I spent the last year cooped up in my apartment doing my part to stem the spread of COVID-19, and like many of you, I’m eager to return to the fun of going out: shopping, dancing, and dining.

But I’m concerned that even though vaccines will usher us closer to herd immunity, it still won’t be safe to gather. Why? Because hate and anger are raging, and there’s just no way to know when and where it’s going to boil over. When it gets to the point that bullets are flying, it’s too late because bullets don’t have names. Just ask the victims of the recent Atlanta shootings.

» READ MORE: Philly Asian Americans have experienced a year of hateful acts, and fear it’s going to get even worse

Those who study hate are predicting that hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders will, unfortunately, continue to rise. And as Philadelphia and national officials relax COVID-19 restrictions, additional hate crimes will likely pick up steam, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernadino. We’ve had a year filled with economic hardship and death, Levin said. People are angry. We’ve all been isolated so our discontent has grown out of control. People are looking for scapegoats. And gun sales, although they dipped in February, still remain at record highs.

“I would say that intergroup violence, of which hate crime categories are a part of, will likely increase as people start going into densely populated areas,” Levin said. “You can’t punch someone [from across the street].”

We may not be able to single-handedly stop a mass shooting. But we can all do our part to stop perpetuating and internalizing hate against others and that will have a collective impact on ending violence.

“It’s the small things that we think and do every day that are destructive and get us to this place.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, California State University.

Hate doesn’t explode into violence overnight. It’s planted into our souls and watered with a lifetime of denial, avoidance, and guilt until it looms so large it unintentionally guides our actions. In this way hate is like a virus that is just as indiscriminate and as deadly as COVID-19. And, like the novel coronavirus, it’s spread through silent carriers.

“It’s the small things that we think and do every day that are destructive and get us to this place,” Levin said.

In other words: There’s work we can all do to prevent hate from spreading. Your intentions may not be hateful, but your actions may very well be. And the only way to disrupt the process is to recognize these dynamics and stop them. Here are some ways.

How do we all normalize hate?

Simply put: Centering the white experience as the default American experience normalizes hate in this country, said Edwin Mayorga, an associate professor of educational studies, Latin American and Latino Studies at Swarthmore College. When we make white people the benchmark of American excellence, when we think that the experience of white people is what is “normal,” everyone else — Black, Latino, AAPI, Indigenous — is othered.

“When we other, hate becomes present in the air we breathe and the food we eat,” Mayorga says, “Othering gives us structural norms and anyone who fits outside of those norms are targets of the culture of violence that enforces the investment in whiteness.” The result: We don’t recognize the everyday experiences of people in our communities until, of course, something egregious happens, like a mass shooting, and we are left trying to figure out how we got here.

“When we other, hate becomes present in the air we breathe and the food we eat.”

Edwin Mayorga, associate professor, Swarthmore College

» READ MORE: Systemic racism has affected all of us. Here’s how to start unlearning its harmful lessons. | Elizabeth Wellington

Confront tropes

When we other people, we lump them all into one group. We ignore their differences and overlook the diversity in cultures. And worse, we perpetuate tropes. So, statements like — All Black men are criminals. All Asian women are submissive. All Latin Americans are lazy — are used to scapegoat and wreak violence on entire communities, said James Kyung-Jin Lee, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California Irvine.

Even seemingly harmless or positive tropes are actually harmful. One trope that has caused immeasurable harm in Asian communities is the “model minority,” Lee said. The Asian as model minority trope frames the Asian experience as one that has a close proximity to whiteness. That means Asians are considered the “good” minority; the ones who are smart, polite, and behave. This does not bode well for many in the Asian community, Lee said, because they are expected to live up to the stereotype. And any time you have to live up to a stereotype, whether it’s good or bad, it chips away at your humanity.

“We [Asian people] have been lulled into this sense that we are not targets,” Lee said. “All it has taken was a virus that originated in China for that veneer to be broken and we go from model minority to menace to society.”

