“Racism is a thing of the past” is a common phrase that comes up in conversations about current events such as the Ferguson shooting.
In Richter Hall on Oct. 21, the Civil Rights Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Deborah Lauter, put the claim to rest by giving examples of how bigotry is alive and well, along with potential solutions to the problem.
“In this country you have the protected right to be a bigot,” Lauter said. “What we also have a right to do is call out the bigots and prevent their mindset from creeping into society.”
Lauter’s lecture, “Communities Breed Hate or Tolerance” showed students of California Lutheran University and community members the current climate of hate in which we live, with a special focus on anti-semitism. These discussions are difficult to carry out because of their controversial and disconcerting nature.
“If there’s a place where that conversation [about bigotry]should happen, it’s a college campus,” Cal Lutheran President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Kimball said.
Lauter opened the lecture by talking about the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank and how the event acted as a catalyst for the creation of the Anti-Defamation League. Since then, the organization has been working hard “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” according to the organization’s website, adl.org.
In addition to ending the defamation of the Jewish people, the organization also strives to promote fair treatment for minorities, women, religious sects, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) community.
“By having a mission that includes the inclusive goal, ‘to secure justice and fair treatment to all,’ the ADL exemplifies how groups who have been socially marginalized need to work together for justice and equality,” Cal Lutheran sociology professor Adina Nack said.
Lauter also discussed how the ADL is constantly working to accomplish these goals through several means.
First off, the organization works to influence legislation. The ADL has been rather successful in this right as 45 states have laws abhorring hate crimes based on the ADL’s model.
The organization also writes briefs for important court cases at the appellate level and educates the younger generation on the downsides of bigotry through their “No Place For Hate” program, which over 100 schools in the Ventura tri-county area participate in.
After noting the goals and importance of the ADL, Lauter brought the issue closer to home, stunning the crowd with a shocking statistic.
“In California there are 60 racist groups, skinhead groups,” Lauter said. “In Ventura county alone, there are about 10 of these skinhead groups.”
Lauter noted that these groups are protected under the freedom of speech clause of the Constitution in the United States unless they act on their prejudices. This is not the case in many European countries.
Following the Holocaust, several European countries outlawed forms of bigotry such as racist groups and hate speech. However, the Internet is opening the door to many in those countries along with the United States as a platform for hate.
“The Internet acts as a sort of virtual hood where you can spew whatever you want under the safety of anonymity,” Lauter said.
Lauter went on to say that as the Internet becomes increasingly popular, it is only natural that prejudiced people are among those who utilize the advantages of the web. These people can use the Internet as a soapbox by creating web pages, tweeting and selling merchandise such as racist shirts or literature.
Because of this epidemic of rampant bigotry infiltrating the media, the ADL has taken it upon themselves to remove or minimize this content on the Internet.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google are among the companies the organization has attempted to persuade against this offensive material, with varying degrees of success. As the concept of free speech comes into play, Lauter makes an important observation.
“This is not a free speech issue, these [internet providers] are private companies that can choose what they host on their servers,” Lauter said.
Another function of the ADL is to enhance the education of the tragedies begotten from bigotry.
“One of the most appalling statistics of our [Global 100] survey was that the majority of the world does not know that the Holocaust happened,” Lauter said.
Lauter explained that this statistic is troubling due to the old adage that “those who don’t learn history are bound to repeat it.”
Overall, Lauter’s lecture left a powerful impression on the audience, who by-and-large left the hall with a more informed stance on the issues discussed.
“There were a lot of important topics that were brought up that would really get people thinking about ways to improve the current situation,” sophomore and Vice President of Cal Lutheran’s Hillel club Jeremy Vandenberg said. “She did a good job of informing people.”
Published October 29, 2014