Often, I’ve thought that we forget the diversity of personalities in modern day society. People are scattered all over the globe, consisting of different races, ethnicities, religious beliefs: and yet we forget about our emotional structure. We all know the frustration when someone doesn’t agree with you, especially if the topic you’re conversing is one that you are far more educated on. If someone’s speech is sexist, racist, homophobic (the list winds on): why should we allow them our time?
Well, perhaps there is harm in forcing a person into a box without thinking outside of it first. If people make comments that can be labelled as certain offences, that shouldn’t immediately shape them to be unchangeable. So stop and think. There are endless reasons why certain phrases, jokes and titles are embedded into our languages – the same applies for hate speakers. No human being is set in stone, simply persuaded, motivated and encouraged by their environment.
Judy Rich Harris, author of ‘The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do’, challenges the belief in that adults mould offspring through their development. Suddenly all becomes clear in the common statement “I didn’t bring you up that way” – as it’s true. Parents can raise their children with the means to a positive end, yet involvements external from home are concluded by Harris to journey them down a separate path. Edward Dunbar, author of the ‘Symbolic, Relational, and Ideological Signifiers of Bias-Motivated Offenders’ section of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, declares that the ‘bias-motivated offender’, that is, an offender encouraged by prejudice, ‘acts as either a defender of his or her in-group or plays the role of the aggressor against members of a competing social out-group’.
But hate speech, or free speech? That’s where the confusion lies: within the grey area between vocalising unrestrained opinions without censorship, yet doing so whilst avoiding targeting a particular person or group. Free speech is not a license to spread hate messages – a lesson which should be taught to Time’s Person of the Year 2016, Donald Trump. Racist and xenophobic hate speech, and general hate crime, has taken a dangerous turn since the Trump campaign launch on June 26th, 2015.
As reported by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, since the republican success, there were four hundred and thirty-seven incidents of intimidation, targeting blacks and others of colour, Muslims, immigrants, the L.G.B.T+ community, and women. Whilst the words ‘HEIL TRUMP’ were plastered over St. David’s Episcopal Church in Indiana, surrounded by swastika symbols, a University of Michigan student was approached by a stranger demanding her to remove her hijab – or else be set alight.
The volume of hate speech continues to rise, not only in the US but throughout the scope of the world. We need to take a new, patient and informative approach to those who carry out the crime. Edwin Lyngar, a former conservative man, conveys the refreshing nature of his political education in his autobiographical article ‘The right’s fear of education: What I learned as a (former) conservative military man’. He explains: “Before college, I voted conservative, hated gay people, loved America and served my country in the armed services.” Following a liberal education, finally his eyes were opened, “college and graduate school” making a significant change in his approach to US politics. Educating those, whom for whatever background reasons cannot educate themselves, is proved necessary by Lyngar – going on to press that “education makes a difference in people’s lives. That’s why sensible people need to stand up against the vilification of education.”
So why do we overlook the reasons behind hate speech, especially when understanding makes some sense of the rubbish? Whether fascist practice or peer pressure inside social groups, society tends to fail when digging deeper into human actions – we may not be forensic technicians, or psychologists, but we all have a basic level of human understanding from what we’ve experienced and felt throughout our lives: maybe that’s enough. As explored by John Locke in ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’, “it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them; it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into”.
It may not be our responsibility, but the challenge of educating those who are prejudiced – instead of excluding them – is one to be considered. This could spiral into a society that is of greater intelligence, with individuals benefiting those around them. Who would have guessed?
-Words by Emily Jane Helen Stephens