Here’s Why Hate Crimes Happen

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As
the anniversary of the September 11th attacks approached, I was
nervous for the safety of my family. We are of the Sikh faith and as
such, many of us don the traditional Sikh turban, head scarf, long
hair and beard, which often times, makes us the target of racial
slurs and harassment.

But,
compared to the trepidation I had in years past, I was confident that
my fellow Americans had learned that Sikhs were just as American as
everyone else: that we share the same values of truth, justice, and
respect and we all pursue the American dream of prosperity and
happiness.

I
reminded myself that 
recent
studies
 showed
that Americans are becoming more tolerant and accepting; I happily
looked at H&M’s new 
Close
the Loop
 marketing
campaign that featured turbaned Sikhs; and reflected on the recent
film, 
Learning
to Drive
,
where Ben Kingsley, educates viewers on the Sikh plight.

My
fears were quieted as I thought about the progress we had made as a
society.

“After
14 years of trying to educate America on who Sikh-Americans are,
surely we are better off than in the past,” I thought.

But,
my hopes were quickly crushed.

On
Tuesday, September 8, an elderly Sikh-American man, Inderjit Singh
Mukker, 
was
brutally attacked
 and
called a “terrorist” and “Bin Laden” in a Chicago
suburb.

According
to reports, Mukker, father of two, was on his way to a grocery store
when a driver began taunting him. He pulled up in front of Mukker’s
car, reached in and repeatedly punched Mukker in the face. Mukker
lost consciousness, lost blood, and suffered a fractured cheekbone.

“We
believe Mr. Mukker was targeted and assaulted because of his Sikh
religious appearance, race, or national origin,” 
said
the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director Harsimran Kaur
.

I
was shocked, disgusted, and fed up. As 
Sahaj
Kohli said
,
“I am Sikh. I am American. Being both should not be so
difficult.” Feeling hopeless in such a situation, I started to
wonder, “Why do hate crimes happen?”

Why
Do People Commit Hate Crimes?

Bias
reactions, whether silent suspicion or a violent beating, lie on the
same continuum of discrimination and are rooted in the cultural and
political atmosphere of the time, 
notes psychologist
Dr. Ervin Staub. Most Americans would never overtly act on feelings
of mistrust that may have developed since the 9/11 attacks, but a
small group has participated in hate crimes. 

When people
face a crisis or feel threatened by “outsiders,” some feel
they need to “protect” themselves, said Staub. Some revert
to an unfortunate human tendency: to protect their own group while
finding a scapegoat to blame the problem on.

According
to the 
Bureau
of Justice Statistics
,
race is the most common motivating factor in hate crimes (61
percent), followed by religion (14 percent). Since Sikhs are visually
distinct with their articles of faith and most are of South Asian
descent, Sikhs are targeted because of their race and religion.

Embedded
within the factors of race and religion are several other
psychological and situational elements that lead to hate crimes. For
instance, 
one
study
 found
that perpetrators of hate crimes had four general motivations:
thrill-seeking (motivated by the desire for excitement), defensive
(striving to protect their neighborhood from perceived outsiders),
retaliatory (acting in response to a crime — either real or
perceived) and mission (a strong committed to bigotry).

Who
Commits Hate Crimes?

According
to the 
FBI,
the majority of perpetrators are white men. Furthermore,
psychologist 
Dr.
Edward Dunbar 
found
that those who commit hate crimes have high levels of aggression and
antisocial behavior. These offenders are psychologically disturbed
individuals with a childhood history of abuse says Dunbar. They are
“…very problematic members of our community who pose a huge
risk for future violence.”

Predators
of hate crimes view groups they are not a part of as more homogeneous
than their own group, a phenomenon known as the “out-group
homogeneity effect,”
state psychologists
Dr. Bernadette Park and Dr. Charles Judd.

“When
you meet a person who’s a member of an ‘out-group,’ you’re less
likely to…. pay attention to individual characteristics,” Judd
explains. Stereotypes and generalizations about an “out-group”
influence a perpetrator’s perception, understanding, and interaction
with others, most often negatively.

One
study found 
that
a subset of offenders of hate crimes view non-whites as a threat to
white hegemony and their idea of American cultural integrity

What
Can We Do About it?

As
a society, we should make it clear that it is un-American to act in a
biased manner toward people of other races, religions, or
ethnicities.

We
need to make sure every American feels American and feels safe being
themselves. “When people are victimized as individuals or as a
group, it creates a diminished sense of self, a view that the world
is a more dangerous place,” 
said
Staub

By
applying American values of respect, inclusion, and right to free of
religion, we can better understand minorities and help erode the
boundaries of “in” and “out” groups. Teachers,
school curriculums, the media, and individuals can promote the idea
that we are a nation of people with highly diverse and rich
backgrounds.

The
suspicion that evolves into hate crimes ultimately comes from a lack
of education, understanding, and interacting with minorities.
Increased contact “can facilitate understanding, as can learning
about [minority] culture…” 
note psychologists
Dr. Thomas Pettigrew and Dr Linda Tropp.

Sadly,
many Americans were ignorant about their Sikh-American neighbors
before the 9/11 crisis. And, when people don’t know much about a
group, they’re likely to stereotype against them. So, a deeper
education about Sikh-Americans may help prevent hate crimes against
them.

Furthermore,
programs that help heal victims of child abuse and aid those with
elevated levels aggression and anti-social behavior may help prevent
the creation of hate-crime perpetrators, as would the reduction of
white supremacy groups and their influence.

The
attack on Mukker should be seen as a “teachable moment”; an
opportunity for us to expand our definition community and American.
If we as a society do not act to create a more inclusive environment,
hate will continue to dictate the course of our nation.

 





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