Have we been tasked to fight for love, or fight against hate? For liberation, or against oppression? For justice, or against injustice? Is there even a difference?
The concepts of love, compassion, and empathy have been ingrained in me since I was a young girl. Potentially much to my own mental detriment, I had always felt a deep pang of sorrow anytime I saw a fellow human being suffering, sometimes to the point where I couldn’t function properly as a result of this overwhelming sense of empathy, yet feeling of hopelessness that I couldn’t do anything to release someone of their misery. I very much held the belief that all people, no matter who they are, are like me — longing for purpose, and fulfillment, and love. In that spirit, whatever deep-seated flaws that one may have would be inconsequential, as they are — in the grand scheme of things — the same suffering, soul-searching, misguided human being as I surely am. We were taught early on hackneyed adages of loving all others, not passing judgement, and striving for peace for the purpose of coexistence. I ate up all these ideas, as cliche as they might have been — they were the only thing that made any rational sense to me. It wouldn’t make sense to want to live in a world in which we are not actively seeking to spread love every which way, search for common ground with whom we disagree, and no matter what — always be civil. And in my heart of hearts, this still is the fantastical version of the world I would prefer to live in. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., in speaking on nonviolence, said “Nonviolence means avoiding not only physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” Indeed, hating anyone would be a violation of my natural spirit of loving everyone past their inhumanity and flaws. King’s words of choosing love resonate with me and define me as they always have, but now with an asterisk.
As it turns out, these ideas that we’ve seen in so many motivational speeches, bumper stickers, and Chicken Soup for the Soul poems (shout out to fellow 90's kids), don’t materially mean that much in any real sense — especially when it comes to the fight for human rights. If we are to fight for positive concepts, such as love, goodness, and justice, then we are to surely admit that we are fighting against their antonyms: hatred, evil, and inequity.
Can one effectively fight hatred through unconditional love of those who promote that hate?
Conversely, can one fight for love through hatred of those who hate?
These questions come more and more to my mind, as I had only given any credence to the former: we must always love, and not let our anger about the grave injustices of the world prevent us from being civil with one another.
But I’ve come across a wave of human rights activists who rightfully bear no patience for this philosophy. They don’t want to “break bread” with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, they don’t want to simply “hug it out” with a misunderstood incel, they don’t want to “coexist” with the Westboro Baptist Church. These people are the very perpetrators and proponents of systematic oppression — and we must bear these people no credibility, no platform to stand on, no “I see where you’re coming from, but…”
These people must be fought tooth and nail, vociferously as ever, until the systems that they uphold are all but demolished.
We see this internal debate of “fight for vs. fight against” play out fairly frequently. Recently, theres been a debate amongst several 2020 US Democratic presidential candidates as to whether or not they should participate in a town hall on Fox News — a channel which traffics in making white supremacist ideologies “palatable” to the masses. Candidates like fast-rising Pete Buttigieg argue that Fox News may not act in good faith, but its worth using its platform to speak to viewers that tune in in good faith — a strategic opportunity to send progressive messages to large swathes of the population to which these messages aren’t being directly received. Other candidates, like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have refused to appear — indicating that doing so would further add to the legitimization and normalization of an extremely powerful, racist news channel.
So, what does one do here? Fight for the spread of progressive values by “breaking bread” with Fox in order to reach their massive number of viewers? Or does one fight against racism — specifically in this context, Fox’s racism, by not entertaining any idea of participating in their platform?
A similar, yet perhaps far more jarring example is the case of Daryl Davis — an African-American man who plays R&B and blues by day, and befriends the KKK by night. Wait, wait, back up— we exist in a universe in which a black man invites the Imperial Wizard of the KU KLUX KLAN over for dinner, and the Klansman accepts?
