On the evening of April 20th, 2021, I attended a Zoom meeting on the “Beloved Community Amid Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” About 72 people participated in this meeting organized by Dr. Joan R. Harrell.
Joan teaches at Auburn University in the School of Communication and Journalism. An ordained minister, she founded the digital humanities project titled, “Becoming the Beloved Community.”
Josiah Royce, (1855-1916) a noteworthy philosopher, coined the phrase the “Beloved Community.” The Beloved Community may be understood as an inclusive society in which power is shared, people are respected, and individuals are transformed. In sum, Royce felt that society has as its basis such values as shared power, justice, love, responsibility, and compassion.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized the term, “Beloved Community.” He did so in the 1950s when he was a doctoral student at the School of Theology at Boston University (BU).
Why BU? It seems that the thought of Josiah Royce loomed large at BU, since Royce taught for many years at Harvard and he remained popular at BU many years after his death.
Dr. Harrell has hosted five Zoom meetings on “Becoming the Beloved Community” gatherings since we have been socially distancing. The first live synchronous meetings took place on June 3, 2020, nine days after George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota. According to Harrell, “People have been attending our listening sessions and conversations from around the U.S, including Alabama, California, New York, Michigan, Texas and Florida.”
In the meeting I attended, speakers were either Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Their community represents 30 countries, islands in the Pacific Ocean, and speak more than 90 different languages. The speakers Tuesday consisted of Asian American and Pacific Islander students and faculty.
The cultural heritage of the speakers was South Korean, South Asian (Pakistan), Chinese, Vietnamese, and the Kanaka Maoli people of Hawaii. I could feel their pain as they told the story of how they themselves dealt with hate crimes or how their relatives or friends did so.
One speaker noted that one of her relatives was attacked by three college students at 11 p.m. outside his dormitory on campus. He sustained injuries to his brain and, thankfully, no permanent damages had been done, but the psychological damage inflicted a very heavy toll. He moved off campus.
Though people from Asia constitute only 5.6% of the population, hate crimes have spiked greatly in the past few years. The number of hate attacks on persons who look different than white Americans will increase as the number of people from Asia and other countries will increase in the next decades, unless swift action is taken by our country and law enforcement agencies.
Unfortunately, most hate crimes are not reported. Those who are victims of a hate crime are afraid to report incidences to the police because if they report them, this will bring more attention to them and their families’ diversity. However, hate attacks make many victims deal with fear and anxiety for the rest of their lives.
There are hate crimes against LGBTQ people, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Muslims, Africans, Pacific Islanders, the elderly of all races, the mentally ill, the homeless, and others too numerous to mention. Anyone who stands out can become a target for a hate crime.
I’m glad I participated in this Zoom meeting for two reasons: First, it raised my consciousness about the increase of hate crimes against minorities. Second, it taught me that specific action must be taken against those who commit a hate crime.
Furthermore, evildoers are not per se evil people. Rather, they themselves are victims since they may have been brought up in very difficult circumstances. They may have been sexually abused, physically beaten, or put down by their parents or guardians as incompetent.
How can the average person become part of the Beloved Community? First, we can listen to the stories told by those who look, speak, and act differently than we do. Second, all minorities, regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religion, must be treated with dignity and respect as noted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have to remind ourselves that we are all one family. Children, youth, adult women, and men (who are from countries outside of the U.S. and non-European cultural heritages) should have a person they can count on, especially, if they are a victim of a hate crime. In this connection, we should take to heart what members of the world religions assert “Treat others the way you yourself want to be treated.” In this way you will join the Beloved Community.
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.