I rarely use the word “hate.”
“Be careful how you use the word hate,” my mom would say. “Hate is a terrible word and should be used sparingly in life.”
I picture this conversation at the circular dinner table in the kitchen and me — again — leaving my Brussels sprouts to go stone cold. And as a kid learning the ever-changing language boundaries, the word seemed appropriate for a vegetable tasting like the blades of grass outside the window.
“You can say you don’t like something, but save the word hate for rare cases,” she said.
Over the years, she drilled into me to avoid using the word, as if it were radioactive and would harm others. Words, she helped me understand, can carry unintended meanings, lasting pain and penetrating hurt. Use them carefully, she said.
Which brings me to a reflexive feeling in my body when hearing the term “hate crime.” I hear my mother’s words and warnings in my head. And as embarrassing as I must admit, she’d agree with the increasing usage in the modern day.
My calendar contains many useful features, one reminding me of the themes designated for the coming days and months. Most times, the subjects are meaningful, others not so much.
But in a timely sense, one popped up this week, and when viewed under the light of current events, brought my mom’s words back home. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Hate crimes are heinous. By definition, a hate crime is a crime that typically involves violence motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identification or other grounds.
I thought of a recent report of a large man in New York City beating a 65-year old Asian American woman to the ground. His actions were not dislike, but hate.
Or the death of a 25-year old Black man running the streets of Brunswick, Georgia, after two adult men jumped from their vehicle. This too, was not dislike but actions deeply anchored in hate.
Recently a friend joined me for coffee. His wisdom of the world includes being of a generation ahead of me. I enjoy and respect his point of view.
“Racism is all about power,” he said. “The act of putting someone below you in the levels of life.”
My friend is a kind man with a good heart. His words opened up a new understanding of what drives people to cross the line from dislike to hate. According to him, the age-old premise of individuals jockeying for position against people who are different from them or know little. Doing so lays a fertile foundation for hate to grow.
The growing frequency of hate crimes concerns me. Hate crimes are not new, but today we are better at attaching the definition to such motivated actions. Bringing such crimes to public light can be a good thing. True hate should burn under the light of day.
But I hate hate crimes — a use of the word I am sure my mother would agree with.