Hate speech is not a myth

By Stephen Neukam

I remember when I met Lonnie Bunch III, who was the founding director of The National Museum of African American History and Culture and the current head of the Smithsonian Institution.

Bunch, who was kind enough to visit my small county in rural Maryland, toured an exhibit, which I contributed to, that showcased the history of the African-American workforce in my hometown.

He spoke briefly, but I will always remember what he said — never foget whose shoulders you stand on.

It is a general comment, in response to a question about why he loves history. However, it comes to me often — most recently when I thought about the political atmosphere of the Rider community.

Hate speech is real.

It pains me to even elaborate on this point, but any reckless assertion to the contrary is dangerous.

Unfortunately, this sentiment that hate speech is a fantasy — hateful in itself — has reached our community. It is the topic of an upcoming political event at Rider.

Before debating the merit of the point, which should be obvious, I think first about the impact it has on the people around me. The student of color who recalls and continues to endure racial slurs. The gay professor who is subjected to homophobic smears. The female faculty member that feels degraded by her male counterparts.

It has real repercussions in our community.

Sophomore health science major Falak Gajjar felt that Rider was generally very accepting, but explained that hate speech and other forms of prejudice continue to have an impact on college campuses.

“The issue of racism of all types, like anti-semitism and islamaphobia, as well as people from the African- American community, are definitley affecting the minorities on college campuses,” said Gajjar. “People who attend college are particularly young and vulnerable to being judged.”

The upcoming event by Turning Point USA (TPUSA) at Rider University, “Hate Speech is a Myth,” made me think about Bunch. What are the consequences of ignoring our collective history? What happens when we fail to recognize some of the most fundamental truths of our past? Where are we headed when we refuse to showcase a basic understanding of events that shape our larger moral compass?

It is a blatant rejection of a terrible history that has shaped the world and our country. It is
the history of slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, the Holocaust and much more. The bigoted sentiments that these tragedies left behind still haunt. In many cases, hate speech is used strategically in politics.

Take, for example, the recent Facebook suspension of a chatbot operated by the official account of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel’s Arab politicians ‘want to destroy us all,’” the bot said, according to The New York Times, hate speech.

What TPUSA plans to do is use the idea of hate speech strategically. It is similar to its “White Privilege is a Myth,” event last semester, where the organization used the provocative premise to attract a large crowd and build up its email list. To be honest, I can understand the student organization’s reasoning — this is how it gets funding.

Unfortunately, ignorance is politically expedient. I would ask my fellow students and community members, however, if it is morally justified.

The danger of complacency is immense. Diligently upholding the values that we believe in is hard, but necessary work. In accepting the premise that hate speech is a myth, we risk slipping backward into a less tolerant time and undoing years of progress.

I am not criticizing a student organization for personal or political gain — I am just asking my community to think about our shared responsibilities.

I think about the immense struggles of our past, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we still face — even at Rider.

But then I think about the beautiful movements that were born in the cradle of oppression and intolerance — the civil rights movement, the liberation of the South African people, the rich history of the women’s movement and many more. In the depths of hate, hope was created.

Those are the shoulders we stand on, and I find solace in that.

It would be appropriate, I think, to end with some words from the last pages of the autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

“But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Our long walk as a country, as a community, has not ended. We must tirelessly continue to safeguard the progress that we have made and strive for new achievements. We dare not linger.

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