Arjun Singh Sethi, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and Vanderbilt University, read from his new book, American Hate: Survivors Speak Out, at Red Emma’s Bookstore on Wednesday.
His book recounts experiences of survivors of hate crimes and addresses their responses to these events.
Sethi examines the recent spike in hate crimes throughout the country. He noted that the scope of the book had to be broadened to better reflect the experiences of various survivors.
“When I initially had set out, I had thought to only include only the most searing examples of hate crimes, namely assault and murder,” he said. “Then I quickly realized I would do a disservice to impacted communities because hate manifests in so many ways.”
During his talk, Seth emphasized different kinds of hateful actions, particularly violence sanctioned by the state.
“So, one of the things that we really need to be thinking about in this moment is how state violence in many ways can’t be distinguished and is inseparable from hate violence,” he said.
He noted his surprise at how much resilience and hope the survivors expressed.
“I anticipated finding lots of pain, grief and suffering in Donald Trump’s America, and indeed I did, but I also found impacted folks, and survivors in particular, are often incredibly resilient, optimistic and hopeful about the future,” he said.
He further stated that there is a clear connection President Trump’s rhetoric and the increase in hate crimes in the U.S.
“If Donald Trump gets on the airwaves and executes policies banning Muslims and refugees, rolls back protections for transgender students, decides that consent agreements are no longer useful and cages immigrant families, of course, there’ll be an uptick in hate violence because it puts a target on our backs,” he said.
However, he explained that he believes hate and violence did not begin with Trump; rather, the nation has a long history of hate crimes.
“There is no question that Donald Trump has emboldened and incited hate in all its forms across this country, but it’s simultaneously a fact that hate is part of our DNA,” he said. “The United States was built on a hate crime, the decimation and destruction of Native communities, and was furthered by additional hate crimes including slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration.”
Sethi noted the difficulties he encountered while writing his book, namely staying true to the experiences of the survivors.
“In many ways this was an experiment, because when I hit ‘send’ on the 14 draft testimonials of American Hate: Survivors Speak Out, I experienced a moment of terror,” he said. “I really worried that the survivors would come back to me and say, ‘I gave you 50,000 words. This is 4,000 words. You’ve ordered it in a way that isn’t faithful to my experience. You’ve given primacy to certain aspects of my account that don’t deserve primacy.’”
Purvi Shah, a civil rights lawyer, said that the talk was timely and relevant to the current political situation.
“Coming to hear about this book, which is spotlighting the real stories of hate in our contemporary time, just felt like a really powerful way to mark this moment after the elections,” Shah said.