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Combating Hate and Bias Recap:

Hate, Bias, And Racism In Today’s Political And Civic Space

Sophie Yost ('26) and Meg Bittle

Nov 29, 2023

The first panel of the Combating Hate and Bias Conference explored hate, bias, and racism in today’s political and civic space. The panel was moderated by Conference Chair Abdullah Antepli and included Robin Kirk, Co-Director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute; S. Charmaine McKissick-Melton, Associate Professor Emeritus of Mass Communication at North Carolina Central University; Johnathan Smith, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division at U.S. Department of Justice; and Meredith Weisel, Regional Director of ADL Washington D.C.

Each panelist highlighted the current political landscape and their own efforts to combat hate and bias. As the author of several children’s books, Robin Kirk states she is concerned about the current push to not only ban books in schools and libraries, but to limit what history is taught. As a board member to the Pauli Murray Center, she quotes Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, a human rights activist and legal scholar, “true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.” Kirk argues that we must engage with the difficult parts of our pasts, “we can’t skip past it or worse, suppress it.” She also highlights the importance of approaching human rights through local perspectives and community engagement. She, along with Charmaine McKissick-Melton, chaired a committee on Confederate monuments in Durham. The committee discussed what to do with these monuments in a way that respects history. Although these conversations are challenging and difficult, she asserts, that “in Pauli Murray’s spirit” we must “lean in.”

Charmaine McKissick-Melton talked about how she got her spark for social justice from her father, a lawyer and prominent civil rights activist Floyd Bixler McKissick. He was a speaker on the March on Washington. She and her family worked to desegregate Durham. She argues that “things can’t happen without conversation and difficult conversation.” McKissick-Melton also highlights the importance of individual action and responsibility, even at the risk of alienating friends, family, and colleagues, to stand up for what is right.

Charmaine McKissick-Melton

Johnathan Smith discussed his work in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the rise of hate crimes. He states the DOJ was in large part started back in 1870 to prevent the rise and terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. He argues that even 153 years later white supremacy is far too prevalent across our country. Citing the FBI’s annual hate crime statistics, he states that every year the number of hate crimes rises exponentially. Recently, his division has secured the conviction of several murderers who have committed hate crimes across the US. Smith states that “hate crime prosecution, as important and critical as they are, is not sufficient to solve this problem.” He argues that we must use all the tools available to be responsive including civil and local efforts, educational campaigns, and trust building between local communities and police.

Meredith Weisel went over her work with the ADL and their mission to fight antisemitism and hate since 1913. She argues that all forms of hate are interrelated, and we cannot fight one form of hate without fighting them all. She also asserts that although hate is not new, there is more normalization and mainstreaming of hate in large part due to disinformation, misinformation, and social media. All the panelists agreed that change is imperative at the local level, and Weisel noted that “all politics is local. All community is local. We need to start breaking down those barriers, otherwise, we will never find a path forward.”

Meredith Weisel
Meg Bittle

Meg Bittle

Meg Bittle is the Assistant Director of Polis. 

Sophie Yost (PPS '26)

Sophie Yost (PPS '26)

Sophie Yost is a Polis Student Assistant. She is studying Public Policy and History. She is interested in leadership and ethics, local elections, and art policy.