Finding the Light to Drive Out Hate

Dr. Gail C. Christopher

Statement by Dr. Gail C. Christopher, Executive Director of National Collaborative for Health Equity, on Buffalo Shootings

WASHINGTON – “Hate always terrorizes. That’s the intention. As an African American woman who came of age during the Civil Rights era, I know at heart how hate works to harm some and paralyze or, at least, to immobilize others. But movement is life. It’s certainly the way forward if Democracy is to survive and its aspirational tenets of equality are to be actualized. This is why we must see hateful acts, and their progenitors, hate speech on all forms of media, as threats to our collective health, well-being and future existence.

We must mobilize as a nation, come together to deny the expression of hate permission to continue expanding, unchecked on multiple airways across this nation. Sociologists probe whether the rises in hate speech can be directly linked to racial violence. This is not about free speech, it’s about freedom to live healthily and permission for democracy to thrive. Communities in Buffalo, El Paso, Atlanta, Charleston and Charlottesville know this in their bones. Their minds and hearts are forever imprinted with the devastating and horrific memories of violence and lives lost loss simply because of their racial or other identities.  

Racial hatred denies our right to exist, to live in loving relationship with ourselves and with one another.  No entity, human or corporate, can be allowed to have or to proliferate that misguided right. Ending racism, in all its forms, is a public health and a national imperative. Governmental action to regulate social media through new mechanisms and to enforce existing laws is urgently needed, now.

But more is required 

The 21st century has ushered in new understanding about how molecular and cellular biology works to sustain life. Chemicals find receptors on our cell membranes before they can enter and catalyze action. No receptor, no effect. We need a parallel in our body politic.  For example, the life-saving drug Narcan, prevents and reverses opioid overdoses by competing at the nine opioid cellular receptor sites. What are the interventions that can knock out receptors for hate? Available research tells us that authentic human engagements and positive meaningful interactions with perceived “others” can reduce fears and biases and, help counter receptivity to hateful narratives and rhetoric. We must mobilize, with clear intention, so hate can no longer find receptors in our hearts and body politic. This work will also help generate the public and political will needed to expedite essential regulatory and enforcement actions that are urgently required. As Dr. King prophetically told us decades ago, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”