I have experienced the physical and emotional pain of “hate speech” personally. I have seen its impact on those around me and those far away. Having spent much of my childhood and early teenage years in Asheville, North Carolina, I both observed and experienced the viciousness of racism and anti-Semitism. I know, first hand, that words of hate do not just disappear into the ether, but are contagious and spread like any sickening virus. As you, I have read of the horror caused for centuries by hateful words and the actions they promoted. It is therefore particularly troubling when a man, who has spent much of his life filled with this irrational hatred and anger kills three people at two Jewish facilities in Kansas City. By performing these cold-blooded murders he somehow felt that he was accomplishing some honorable goal. Can the human mind become much more twisted than that? The sad irony, of course, is that none of his victims was Jewish. How disappointed he must be.
Yet this is only the most recent example of how words of hatred, most often based on stereotypes and misinformation, cause pain and suffering in our society and around the world. Certainly, anyone who thinks that this is a new phenomenon in America knows nothing of our history. The anti-gay rhetoric, the anti-muslim rhetoric, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the anti-Semitic rhetoric, the anti-African American rhetoric are just some examples of the “hate speech” that surrounds us. Most national groups that immigrated to the United States in significant numbers can point to incidents of discrimination and sometimes violence directed at them. It seems that the water never boiled quite hot enough to allow for a smooth and trouble-free “melting pot effect” to occur. Yet most of those groups did eventually meld into American society. In fact, in many instances their national identity became a source of pride rather than discrimination. For example, St. Patrick’s Day has taken on the ardor of a near national holiday.
It is a fact, however, that our speech has become more polarized in recent years. We see all kinds of groups pitted against each other. This is particularly true in the political arena in which we hear about the rich v. poor, straight v. gay, Americans v. immigrants, right v. left, state v. federal govt., gun owners v. gun control supporters, white v. black, Christian v. Jew, Muslim v. American, and on and on. There is certainly nothing wrong with healthy debate and differences of opinion. After all, that is exactly what democracy is based on. However, there is something wrong when the word compromise has lost its place in that debate. There is something wrong when all disagreements require a zero sum result. This is when we begin to find it difficult to accept those with whom we disagree as equal. This is when we begin to describe them with hateful and potentially dangerous adjectives. This is when political opportunists become demagogues and rhetoric turns into “hate speech”.
Any of you who have been reading my blog posts for any time at all are aware that I have strong opinions and do not hesitate to state them. Most often those opinions are strongest when I feel that a group or an individual is attempting to infringe on the rights of others simply because of who they are. That includes women who are seeking equal pay or health care and immigrants who are seeking an opportunity for themselves and most importantly for their children. It includes students who have a right to a quality education and all Americans who have a right to vote. I hate, “hate” because I know the pain of hate. We, as Americans must treat hate with complete disdain along those who seek to promulgate it. Honest differences of opinion must be respected and allowed to flourish in our democracy. Hatred must be put to death.