Here’s the thought to take notice of: When you use the word “all” to describe a group of people — women or a cultural group — check yourself, even when it’s positive. The moment you do that, you are robbing that group of its complexity and humanity and that leaves room for hate.

Hate is often disguised as enjoying privilege

If your intentions are good, but the outcome is inequitable, it still stokes the fires of hate, Lee said. Consider this: No, you don’t believe schools should be segregated. But you move your child from an inner-city school into another district or a private school where resources are abundant. Eventually all families with means — Black and white — leave the school and the children left behind are left with a below subpar education.

“Resource hoarding is a form of racial maintenance that is rooted in hate,” Lee said. “Those who are othered are trading on their proximity to whiteness for equality. This is just one example of the way everyday actions reinforce the structures of white supremacy, even without people really being aware of what they are doing. Overt racial advantage is not written into the law anymore, but we constantly click the ‘hate’ levers when it comes to institutional accesses and resources.”

Here’s the thought to take notice of: Ask yourself: What’s your true motive? What’s behind it? Is your action benefiting you? Are you robbing a community of resources? Why is it OK in your mind to do that?

Your truth is not the truth

Try not to insist that your truth is someone else’s truth, said Malika Rahman, visiting lecturer and diversity criminal justice fellow at Community College of Philadelphia.

Yet another consequence of othering is believing that another person’s experience isn’t real because it’s not yours. And an offshoot of that is not trusting a person of another race as an expert in their field, because they don’t fit neatly into your box of who they are. People of other races are experts on their experience, Rahman said. They know what hate feels like when it is lobbed at them. They know what unfair treatment feels like.

When we expect another person’s experience to mirror ours, we allow them to define another person’s experience. And this is how the oppressor defines hate, Rahman said. And that does nothing to stop hate. “When you come into an unfamiliar space, you can’t assume you know more about another person’s truth than they do,” Rahman said. “Ignoring someone else’s story perpetuates hate because you are saying your story is the only one that matters.”

Here’s the thought to take notice of: Be aware of who you inherently trust. How do you feel when a person of another race tells you that you might be wrong? What perspectives are you missing?

» READ MORE: Pandemic trauma affects our memory. Here’s how to be intentional about the way we tell the story of this year. | Elizabeth Wellington

To resist is to hold on to hate

All too often we cling to our beliefs because they play a role in defining who we are, says Mamta Accapadi, vice provost for university life at the University of Pennsylvania. “And at the end of the day we have to wonder if we are more interested in learning from a new opportunity or holding on to old ideas that don’t serve us?” Isolation, Accapadi said, has led many of us to double down on our beliefs. And the separation has intensified this sense of other. When we feel the pull to resist a shift in thinking, we should consider the following: Do we want our resistance to turn into hate, or do we want to embrace the new ideas and look at them as an opportunity to do better?

Here’s the thought to take notice of: Are you holding on to stereotypes? Where do they come from? Look at your friend circle: Do your friends bring perspectives different from your own? If they don’t, how can you expand your friend circle to be more inclusive?

» READ MORE: I’m sitting at home during the pandemic. You’re going out. How to make sense of these friendships now. | Elizabeth Wellington

Disrupting any narrative — especially a hateful one — often boils down to the questions we ask ourselves when we become aware of our imperfect thoughts, says Tricia Brouk, motivational speaker and author of The Influential Voice: Saying What You Mean for Lasting Legacy. “Just because you realize you have a hateful thought doesn’t mean you are a hateful person. But it’s important to recognize it so you don’t take it to the next level.”

Consider these questions:

  • How can I better understand those who are different than me?

  • How can I cultivate moments that generate empathy for others?

  • What can I do to better understand the historical context of those whom I’m othering?

  • Am I considering others’ values? Am I requiring that other people’s values mirror mine?

“When you understand the power of your words, you are consciously eliminating violence and hate from the universe and that in itself is progress.”

Tricia Brouk, motivational speaker and author

“When you understand the power of your words, you are consciously eliminating violence and hate from the universe, and that in itself is progress,” Brouk said.

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