Kim: America, Some Things Aren't Debatable

The end to hate speech requires a cultural shift in the population.

by Sheen Kim | 10/10/19 2:10am

Hate speech and outright discrimination have previously existed in various spheres of discussion, but have only been exacerbated in recent years. Ideas of dehumanization and destruction are at odds with those of healthy governance. Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said that “too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes.” This “poison” seeps down and legitimizes hatred within everyday life. Politicians and those from whom they derive their power — all of us — must condemn this sort of speech for the sake of equality and justice. We fail as a people if we stand idly by.

We must confront the elephant in the room: our current president. Donald Trump is eager to degrade entire groups and countries (as exemplified by his claim in 2018 that “those s—holes [African nations] send us the people that they don’t want” and his July 2019 claim that four U.S. congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”). Trump is not the sole flagbearer of hate; far-right radical leaders around the world such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte do the same. The normalization of this speech has frightening implications for the fates of minorities: Governments have excuses to pass policies that justify mass encroachments on civil rights, creating dangerous environments that foster xenophobia.

And in America, the atmosphere that Trump and others in the government have created gives power to hateful individuals. Famous gaming YouTuber PewDiePie goes unpunished for suggesting anti-Semitic channels to his 101 million subscribers; a sad example of the increase in anti-Semitism since Trump’s election. The Anti-Defamation League released a report concluding that “right-wing extremists” were responsible for 73.3 percent of extremist-related murders between 2009 and 2018. The mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, referred to Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity” in his manifesto. Hate speech on 4chan, an anonymous Internet imageboard, has spiked more than 40 percent since 2015. I have failed to mention countless moments of victim-blaming, threats of violence toward children and so on. None of these events exist in a vacuum; they continously and actively perpetuate a cycle where discrimination is normalized and further trivialized. And those that are complicit are happy to reelect leaders who spout hatred. We have seen countless policy changes by this administration that will harm the lives of minorities. The government should be elevating those in need, not than lowering them down. 

Outrage over this type of speech cannot be brushed aside as being a result of “liberal sensitivity.” This speech dehumanizes groups and leads to the great abuses so vilified in history books but overlooked in practice. 

The time to stop this is now, and the power to do so lies in our collective hands.  

Boundaries must be drawn to prevent such incidents in the future. And some might scream: What about free speech? Well, what about life, liberty and property? There are limited exceptions to the First Amendment, including speech that incites imminent lawless action, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Does Trump’s fear-mongering not fall under this category? The law, as often as it is used as a tool of oppression, is meant to be a growing organism that derives its power from the people. This is a chance to punish these acts of hatred and turn the law into what it is meant to be: a tool of justice. 

Law aside, the true end to this hatred requires a cultural shift among the population.

It’s any observer’s duty to take a stand even when instances of hate are not directed against them; we must break out of their spheres of biases and false beliefs about other groups; we must refuse to stop being angry at endless occurrences. 

Dartmouth students are in a unique position: most will graduate into the world poised to take on major positions of power. Alumni may already be in said positions of power. But no matter what any of us end up doing in four, eight, 20 years or even tomorrow, our community is only as strong as we make it. We must take on institutions of hatred and fight against those that threaten our rights and our humanity. We all come from extremely varied walks of life. That being said, many of us — Dartmouth students especially — are products of privilege, who may not have had to endure certain struggles nor be directly impacted by policy changes. Rather, there is a worrying trend where individuals may agree with this argument in theory but are hard-pressed to take action. Social equality means an encouragement of diversity, an end to bias, an increased presence of “others” in traditionally white spaces, the threat of being punished when you say something that so clearly targets an entire group — and this scares some people.  

That doesn’t matter. All of us have an obligation to stand up for one another — whether it be by speaking up, listening and learning, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience, voting. It’s our human duty.