Hate programming comes into the open--on the air Public-access cable especially hospitable

July 21, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

TAMPA, Fla. -- At 7 o'clock on Friday nights, 190,000 households in the Tampa region can turn on their TV sets and watch talk-show host Herbert Poinsett talk about why he believes white people are better than black people.

In his weekly television series, "Race & Reason," the affable Mr. Poinsett suggests that American blacks, excepting the elderly or ill, be "relocated" to Africa.

"Unless whites face up to the reality that racial separatism is the only answer, there's going to be more and more trouble," says Mr. Poinsett, a retired chiropractor who uses a strident German marching song as theme music for his call-in show.

"It's getting darker and darker out there," he said. "It's just insane."

Hate, it seems, has gone high-tech, reaching out to more and more Americans through cable TV, radio, telephone hot lines and computer bulletin boards.

Hate programming that denigrates blacks and Jews has surged to new levels, appearing on cable television in 24 of the nation's top 100 markets, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League. But there are no reliable statistics on how many people watch such programs.

Such programming, which appears on virtually censor-free public access channels, has not yet shown up in Maryland.

At a tender time when Americans are struggling to understand the many differences among themselves, Mr. Poinsett seems to be finding the ground especially fertile for sowing his brand of prejudice.

"Conditions that lead to fear, mistrust and hate are more prevalent, generally. There are a lot of people out there who are frightened," said Robert Purvis, legal director of the Baltimore-based National Institute Against Prejudice & Violence. "It's a very confusing time to be an American. Heck, we can't even agree on what being an American is anymore.

"Bottom line: We're in a dangerous period."

*

"I used not to be prejudiced," said a white man who called in recently to Mr. Poinsett's show. "But the more I learn, the more prejudiced I become. You have no choice."

"This country is going to hell and there's a reason for it. In today's society, you have no choice but to be afraid. It's not in the nature of whites to rise up, but when they rise up, we're going to squash 'em. Man, they're all animals."

*

A year ago, alarmed by expressions of hatred worldwide, human rights leaders from around the globe held a conference on hate in Norway. In the United States in January, the FBI, for the first time, began collecting data on hate crimes. Local crime surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that hate crimes are on the rise in Maryland and nationwide.

This fall, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights organization, will begin distributing a program called "Teaching Tolerance" to 250,000 teachers, the most extensive outreach to schools since the center was founded 20 years ago.

And, across the country, national and local human rights organizations are rushing to design counter-programming to shows such as Mr. Poinsett's "Race & Reason," which is shown four times a week over Jones Intercable public access channels. Tampa's public access center produces 60 weekly series, including "Racism and Sensitivity to Minorities," "Ethnic Entrepreneurs," and "Awake, Oh Israel!"

Many observers of the American scene -- historians, sociologists, psychologists and human rights workers -- suggest that racial and ethnic tensions are at a flash point. The reasons, they say, are varied. Among them: economic turmoil, continuing waves of new immigrants, absence of strong disapproval of racism by national political and religious leaders, a backlash against the gay and civil rights movements.

"It's really not surprising that you have [some] people -- Protestants, Catholics, or Jews -- who attack gays, for example, and attack people who are pro-choice," said Bill D'Antonio, executive director of the American Sociological Association. "They don't see themselves as hate-filled bigots, but as defenders of society.

"They are not motivated by hatred, as they see it, but by the desire to protect the fabric of society. That's why they can say: I don't hate Jews or I don't hate gays. Look, times are changing. Modern society puts us in much larger contact with diverse peoples. Today, you get the feeling that different people are all around you. In fact, these people are all around you. People feel threatened."

The FBI has estimated that fewer than 500,000 hate crimes occur each year. The first national crime survey on hate activity won't be made public until next year.

The most frequent victims of hate violence are blacks, Hispanics, Southeast Asians, Jews and gay people. Of all of those, homosexuals are believed to be the most harassed.

Maryland, which in 1981 became the first state to enact legislation requiring the collection of data on hate crimes, received 1,190 reports of racial, religious and ethnic incidents in 1990, and verified 792 of them.

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