Charlottesville, August 13, 2017—events that marked a national atrocity and tragedy. Over the past 24 hours, we have watched as White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and others espousing hate, fueled protests in Charlottesville. They came to protest the removal of symbols of oppression in Virginia and marched with torches onto the University of Virginia campus—a scene reminiscent of earlier Klan marches. It was a dark day and fear remains high.

Many, including President Trump, have called for love and not hate—a powerful but challenging sentiment.  Hate is all too easy, particularly if one views the world as “us vs. them” or if one believes that their group is superior to another. Such a perspective reflects what is often referred to as a social dominance orientation (SDO: Pratto et al., 1994; Sidanius et al., 2004).

Many elements of President Trump’s comments were disturbing, particularly his failure to hold the White Nationalists/alt-right accountable for their beliefs and violence. However, I found the following words to be the most disturbing:

My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.

Perhaps, these words ring true and are inspirational for those of us whose history is one of privilege. However, for African-Americans whose ancestors arrived in chains or experienced decades of oppression and discrimination; for Japanese-Americans who were interred during WWII; for Native American’s whose ancestors were systematically killed or whose children were removed as part of a pattern of genocide; for women, particularly poor women, with little voice or vote; LGBT individuals who experienced lifetimes of bias, discrimination, violence, and social justice denied; and the list goes on—sadly, the list is quite long. Are these histories to be cherished?

Most importantly, if we are to truly embrace “love each other, respect each other,” we must address not only issues of direct violence but also structural violence. I have no doubt that President Trump wants to see a halt to direct violence—visible acts of violence resulting in clear harm. The images of beatings, a car deliberately ramming peaceful protesters, pepper spray, etc. are all instances of direct violence and surely have no place in the realm of peaceful communities.

Structural violence is just as deadly as direct violence but represents social inequities, which cause long-term negative harm to individuals and communities. According to Opotow (1990), structural violence is ubiquitous, insidious, and a continuous assault. As it is built into the fundamental structures of society, no one is seemingly responsible but long-term harm that slowly eats away at marginalized communities. For those individual holding a SDO, structural violence seems normal and appropriate. They espouse the "fact" that although some individuals/groups experience long-term social inequalities and are denied basic human rights, it is "natural" and "they brought it on themselves." However, if we truly want to follow the words of the President—respect and love each other—then we must seek to eliminate structural violence, enhancing social equality and opportunity. As such:

  • Health care should be universal and freely available to all.
  • Individuals should be protected from direct as well as systematic discrimination in schools, workplaces, housing, military, etc., including protections for women and members of LGBT communities.
  • Police and others within the justice system should respect the rights of all, including prisoners.
  • All children should have access to high quality public schools from pre-school through college.
  • Income should be distributed more fairly with a livable minimum wage.
  • Treatment, not incarceration, should be the first line of defense in relation to the drug problem in the United States.
  • The environment should be protected not only for today but also for future generations.
  • All religions are respected, including the right not to believe in God.
  • Sensible gun laws should be enacted so that, in the words of the President, “no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
  • Indeed, children in Flint, MI and in all communities, should be able to live free from environmental hazards.
  • We have a responsibility to care for those who cannot meet their own needs to physical, psychological, and/or social challenges.

Of course, the above is just a sample list addressing issues of structural forms of violence.  Protections of fundamental human rights are key to an individual’s physical and mental health as well as community well-being. Of course, the list above appears to run counter to current dominant political rhetoric.

The President’s agenda is one that mirrors a social dominance orientation—a belief that some individuals are worthy, while others are not.  Health care is framed as an earned privilege, discrimination against others is codified, certain religions and peoples are demonized, walls are built, and might is perceived as right.

Moreover, many of those involved in the White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi, Klan movements and alt-right perceive any balancing of equities as a loss—a form of oppression. Certainly, political rhetoric over the past year has fostered such misperceptions and normalized the rise of enmity and violent protest.

Unless issues of racism, sexism, ageism, homo- and trans-phobia, ableism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, poverty, and other forms of social, religious, political, educational, economic, national, environmental, and ecological injustices are addressed within our country, love and respect for all remains a distant dream.  Peace and social justice will certainly not be achieved by slogans urging us to just love one another. As such, it is incumbent upon all of us to work, not only to love and respect each other, but also to address the underlying structural inequities that fuel ongoing harm, despair, and unfortunately, also hate.

References

Opotow, S. (2001). Social injustice. In D. J. Christie, R. V. Wagner, & D. D. Winter (Eds.), Peace, conflict and violence: Peace psychology for the 21st century (pp. 102–109). New York, NY: Prentice-Hall. Retrieved from http://u.osu.edu/christie/files/2014/10/Chapter-8-Social-Injustice-Opotow-1jaya7m.pdf

Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M. and Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741–763.

Sidanius, J., Pratto, F., Van Laar, C., & Levin, S. (2004). Social dominance theory: Its agenda and method. Political Psychology, 25, 845-880.

About the Author

Linda Woolf, Ph.D.,

Linda Woolf, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Webster University. She researches human rights, hate, peace and political psychology.