Davis believes that in order to eradicate racism at its core, we must educate, we must communicate with those who hate us — for it is the hatred of the unfamiliar and the unknown, that sustains white supremacy, and other forms of institutionalized bigotry. Many have deemed Davis heroic for his audacious approach to tackling race relations — Davis claims to have converted hundreds of Klansmen, who have since quit the Klan altogether upon his engagements with them. Others would argue that he dangerously diminishes an entity as heinous as the KKK to an issue of a simple disagreement of views. Like, holy hell, this isn’t a matter of preferring DC over Marvel, this is a matter of a group of people who fundamentally believe that anyone non-white is an inferior subhuman. A group of people often referred to as “fringe”, yet whose ideology only seems to be growing. Obliging these people even in the spirit of wanting to improving race relations gives them a sliver of legitimacy, which is exactly what we are fighting against.
Again, the conundrum I posed above appears yet again. Do we fight for mutual understanding, communication, common ground, and acceptance as Davis does? Or do we fight against legitimization of probably the most tangible face of white supremacy in America — the Ku Klux Klan? In our pursuit of communicating with and even educating the oppressor, we find that there is a possibility of breaking down that intolerance and bigotry. That disturbing aura of hatred of the other begins to diminish. Yet, if we fervently push back against any legitimization of upholders of oppressive systems — from “Why Do You Hate Me?” meetings with the Klan, to participating in Fox News town halls to reach “good faith” viewers, to covering Ivanka and Melania’s ‘top fashion moments’ — we send a unequivocally clear message to the world that these people and the backward ideas they directly perpetuate or are complicit in perpetuating are wrong and are not to be entertained.
Above, I mentioned MLK’s refusal to hate and determination to unconditionally love, yet he spoke out on the dangers of a “negative peace”. A kind of peace in which the oppressed are told to be civil in the interest of maintaining a societal equilibrium and order— addressing their grievances is far too inconvenient and discomfiting for the oppressor. So, Dr. King might not have the capacity to hate his enemy, yet he more than anyone knew the answer wasn’t to keep your head down and oblige in face of inequity.
There are and have been so many badass fighters out there — Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, Ahed Tamimi, Liang Xiaowen, Arundhati Roy, Pussy Riot, Malcolm X, Bobby Sands— these people knew/know the utter bullshit of civility when it comes to fighting for basic rights. Most of them are called “radical” for their call to revolution —on racism in America, on Palestinian and Kashmiri freedom, on authoritarianism in Russia, on sexual harassment and #MeToo in China, on self-determination of Northern Ireland. Yet the only radical thing I can think of is a world in which basic human rights — freedom from occupation, freedom of self-governance, and the equality of women and people of color — are not granted.
Then, there are those outside of any sortof political debate, whose sole form of activism is to spread love. Radhanath Swami comes to mind — a Bhakti Yoga practitioner and spiritual teacher who inspires millions around the world with his unending patience, asceticism, and dedication to serving the less fortunate. I had the good fortune of seeing Radhanath Swami in person — his calming presence, his words of wisdom from the Gita, and his gift of being able to find goodness in all creatures and beings emanated throughout the room. Upon listening to him, you do feel that there is so much goodness in the world — and once again Reverend King’s famous words resurface in memory: Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Radhanath, and those like him who live only to serve and unconditionally love are undeniably a part of that light.
Yet before, I would have solely been taken by the Daryl Davis’ and Radhanath Swamis of the world, and not its Angela Davis’ and Ahed Tamimis. Before, I didn’t understand that there are multiple ways in which people fight for the same purpose — yes, there is the Hare Krishna way, but there also is the Bolshevik Revolution way.
If fighting for love looks like volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating in Gaza 5K, and donating to the NAACP, then fighting against hate looks like protesting the government for not addressing hunger, boycotting/divesting from an apartheid state, and deplatforming the Daily Stormer.
Before, I would cringe at any solution to hatred and injustice short of Kum Ba Yah— loving all people, in spite of their deep-seated flaws or ugliness, was the only answer I knew. I still do strongly believe that love is the only answer*.
*But heres my asterisk — to bring about that love often involves fighting against forces that uphold hate, which can be a far more ugly, uncomfortable, and uncivil process than my deeply empathic, well-intentioned, yet sometimes naive self would want. The “fight for” and the “fight against” go hand in hand. It is when we fight against and defeat humanity’s atrocities do we end up finding ourselves in a world that is loving, good, and just.