal with the upsurge in targeting of Asians in the Big Apple. According to that department’s statistics, only one anti-Asian incident was reported in 2019. In contrast, during the first six months of 2020, which saw the initial rise of the pandemic, 20 such incidents were reported. New Yorkers aren’t known for their friendliness, but there’s no excuse for outright hate.

Other organizations are also reporting disturbing incidents. Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander–hopefully not pronounced Ape-y) Hate, an initiative formed in 2020, received over 2,800 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and December 31 2020. Of these incidents, 71% were verbal abuse while physical assaults accounted for around 9%. Sure those numbers are way lower than the cases of the coronavirus, but even one incident of hate is too many.

The problem of targeting of Asian Americans in our country has received attention at the highest possible level. In response to this sad situation, President Biden signed a memorandum on January 26, 2021 directing federal agencies to explore ways of combating racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. And, of course, everyone knows that xenophobia is a big word meaning dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, right? Hey, but wait. Aren’t ALL of us Americans ultimately from other countries? My ancestors, for example came from Ireland.

While President Biden is to be applauded for acknowledging the inexcusable behavior directed at Asian Americans and ordering steps to be taken to address it, government directives aren’t going to solve the problem. A change of heart is required because hearts filled with hate produce hate. Recognizing that someone of a different race is our neighbor and a human being deserving of the decent treatment we would ourselves expect helps to soften hearts hardened with hate. Unfortunately, it’s not only love that may be blind, but hate as well.

How ironic it is to see hearts displayed everywhere for Valentine’s Day 2021with all being urged to show their love to that special someone when hate is literally being dished out to certain others. Shouldn’t our behavior be consistent? We need to love our sweeties, certainly, but we also need to at least be civil to our fellow man–including Asian Americans. Even better, let’s aim to follow Jesus’ directive to love one another, and let’s do it not simply on Valentine’s Day but EVERY day.

Just WONDER-ing:

Is there an Asian American population in your community? Have you ever been treated poorly because of your race? How did that make you feel? If you haven’t, do you imagine it would be a pleasant experience? Does an individual’s racial background alone justify physical violence against him?

It’s A Hateful Day In This Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers might experience a beautiful day in his neighborhood, but things aren’t so nice in other locations. There’s bickering and dissension in Washington, D.C., and people perpetrating mass shooting elsewhere in the U.S. on an all too frequent basis. Is the problem here in America.only? Nope. Apparently being unneighborly, in fact downright hateful, is a worldwide problem.

Germany is the latest site for the most unneighborly of behavior. In Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt, one man was not capable of loving his neighbors. He couldn’t even be content with simply hating them. No, he had to kill them. Why such extreme behavior? Well, his neighbors just happened to be–GASP!–a minority group from a different country. How could he possibly be nice to someone different from him?

Mr. Hater was not some hotheaded young man lacking maturity and worldly experience. He was age 43 and perpetrated premeditated violence. In layman’s terms, this means he planned his violent attack in advance. He just didn’t lose it when someone who looked different than he does did something that didn’t sit right with him.

So what happened? On February 19, 2020, the gunman, one Tobias Rathjen, shot and killed nine people of foreign background. Why? Because they were of foreign background. His rampage began in a hookah bar (where flavored tobacco is smoked from Middle Eastern water pipes) frequented by immigrants, i.e., he specifically targeted a place where immigrants were likely to be found. Before making a statement with his gun, he made a nasty statement, a rant really, online about the “extermination” of other races or cultures in Germany’s midst. I’m sorry, but isn’t “extermination” a term that’s supposed to be used with household pests, not living and breathing human beings?

Among those killed in the mass shooting were ethnic Kurds, Turks (five Turkish citizens to be exact), and those with backgrounds from Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities, crack investigators that they are, have been treating the case as an act of domestic terrorism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the perpetrator acted “Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance.”

Don’t hold your breath for a sensational criminal trial. Rathjen returned home following the shootings and killed his 72 year old mother before killing himself. That’s one way to insure his poor mother didn’t have to hear about what a bad boy he had been.

What’s Rathjen’s beef with immigrants and foreigners?  Well, it’s tied to his homeland’s current situation. Germany has experienced a slowing economy and a wave of immigration. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a shortage of workers in Germany, and foreign workers, particularly from Turkey, were sought. The idea was that young immigrants would bolster Europe’s shrinking labor force.

Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy towards refuges brought 1.2 million new migrants into Germany in 2015-2016. Many of these immigrants were fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Turks are now the largest minority group in Germany at 3.7% of the population.

The influx of immigrants has placed a strain on Germany’s finances. Poverty among elderly pensioners is at an all-time high, and of December 2017, over two million foreigners were receiving unemployment benefits. Needless to say, a downturn in the economic picture has led to anti-immigration sentiment in general and the rise of an anti-immigrant political party, AfD (Alternative for Germany), in particular.

Bad feelings against foreigners has given rise to actions against them. Turkey’s ambassador in Germany reported that Turkish immigrants in Germany are experiencing more and more hate crimes. In fact, 2017 saw a 50% rise in migrant crimes. That’s not a nice neighborhood. Chancellor Merkel, has, of course, denounced the “poison” of racism and hatred in Germany.

Unfortunately, the Hanau shooting is not an isolated incident. It is the third major hate crime in Germany in the last year. Another deadly attack occurred on Yom Kippur back in October. The targets this time were not those from a different country but those of a different faith.

The perpetrator of the October crime, a 27 year old German man, unsuccessfully attempted to enter the Halle Synagogue; however he did manage to kill two individuals nearby. He live-streamed his attack via a head camera and recorded himself using hateful language. The assailant announced that “The root of all these problems is the Jew.” Investigators characterized the crime as a being far-right and anti-Semitic, and police reinforcements were sent to synagogues across Germany. So, it’s not safe to be an immigrant or a Jewish neighbor in Germany these days.

