Uma Srivastava recalled when her sister was told at a traffic stop to “go back to your country. You don’t belong here.”
Except this is her country.
“She was born here. She went to high school here,” said Srivastava, who was representing the Indian-American community during a conference at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “This is home for us. There’s no other country to go back to.”
It is said that love is what love does and, according to panelists at the conference, hate can be defined the same way.
Representatives of seven groups answered the question, ‘What is Hate in Your Community?’ on the second day of the Hate Crimes Conference, presented by BCRI and the Birmingham Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By definition, a hate crime is a prejudice-motivated crime, usually violent, that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership – or perceived membership – in a certain social group.
In BCRI’s Odessa Woolfolk Gallery, each panelist cited instances in which the community each represented had been the target of hate. The panel included someone representing the Jewish community, the LGBT community, the Birmingham Islamic Society, African Americans, Indian Americans, the Sikh community and the disabled community.
“We probably all have faced it, some more frequently than others,” said Dr. Jasvinder Singh of the Sikh community. “There’s obviously been an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs, especially since 9-11. There have been quite a few high-profile cases with the killing of some Sikh Americans after 9-11.”
Khaula Hadeed of the Birmingham Islamic Society told similar stories of Islamic persons being targeted. She said that fear, anxiety and stress are common feelings as threats come against mosques.
Cassandra Adams is assistant dean of Samford University and part of the Cumberland Public Interest Program. She’s also a black mother.
“At what point have African Americans not experienced violence or hate?” she asked. “Because of that, when my parents came together and formed me, there was no question I was going to experience hate and violence.
“I have to intentionally come away from that to learn to deal with people outside of that,” Adams said, “whether they are people in my community or people of a different faith than me, color, gender or whatever.”
Dan Tourtellolte of the Birmingham Levite Jewish Community Center said Jews have been persecuted for more than 2,000 years.
“They’re used to the hate. They’re used to the violence,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s been as bad as it’s been in the African-American community, not in the most recent years.”
Tourtellolte noted that his workplace has felt the effect of hate with bomb threats, which have caused fear and anxiety in the community.
Elaine Stephens said the LGBT community she represents is not seeking tolerance.
“Tolerance means you tolerate things people do or say,” she said. “We’re just asking to be treated like human beings, not any issue or an agenda. We just want to be who we are.”
Karin Korb represented the disabled community.
“We are three times more likely to be the victim of a serious crime – rape, assault, murder,” she said. “We have incredibly dehumanizing speech towards us. People tend to urinate, defecate on someone with a disability on a regular basis.”
Korb reminded the audience and other panelists that the disabled can be found in each of the other sets of people represented on the panel. She urged those other groups to remember to include the disabled in their discussions.
“When you have no access,” she said, “you have no voice.”