An Investigation of African American College Students' Beliefs about Anti-Middle Eastern Hate Crime and Victims in the Wake of September 11th

Article excerpt

As a nation, the U.S. has touted the fact of its diversity as an aspect of its strength and relative superiority in the global community (Parrillo, 1996). Although somewhat paradoxically, at the same time that the U.S. symbolically embraces the notion of diversity, there have always been Americans who vociferously denounce those they perceive to be different (Levin, 2002). In some extreme cases, these sentiments have not only given rise to outright expressions of bigotry, but have resulted in violence and aggression directed against those perceived to be different (e.g., Janowitz, 1969; Laub, 1997).

Regardless of whether violence or physical assault is involved, illegal behaviors instigated by a perpetrators' bias constitute hate crime (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). Those who are targets of hate crime are members of minority groups who are perceived to be members of an out-group that is negatively stereotyped, disliked and hated (Levin & McDevitt, 1993). Definitions of hate crime vary, but existing definitions tend to focus on the motivation of the perpetrator, as

well as the group status of the targeted victim (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL), 1994; Herek & Berrill; 1992; Hamm, 1994). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, hate crimes "are traditional offenses motivated by the offender's bias" (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002, p.3).

Throughout this discussion a hate crime is regarded as an illegal act involving the intentional selection of a victim based on a perpetrators' bias, prejudice or hatred against the actual or perceived status of the victim (Craig, 2002). This latter point is important because for victims of hate crime, it is the perception of being different accompanied by beliefs about association with certain out-groups that seems to motivate perpetrators. Whether the target is actually different and whether they are indeed a member of the out-group matters little to offenders. It is the perception of difference and being a member of an out-group that is enough to incur an offender's wrath.

Victims of hate crime include racial, ethnic and religious minority persons as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and physically disabled people (American Psychological Association, 1998). Research has shown that victims of hate crime experience extreme emotional distress (Barnes & Ephross, 1994) as well as long-term post-traumatic stress symptoms (Herek, Gillis, Cogan & Glunt, 1997). Additionally, when a hate crime occurs, the effects of the victimization extend well beyond the actual victims of the incident. Others who are members of the victim's social group are also negatively affected and likely experience suspicion, fear and anger. Finally, hate crimes appear to affect (and infect) relations between members of the victims' and perpetrators' social groups (Brown, 1997).

Post-September 11th Hate Crime

Since September 11th 2001 and the ensuing American attack on Iraq, Americans who appear to be either Arab or Muslim or in some way Middle Eastern are not only regarded as different, but they are sometimes singled out for misplaced retaliatory aggression. Many Americans currently view a person's association with a Muslim or Middle Eastern identity as in some way causally related to the events of September 11th. Consequently, for many Americans, there is an almost automatic association of Middle Easterners and Muslims with terrorism. To be clear, it is the perception of difference as well as beliefs about Arabs and Muslims that has led some Americans to respond negatively and in some cases aggressively to those they perceive to be Middle Eastern.

Researchers from a variety of backgrounds have speculated about the likelihood that this negative imagery has contributed to the observed increase in hate crimes committed against those of Muslim or Middle Eastern descent (e.g., Swahn, Mahendra, Paulozzi, Winston, Shelley, Taliano, Frazier & Saul, 2003; Shasheen, 2003). …