Opinion

Hate Speech: Does it Really Exist?

Controversial posters before they were taken down. IMAGE BY KELLY ALLEN.

By Ulrich Faircloth
CONTRIBUTOR

In this past week, there has been a great clamor concerning the subversive tactics displayed by a group of students known as the “Concerned Students for Policy Change (CSPC).” The intention of the group was to instill some verbal shock treatment into the student body so everyone would be cognizant of an issue that supposedly haunts our campus. Both disdain and interest are circulating, and people are talking. There is also discussion and a desire for a mandatory hate speech policy to be implemented. In this article I will make an effort to deconstruct the rationale that members of CSPC and their allies have with regard to the atmosphere of discrimination that they claim exists.

Designing policy to control behavior and opinions will not change anything, especially at a culturally homogenous and small liberal arts college. What we need instead is some restorative justice in resolving individual issues through an informal process. I can understand that the proposed hate speech policy’s purpose is “to set standards of race and diversity tolerance.” (“Purpose of Hate Speech,” The Round Table, April 8) But should students not already hold themselves to said standards out of common courtesy and being a respectful adult citizen? I find it rather pointless to emphasize on tolerance for this very fact.

If this is an actual social problem on campus, rather than a few isolated incidents, then please give some numbers. How many people are being discriminated against? What types of people (racial, religious, political, etc.)? How many incidents? How frequent are they? No matter what issue one looks at, context is everything. One needs to look at a variety of factors in any situation. Regarding the incident that started this whole conversation on discrimination (racial conflict at a party, as described in “Think The N-Word Isn’t Used On Campus? Think Again,” The Round Table, April 8), the social context needs to be framed: who said what, where they said it, and why they said it. The spatial context is important as well. We know that the conflict happened “one month ago,” but were there any current events pertaining to this? The emotional context is by far the most significant: what was the intensity of the incident; how powerful were the conversations? In addition to providing statistics for distribution and frequency, the content of the situation helps to determine what actually happened and why.

I would like to conclude that this is not an institutional problem, as it seems to be generally portrayed. Indeed, this is an interpersonal one, albeit among isolated incidents. “White people” are not the cause of some peoples’ grief—ignorance and stupidity are. Inter-group language and behavior add to this ignorance. Initiating a moral panic by exaggerating a relatively non-existent problem simply creates and perpetuates the potential for discrimination to actually happen. So why should Beloit students care? If we are to care, a legitimate claim needs to be made as to why we should. This includes factual and contextual data.


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Discussion

One thought on “Hate Speech: Does it Really Exist?

  1. Just to clear up confusion on the article, here is the uncut version:

    Hate Speech: Does it Really Exist?

    By: Ulrich Faircloth

    In this past week, there has been a great clamor concerning the subversive tactics displayed by a group of students known as the “Concerned Students for Policy Change” (or CSPC). The intention of the group was to instill some verbal shock treatment into the student body, trying to force everyone to become cognizant of an issue that supposedly haunts our campus. Now both disdain and interest are circulating, and people are talking. There is also discussion and a desire for a mandatory ‘hate speech policy’ to be implemented. In this article I will make an effort to deconstruct the rationale that members of CSPC and their allies have in regards to the atmosphere of discrimination that they claim exists.

    It comes as no surprise that Beloit College students live in the “Beloit Bubble.” Many of us are devoid of our own bills and real-life obligations. There are no immediate worries of disease, impoverishment, state control, or other afflictions within the confines of the academy. We foist ourselves up on our “city on a hill,” the epitome of our ivory tower existence as college students. As a small community we self-regulate our activities and behaviors through normative expectations. Despite how we construct our college environment to reflect the ideal utopia, things are entirely the opposite in the ‘real world.’ Much to this matter of fact, I find it ironic that a group of students would complain about acts of discrimination at Beloit. Why? Because people will ridicule, mock, despise and ostracize you regardless of who you are or what your background is.

    Designing policy to control individual people’s behavior and opinions will not change anything, especially at a culturally homogeneous, small liberal arts school like Beloit. As we know from history, methods of social control have typically been ineffective (e.g. Prohibition, Prisons, etc.). What we need instead on this campus is some restorative justice[i]* in resolving individual issues, through an informal process. I can understand that the proposed hate speech policy’s purpose is “to set standards of race and diversity tolerance.” (The Round Table, April 8) But should students not already know such standards out of common courtesy, of being a respectful adult citizen?

    Now, my question: is this really[i] an issue of mass discrimination—e.g. class, race, gender, religion—or just an issue of race? From what I have observed, the recent flyer controversy has occurred during the end of the semester, close to finals. It has revolved around one particular incident (racial conflict at a party), rather than a multitude of discriminatory situations and persons. Most importantly, the “N-word” was displayed in order to offset suspected widespread apathy. If this is an actual social problem on campus, rather than a few isolated incidents, then please give some numbers. How[i] many people are being discriminated against? What types[i] of people (racial, religious, political, etc.)? How many[i] incidents (how frequent are they)? Without seeing these data, how can any rationally-guided individual take this event seriously?

    No matter what issue one looks at, context[i] is everything. One needs to look at a variety of factors in any situation. Regarding the incident that started this whole conversation on discrimination, the social context needs to be framed: who[i] said what, where[i] they said it, and why[i] they said it. The spatial and temporal contexts are important as well. We know that the conflict happened “one month ago,” but are there any current[i] events pertaining to this? The emotional context is by far the most significant: what was the intensity[i] of the incident; how powerful were the conversations? In addition to providing statistics for distribution and frequency, the content of the situation helps to determine ‘what actually happened’ and why.

    I would like to conclude that this is not an ‘institutional’ problem, as it seems to be generally portrayed. Indeed, this is an interpersonal[i] one, albeit among isolated incidents. ‘White people’ are not the cause of some peoples’ grief—ignorance and stupidity are. Inter-group language and behavior add to this ignorance. Initiating a moral panic by exaggerating a relatively non-existent problem simply creates and perpetuates the potential for discrimination to actually happen. Overall, I find that the whole situation concerning so-called ‘discrimination’ towards the general populace is an illusion. If it does exist on a large scale, I have yet to see it or hear about it. If indeed the situation is otherwise ‘real,’ a burden of proof would suffice.

    *[i] indicates italics

    Posted by Ulrich | April 23, 2011, 11:17 pm

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