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Pyramid of Hate: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson introduces and explains the Pyramid of Hate, a useful tool in understand how small acts of prejudice can escalate to extreme violence. Each step in the pyramid is explained with examples to help illustrate the concepts.

A Horrific Pyramid

When we hear stories of the Holocaust in WWII, the atrocities in the Sudan and Rwanda, the many other acts of truly shocking violence and hate throughout history, most people wonder how anyone could do such things. How does national pride turn to death camps like the Nazis enacted in Germany? What you must realize is that none of these acts started as a sudden decision to commit the most heinous acts of hatred and violence. They are built on smaller acts of hate, seemingly meaningless bias or rudeness. However, these acts lay the groundwork for greater and greater levels of hatred to grow into violent actions.

A good way to visualize this process is through the Pyramid of Hate, which sets simple things like having a bias against a group or listening to hateful jokes but not challenging them as the base of the pyramid and the support for escalating behaviors. Let's take a look at the individual steps.

Pyramid of Hate
Pyramid of Hate

First Level (Bottom): Bias

The base of the pyramid, the lowest level, simply employs bias, preconceived, negative views of a group of people. This manifests in scapegoating a group as the cause of society's problems, accepting preconceived views, and not challenging hateful statements or jokes.

Sign challenging stereotype of women as weak
Stereotype Sign

Second Level (From the Bottom): Individual Acts of Prejudice

The second level involves individual acts of prejudice, manifesting when someone tells hateful jokes or makes hateful statements. They may also avoid people of a particular group, ridicule them, or call them hateful names.

Third Level (From the Bottom): Discrimination

The third step, the middle of the pyramid, involves intentional discrimination, preventing people of a particular group the same access to employment, housing, and education but it may also escalate to harassing behavior. This is the first pyramid step that goes beyond our freedom of speech and enters into legally prohibited behavior. The discrimination is not directed at an individual and their behavior but must be based on a person's race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender to be seen legally as discrimination.

Segregated water fountains before the Civil Rights Movement
Segregated water fountains

Fourth Level (From the Bottom): Bias-Motivated Violence

The fourth step often reveals the frightening nature of hate as it escalates into violence again people and their property. Individuals may be violently attacked or threatened, even escalating to murder and terrorist acts. This violence is directed to deliberately damage property and desecrate holy places when property is targeted. This is why we see churches or mosques burned or see synagogues sprayed with swastikas or headstones destroyed in Jewish cemeteries.

Memorial for Mark Carson, who was killed due to his sexual orientation.
Crime scene memorial

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