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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE | PERSPECTIVE ON VIOLENCE

To Analyze Hate, Consider Education, Economics

Surveys of the American public indicate that the more educated people are, the less likely they are to accept anti-Semitic beliefs.

October 22, 2000|AARON LEVINSON and ZEV YAROSLAVSKY | Aaron Levinson is director of the Anti-Defamation League's San Fernando Valley office. Zev Yaroslavsky is Los Angeles County supervisor for the 3rd District. Also contributing to this article were Valley Hate Crimes Alliance steering committee members Gil Garcetti, Los Angeles County district attorney, and Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations

The number of hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County and in California is rising. The increase in itself is alarming, and our concern is compounded by recent acts such as the destructive, hate-filled vandalism last month at the West Valley Hebrew Academy, a Jewish school in Woodland Hills.

Analysts, however, note that the elevated hate crime figures may be due as much to increased awareness and reporting as an increase in bigoted acts.

To begin reducing the scourge of hate crimes, we need to further examine their causes. People often ask after an egregious, bias-motivated rampage, "Why did that person do that? Where did he or she learn to hate like that?" This is why the theme "Why Do People Hate?" was chosen for the next town hall meeting of the San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance.

Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) have conducted surveys of the American public on the subject of race relations, bigotry and anti-Semitism. The findings of these and similar studies are basically the same. As individuals and groups acquire more education, as they climb in socioeconomic status and as they increase their contact with those "different" from themselves, they are apt to be more tolerant.

A very strong correlation exists between education level and likelihood of accepting anti-Jewish (and other) stereotypes. According to a 1998 ADL study in the United States, 18% of Americans who had a high school education or less were found to be most anti-Semitic. Those who attended some college were half as likely to hold similar views, and just 5% of college graduates fell into the most anti-Semitic category. Simply put, the more educated someone is, the less likely that person is to accept anti-Semitic beliefs and hate.

Further research suggests that economic alienation impacts an individual's propensity to accept anti-Jewish stereotypes. For example, the ADL study asked respondents about the U.S. economy. The most anti-Semitic individuals answered in greater numbers that they did not earn enough money to lead the kind of life they wanted. In addition, they saw themselves as worse off financially than they had been five years earlier and they worried that they or someone in their household might lose their job in the near future.

Finally, those who often come in contact with minorities are far less likely to hold prejudicial views toward them. ADL's study found that individuals who hold strong anti-Semitic beliefs are nearly half as likely as those who do not harbor such feelings to come in contact often with Jews. In addition, individuals who are most anti-Semitic are less likely to have a Jew among their circle of friends.

The NCCJ's most recent study supports this research, finding that as contact rises between interracial and interethnic groups, the percentage of respondents satisfied with how groups are getting along climbs from 55% to 77%. This suggests that once people get to know people of different races, ethnicities and religions, they appreciate the different groups more.

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Obviously, this does not imply that the uneducated, the poor and those in racially or ethnically homogenous areas will be, without fail, our community's haters. Just as we do not want someone to judge an entire race or religion based on a few of each group's members, we should not assume that any particular person with less education, wealth and contact with minorities is to blame for any rise in hate crimes.

But this does provide a starting point to analyze why some people hate--and fear--others. For further insights, join us at the next town hall meeting of the San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Little Theatre on the campus of Valley College. We will examine more closely why people hate.

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