How Hate Crimes are Interlinked with Economic/Colonial Exploitation

A Donald Trump supporter holds up an anti-Muslim poster as he awaits anti-Donald Trump protesters marching through the streets in Cleveland, Ohio, near the Quicken Loans Arena site of the Republican National Convention July 18, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A hate crime is generally defined as a crime motivated by bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Unlike normal crime, which is usually about property or money directly, the perpetrator of a hate crime is motivated only by the desire to make the victim worse off. As for analysis, the first problem with measuring these events is the lack of reporting. Using the United States as an example, a 2013 study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only one in three hate crimes was generally ever reported to law enforcement. Of these reported cases, for the period 2007-2011 the average number of hate crimes was about 259,700 a year. It also found that about 92 percent of those crimes were of a violent nature. For the same period, 21 percent were reported due to religious bias and 54 percent due to racial bias. Similar patterns are found around the world to varying degrees, with ideological and ethnic bias also dominant.

There is no doubt that the cultural factors involved in generating bigotry are complex. However, as with all human development, there are long-term and short-term casual influences. A common short-term influence is the direct impression made by parents and communities during a person’s upbringing. It is commonly understood that religious and racial bias often form during early development, influenced by parents and peers. While weak biological arguments for innate racial bias have floated around for years, a 2013 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience found that part of the brain that is responsible for racial recognition, the amygdala, does not show a response until the age of fourteen. It also found through neuro-imaging scans that the amount of measured activity correlated to the amount of racial diversity experienced in the child’s life history. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect indicating racial sensitivity. This basically means the brain is “programmed” by the child’s exposure. The author state, “these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.

Regarding long term-influence, it can be multi-generational or cultural, with bias spreading as something of a “thought gene,” passed down and around over time. This has been touched upon previously with respect to America’s white vs black racism, largely attributed to early abject slavery. Again, the notion of racial bias against those of African origin has been well established as artificially cultivated, inadvertently and inadvertently, through economic interests simply seeking to save money on labor. Over time, as slavery and then Jim Crow segregation faded, the class battle for survival in the capitalist order kept the poor white and black cultures at odds, in the same way the rise of immigration and loss of jobs in the US has been accompanied by bigotry and xenophobia towards Undocumented Mexican Immigrants, and other subcultures such as refugees, migrating from the Global East/South.

A unique parallel to American racism is India’s caste bigotry. In his work Castes of Mind: Colonialism and The Making of Modern India, Nicholas Dirks explains how the arrival of the British in India changed the nature of ancient caste relationships, morphing them during the colonial period into hierarchies for political and economic dominance. The British politically incorporated the existing religious caste structure into a method of social organization and control, dividing ranks and structuring elitism. They basically added new meanings, connotation, and implications to the existing class system to suit their own colonial needs, in a kind of “divide and rule” approach. Once Colonial rule ended, the associations created remained in place, perpetuating caste bias and discrimination to this day. While this may seem vague from a socioeconomic perspective, remember that the purpose of the Indian colony was fundamental for economic exploitation. The “drain of wealth,” as termed by Dadabhai Naoroji, helped make the British rich through robbing India and exploiting human labor. This links the pursuit of profit and the primary logic of capitalism to such social manipulation and hence the chain reactions are still plaguing the country. Today, about 165 million lower-caste people are routinely subject to discrimination, exploitation, and violence as a result.

Now as far as hate crime in general goes, social science researchers trying to find patterns usually seek out influences that may accelerate or diminish occurrences over time. Periodic economic downturns and poverty have been widely debated as related to the prevalence of hate crime in a given period. However, the problem is that unlike more readily measurable correlations such as the link between suicides and economic recession, hate crime behavior is far more sporadically distributed. Yet that doesn’t disprove a socioeconomic correlation. The root of such a behavior comes from a sense of threat. We can see implications of this in today’s crusade against Muslims and Undocumented Latin American immigrants.