In Conversation at CC: American Hate With Guest Arjun S. Sethi

By BELLA LAWRENCE

On Tuesday Aug. 28, The Butler Center — in tandem with the Chaplain’s Office, the Wellness Resource Center, and the Department of Sociology — hosted a panel discussion centered around guest speaker Arjun S. Sethi’s new book, “American Hate.”

Photo courtesy of Colorado College website

Sethi is a civil rights lawyer, writer, activist, and professor. He is a current faculty member of Georgetown University Law Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, and co-chairs the American Bar Association’s National Committee on Homeland Security, Terrorism, and Treatment of Enemy. 

“American Hate: Survivors Speak Out,” published in 2018, is a work which enabled survivors of hate crimes to share their experiences on their own terms.  

In anticipation of questions and discussion, which consumed much of the program, Sethi gave a 20-minute introduction of the impetus behind “American Hate.” As a community activist working “closely with Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in cities across the country,” Sethi stated that “What I was hearing in 2016, in the run up to the presidential election, was that hate was braiding through every facet of American life in communities of color.”

 He gave two reasons for what followed as inspiration to collect the stories that would eventually make up “American Hate.”

 The first was his wish to create an archive, a collective work to which we could turn, in order to understand what people were actually experiencing during the 2016 presidential election. The second was in response to trends in the media that afforded space to reporting on white supremacists over other voices, such as those of affected communities, and those with messages of change and resistance. Sethi referred to this as the “absolute fascination and curiosity with why people hate.”

After his introductory remarks, Sethi was joined on stage by Colorado College professors Nadia Guessous and Santiago Guerra. Guessous asked “a question about the category” of the stories told in the book, “the category of hate.” Sethi responded, in part, by addressing how the title was an effort to dismantle ideas of American exceptionalism. To highlight what he meant, Sethi turned to a quote from his written introduction of “American Hate:” “The United States was built on a hate crime.” By this, Sethi was referring to the genocide of Native Peoples. Sethi asserted, “Hate has been a fixture of the American experience for as long as diverse communities have been in this country.”

Assistant Vice-President of the Butler Center Paul Buckley who introduced Sethi, had prefaced the discussion, in part, by acknowledging that it was very important for us to “take the time to honor the life of De’von Bailey, who was killed by a Colorado Springs police officer on August 3.” As members of both the CC and Colorado Springs communities, Buckley encouraged the audience to consider the ways in which the themes and content of this conversation on American hate pertains to the case of Bailey. 

Connecting the conversation and the messages contained within “American Hate” back to our immediate college community were the questions asked of Guessous, Guerra, and Sethi by CC students. In part, this discussion challenged the idea of what it means to be an ally, and demanded that we as a campus actively foster spaces able to truly offer safety and, in turn, to bolster community. 

 

 

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