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A government that promotes hatred

Interview with Adrienne van der Valk, expert from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
Photo: AFP
05/08/2017
15:17
Víctor Sancho / Corresponsal
Washington
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The United States has long been referred as a divided country, where polarization increasingly marks its decisions and attitudes.

In Congress, every bill endorsed by legislators from both parties is seen as something unheard of. At the social level, on the streets, the tension is more latent than in the civility that should characterize the federal institutions.

Attacks accumulate, and not only in tangible violent actions. The ideas and policies of the current administration prioritize the white American man tradition.

A few days ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest and oldest group of African Americans, issued its first travel warning so that they do not visit the state of Missouri, or do it at their own risk.

In addition, the Department of Justice is investigating cases of discrimination against white people at universities that implement programs to end bias against minorities.

"Protected by the knowledge that leaders agree with them, people feel more comfortable harassing strangers by posting hate comments on the internet," explains to EL UNIVERSAL Adrienne Van der Valk, Assistant Director of Teaching Tolerance at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC is a benchmark in the fight against intolerance in the US.

In November, days after Trump's surprise victory, they launched their study “The Trump Effect,” in which they demonstrated with data how his rhetoric is directly related to the rise in hate speech and prejudices in the American society.

Van der Valk is one of the authors of the study and a specialist in hate among minors in educational centers. "The change is not that there are racist or xenophobic feelings, but people are encouraged and authorized to express them," Van der Valk reflected. The notion that ideology was present but not expressed is widespread.

"When national leaders use sexist, anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim rhetoric, even subtly, it acts as a subliminal message. It signals individuals across the country, who may feel like they are losing power and privilege, that leaders regard plurality, diversity, immigration and all these things as 'harmful'," summarized the expert.

It does not look like things will improve over time. "We are not seeing any indication that the trend has passed," she lamented.

The solution that the team of SPLC experts is proposing to schools, in particular, is to "prioritize the construction of a positive climate and acceptance;” those who have applied it have been able to re-establish "harmony" quickly. But to achieve that at a national level, with the current atmosphere and with the polarizing battles, seems rather complicated for the moment.

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