Book Review

American Hate/Open Season – Book Review



Editor: Arjun Singh Sethi/Publisher: The New Press/Release Date: 23rd August 2018/Rating: 5*

Synopsis: A collection of stories focusing on the voices and narratives of thirteen individuals that have been impacted by the 2016 presidential campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump. Since his campaign Trump has facilitated, emboldened and empowered the voices of racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and anti-immigrant hostility. Arjun Singh Sethi is a community activist, civil rights lawyer and law professor based in Washington DC who aims to dispel the mythology surrounding hate in America.

Review: I was really excited to read and review this particular work of non-fiction. For two main reasons; firstly, the book is written by an individual who is a well known pillar in the Sikh community in America and someone I can identify with spiritually. Secondly, despite the steady rise in hate crime in America, prior to this book there has been little effort to consolidate, chronicle and identify the variety of ways the current American political climate has impacted a diverse range of individuals. That being said there has been a number of books, articles and interviews on how Trump’s America may have changed the lives of distinct communities but for the first time these experiences are collated in one collective piece of writing. We all know, or at least should be aware, of the bigotry and discriminative comments made by various power players in America during the 2016 presidential campaign and subsequent election. For the first time these diverse groups of people are coming together to detail the similarities in their experiences because of one single event – Trump’s decision to campaign. Anti-immigrant hostility is not new. Neither is sexism, homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. Nor is any other form of discriminatory abuse that seeks to isolate, belittle and intimidate a community. However, this book argues these forms of abuse, followed by intolerant voices and actions have been empowered and facilitated to make fear, in accepting and displaying one’s sense of self, a normative emotion. This book details the perpetuation of labelling immigrants as inherently dangerous is a global issue which needs some resolve.

These first hand accounts of the experiences and lives of thirteen individuals was extremely difficult to read. As a young, Sikh female I found myself questioning the experiences I have had in my life and found similarities in different forms and types of intimidating behaviour. The book is formatted to include an introduction, then a separate chapter for each narrative and then some concluding remarks. The introduction consists of providing a definition of hate and bigotry, followed by numerous examples of those in the campaign stirring racial divides and enabling the intimidation of disenfranchised communities. If you classify yourself as having an human quality you will find all these narratives extremely heart-breaking, from the feeling of displacement and isolation experienced by Asmaa Albukaie, the anxiety and cyberbullying experienced by Alexandra Brodsky and how the family of Khalid Jabara dealt with their loss to a violent hate crime in Oklahoma.

I was most eager, and scared, to read the ninth narrative in this collection: Harjit Kaur. As someone who identifies as a Sikh, there have been multiple times in my life and those of my close family where certain individuals have taken one look at our articles of faith, such as our ‘Kesh’ (unshorn hair) and decided what, who and why we are in a certain place. I remember the shock and horror upon hearing of horror experienced by Maan Singh Khalsa in Richmond, California. Many of you may heard of the most recent Sikh hate crime in USA, where a 50 year old Sikh man, wearing a turban, was beaten by men shouting racial slurs. If you have not – you can read more here. In many cases, we are targeted because we are seen as immigrants or perceived as Muslims. Arjun Singh Sethi correctly argues we reject the ‘mistaken identity defense’ and we stand tall with any marginalized group to disseminate and make all communities aware of hate violence.

The themes in this novel cover everything from police brutality, bigotry, mental health, violence, gender and social inequality. However, the theme that stuck out for me was the theme of love and togetherness. Despite curating a collection of voices that look to demonstrate the negatives of our society, Arjun Singh Sethi has managed to showcase the concept of togetherness and patience from both the narrators and other individuals in the community. Reading this book has made me want to make my own effort to empower the voices of the silenced and enable impacted communities to reclaim their truth. The testimonial format allows each survivor to tell their deeply personal stories in their own words, allowing them to come forward on a meaningful platform.

A boatload of respect for the individuals who recounted their experiences to help educate society at large. I can only imagine how traumatising and uncomfortable it was for you to open up and detail your vulnerabilities. You are the real heroes fighting for justice and pushing notions of equality. Despite the struggles of these thirteen fourteen individuals (including Arjun Singh Sethi himself) and the countless individuals whose stories have not been documented in this collection, this anthology has made two things apparent; hate is real but so is love. 

Are you going to be picking up this book? Pre-order here.

M x



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