Intolerance and hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S. and beyond. Now is the time to take action.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, best known for extolling the virtues of nomadic taco trucks and under-the-radar noodle shops in his native Los Angeles, once said that he wrote "to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors."
As horrifying scenes of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip that followed continue to dominate the news, incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism have surged in the U.S., leaving parents across the country struggling to calm their children's fears and answer their questions — and to remind them that every person, everywhere, has the right to feel safe and respected.
Hate crimes start with hate speech, which often thrives in times of crisis. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jonathan Mok, a college student from Singapore, reported being punched and kicked on the street in London. His attackers, he told the BBC, shouted, "We don't want your coronavirus in our country." Mok posted photos of his injured face on social media, writing, "Racism is not stupidity — racism is hate. Racists constantly find excuses to expound their hatred."
Racism is not stupidity — racism is hate. Racists constantly find excuses to expound their hatred.
A special report published in 2022 by the U.S. Department of Justice noted that in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, hate crimes rose to their highest level in 12 years, with a spike in crimes and incidents against Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. In 2021, Black Lives Matter, the global racial justice movement, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its struggle against racism and racially motivated violence. "BLM's call for systemic change has spread around the world, forcing other countries to grapple with racism within their own societies," Norwegian MP Petter Eide wrote in his nominating statement. Meanwhile, migrants and refugees — some literally running for their lives — continue to be met with suspicion and hostility.
Gold saw food as one way to bridge the divide between people from different ethnic backgrounds. Learning about other cultures emphasizes the fact that we are all people and sends the message that racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated in a civil society. It is our job, as people, as parents, as citizens of the world, to combat hate and discrimination wherever we can. Here are five ways:
1. Celebrate other cultures
Show your support for diverse ethnic groups in your community by attending, promoting or helping fund events run by local organizations and houses of worship that bring people together: festivals, film series, guest lectures, language classes and celebrations. Bring your children.
Recognize cultural diversity and inclusion by supporting local businesses run by immigrants. Try foods and recipes from a range of culinary traditions. Watch films from other countries with your kids and read them stories that celebrate diversity.
2. Call out bigotry and hate speech
Stigmatization is cruel and unproductive. There has been a disturbing increase in hate speech among Americans and Europeans in recent years, often blaming immigrant and minority groups for the difficulties of their own countries. If you overhear someone tell a racist joke, speak up and let them know stereotyping isn't harmless. Let your children know they should feel free do the same. There's nothing funny about using "humor" to normalize dangerous ideas and perpetuate ugly stereotypes.
If you see something in news reports or on social media that reflects prejudice, write a letter to the editor or leave a comment to let others know that intolerant remarks are unkind and uncalled for.
3. Teach children kindness and how to talk about differences
Prejudice and hate are not innate. They are learned behaviors — and they can be unlearned. Children absorb biases from the adults around them, and from the media, books and their peers. So set a good example. The process of countering negatives with positives begins at an early age. Talking about differences does not increase prejudice in children.
4. Act in solidarity — and intervene if it's safe to do so
When the public stands in solidarity with immigrants and marginalized groups, bullies lose their power. If you see someone being harassed or physically attacked, it is important to help if you can do so safely. Make your presence as a witness known. Make eye contact with the person being attacked and ask if they want support. Don't escalate the situation. Verbal and physical abuse is wrong and should not be tolerated.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has resources and guidance on how to safely take action.
5. Support human rights organizations like UNICEF
UNICEF has highlighted and advocated tirelessly for children's rights around the globe for more than 75 years and knows that children need to be seen as children, first and foremost. It's more important than ever that we all remain in solidarity with one another. Human rights are a collective promise made by all countries of the world, including those in distress. Children from all ethnic backgrounds — especially children who have been uprooted by violence, war and poverty — need our support, wherever they are. Every child deserves to be treated with humanity, and to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.