After commenting on an online article by one of the newspaper in the early week of July this year, Carol, a friend in a WhatsApp group claimed that she had seen my opinion and wondered that I also had taken sides on the issue. To be more specific, the news revolved around Ku Klux Klan protests at Charlottesville, VA where they opposed the removal of a statue of General Robert Lee, a remarkable monument of Southern Confederate.
The WhatsApp Group comprised of friends based on similar religious values, as such, I wondered why Carol confronted me due to my support of white supremacist marches. I thought I had a point when I commented that “The past irrespective of its grievous nature to some, may mean a lot to others, a fact that Americans should respect.” Accordingly, the provocation by Carol made me start thinking of other ‘comments’ or innocent ‘likes’ I have had on social media platform and how others may interpret or perceive them.
After the incidence, I tend to think there is a thin line between hate speech and honest opinions. Given that a simple view would result in a confrontation, then it’s hard to determine when a comment on racial or ethnic issues would be considered partial. I started thinking about how race issue remains a critical aspect in America to the extent that a mundane outlook can trigger a confrontation. I believe now it’s time we understand as a nation what can be considered hate speech and when an expression would be regarded as objective even if it supports those with a different opinion.
One of the most provocative quotes in Arao and Clemens From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces highlighted a case study where participants expressed common reactions saying that I can’t help being ‘White’ and ‘These problems aren’t my fault (137).’ I had a similar feeling after Carol’s reaction. Do I support extreme ethnic views or opinions? No. I acknowledge that racist, noxious, and anti-Semitic messages that individuals and a particular group can harbor and use to express themselves on social media and other platforms can ignite differences. Anything that seems to intimidate, divide, or promote extreme prejudice on a particular group of people in the U.S. is in fact wrong.
However, can forcing people not to criticize or have a contrary opinion to what a team is, behaves, and demands help the nation? Personally, I began to think of ways we can avoid such incidences as Carol reaction, but it is not that simple. For example, I observe provocative comments in online debates and discussions with ‘anonymous’ or the person having another nickname such as Madman. Who knows whether these anonymous are prominent people or even President Trump who is also accused of being in leagues with KKK and other racists and merchants of hate? Consequently, it makes it hard for law enforcement officers and the public to trace the person. As a result, people can go on and on expressing their hatred without fear of repercussions or being held accountable.
Besides, if we task the newspaper owners, Facebook, and other companies to delete seemingly hate speech, they would have to employ thousands of personnel and legal officers to do the work. Unfortunately, those whose messages get deleted would compete by signing up with fake names and making strong attacks and threats. I tend to think that hateful speech is not spiraling out of control and if the government, fond of passing laws when confronted with such surging problems do so, it will aggravate the problem. Any move to broaden the definition of hate speech will be tantamount to curtailing the freedom of right secured by the First Amendment of the Constitution. I believe that what sometimes people consider as hate speech, including insults, slurs, and provocations does not have to bother others and cannot warrant bans or punishment.
We do not need to increase protective standards in an effort to promote tolerance and inclusion. What we need is to consider hate speech advanced by groups that have the potential to cause mass scale violence. Strict prohibitions that work in other countries will not work in America where people prefer verbal, direct, and confrontational interpersonal interactions. Moreover, we have an extensive justice system that can indicate when the problem may get worse and respond by doing something to prevent subsequent violence. Further, I think that the quest for alternative solution to curb extreme statement is achievable. It would involve upholding laws that hinder racial and political polarization without preceding everyone’s equal right to speak.
Any idea to pass stringent laws as some people have pressured Trump administration to do will only provide a reassuring feeling that hate speech will end in this country. However, in actual circumstances, constitutional scrutiny of what comprises hate speech will create many problems than the law purports to solve. In turn, I would argue on a need to involve leaders, communities, learning and religious institutions, and advocate to rally around raising awareness and strengthening tools that already exist instead of seeking a temporary legal fix. As a country, we need more investment in roadshows, curriculum, social media companies, and outreach to reach right-wing youth groups and other groupings in the community to understand their motives and see how they can influence community members. Non-legal measures have worked in the past in understanding the spread of hate speech.
Nossel argues that in the civil right era, significant resources devoted to track, research, and analyze how the hate groups spread were successful (1). Currently, multiple organizations, including Southern Poverty Law Center have stepped up efforts and can include others, that is, government actors, academic, and non-profit institutions to learn to identify hate speech and create a healthy environment. People will then understand the type of conversations that do not threaten others right to exist and bear in mind the consequences of violating such rights. With this measure put in place, it would be possible to persuade youth recruits to stop going down a path of hatred. I believe in creating a nation where anybody has a right to say what they want hence need to utilize measures to unpack ignorant comments and statements that can be considered as hate speech.
People have ways through which they can avoid bearing responsibility for provocative remarks about other races. In turn, legal measures would not serve any useful due to the effort needed to track people. However, allowing groups across all levels of the society engage in the active debunking of what comprises hate speech would help protect right for speech and criticize what aggrieves them. That way, we can reduce instances where individuals or listeners admonish someone else for making an honest opinion as was my case with Carol.
Arao, Brian, and Kristi Clemens. “From safe spaces to brave spaces.” The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (2013): 135-150.Nossel, Suzanne.
The Problem With Making Hate Speech Illegal. Foreign Policy.com. 2017, Aug. 14. Accessed on 1 Nov. 2017 from foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/14/the-problem-with-making-hate-speech-illegal-trump-charlottesville-virginia-nazi-white-nationalist-supremacist/