A third hate crime made German headlines in June 2019. A local politician in Hesse was assassinated at his home by a neo-Nazi extremist. A German man named Stephan Ernst took issue with Walter Lubcke’s outspoken support of Chancellor Merkel’s pro-migrant policies. He went to Lubcke’s home not to engage in a political debate but to shut Lubcke up–permanently. Lubcke was found dead on the terrace of his residence having been shot through the head. Ernst had previously been convicted of knife and bomb attacks against targets connected to ethnic minorities in Germany. You sure don’t want HIM for a neighbor.

The fact that people don’t like and don’t want to associate with people who are different than they are is nothing new. Remember how the Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Biblical times? At least in the story of the Good Samaritan, those who didn’t like their neighbor simply ignored or failed to help him.

As much as society has progressed over the last two thousand years, relations with our neighbors have not. Now if your neighbor looks different than you do, expresses an opinion not in line with yours, or hails from a country different than yours, killing them might be considered..As a result, neighbors who are different than you are may not be safe at a bar, a place of worship, or even their own home. What a hateful day it is in our world neighborhood. Mr. Rogers is surely turning over in his grave.

Just WONDER-ing:

Who do you think your neighbor is? If you can’t love your neighbor, could you at least agree to disagree with him? How can hate crimes be prevented? How should they be punished?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hate–Man’s Inhumanity To Man

Halloween was celebrated this week, but this secular holiday is actually pretty tame compared to what one encounters regularly in the real world. Some refuse to celebrate Halloween because they feel it glorifies evil. I hate to break it to y’all, but evil is alive and well in the world every single day. No, I’m not talking about witches, zombies, and vampires. I am talking about a four letter word which is evil spelled differently–HATE.

Some will scoff and note that “hate” is simply a feeling or emotion. But it is our emotions and feelings which drive us to act. When the feeling is strong enough, people are spurred to do some crazy things, like climb the highest mountain to reach his/her beloved because “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep you apart.

While love might spur us to do positive things, hate elicits some unbelievably heinous behavior such as taking the life of another human being. Before this month, the atrocities of war were merely something that I had read about in a history book. But standing in the spot where someone has been murdered in cold blood tends to make things a bit more real.

In early October I was in Budapest on a mission trip. Some of our group took a tour of the city which brought us down to the banks of the Danube on the Pest side of the river. Stretching before us was The Shoes On The Danube Bank Memorial with an untold number of shoes by the river’s edge. Right in the spot where I was standing and taking pictures, thousands of Jews had been marched by Fascist militiamen from the Budapest Ghetto, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the Danube and were carried away.  And these Jews included men, women, and –yes–children.

Words cannot express the emotions which overcame me as I surveyed this memorial. I fought back the tears as I looked at the small shoes of a child. Who could shoot an innocent child? And what feelings must have gone through the minds of those who walked en masse from one horrible place (the Budapest Ghetto) to a certain death? How would a mother have felt advancing toward the river with her child’s hand trustingly placed in hers? Would the beauty of the Danube have distracted anyone from the thought of his imminent execution?

This scene in Budapest was as surreal and haunting in my mind as any horror movie I have ever seen. In fact, it is worse, because a horror movie is fiction and this massacre is sadly all too true. The only answer to how something like these killings could have occurred is “HATE.”

But the shootings on the bank of the Danube took place a lifetime ago. They occurred in December 1944 and January 1945. Our world is so much more advanced now. Or is it? Sure we are tech savvy and connected with the whole world electronically. We’ve even put human beings on the moon and begun to explore space. Nevertheless, we are still human and we still hate.

Certainly the killings of the Jews in the context of World War II might be explained (but not excused or justified) by the fact that a war was raging. But how do we explain how in 2018 a man can walk into a Pittsburgh synagogue, a place of worship, and mow down numerous people simply for who they are? Again, the only answer that can be advanced is “HATE.”

Apparently the concept of hating a fellow man has long puzzled those who took the time to consider it. Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1784 work, “Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge,” decries “Man’s inhumanity to man” which “makes countless thousands mourn.” Yes, killing another human being out of hate is inhumane and leads many to mourn.

The passage of time has not helped to provide an explanation of why this inhumanity occurs. Some 200 years after Burns’ poem, the English electronic band Depeche Mode produced “People Are People” which contains the lyrics: “I can’t understand/What makes a man/Hate another man/Help me understand.” Well, chaps, I don’t understand it either.

We may not understand what gives rise to hate sufficient to want to snuff out the lives of our fellow man, but we do have to do something about the hate. But what can/should we do? Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, put forth his suggestion by proposing, “We must counter this hate with love and love’s public face which is justice….” Acts of hate must not be tolerated; when they  occur; justice must be served.

Outside the judicial system, nothing is gained by returning hate with hate; in fact, it may simply escalate the existing hate. It warmed my heart to hear that the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was treated by Jewish medical personnel in the hospital. However despicable the patient’s actions may have been, these doctors and nurses gave more of a priority to the value of a human life than to the human reaction of hate toward someone who had senselessly murdered fellow members of their faith.

The scene of the shoes on the bank of the Danube is burned into my memory. Nothing can bring back the lives of those who were slaughtered there due to hate. Hate still exists and continues to take a toll of human lives. I may not be able to wipe out hate entirely, but intentionally showing love to my fellow man on a regular basis may soften someone’s negative emotion. I want to do everything I can to use my shoes to kick hate to the curb. How about you?

Just WONDER-ing: Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a hate crime? What do you think is the best way to react to hate?  Is it possible to show love to someone who has acted hatefully towards you?