Sunday, January 17, 2010

Right, Wrong and Justified

I don't know why some people just seem to get their jollies on hate speech, I really don't - and add to the insult and injury caused to those who are targeted by these people, they seem to lack the courage of their convictions - or at the very least, courage - to post their hatred to Face book groups or newspaper websites under their real names. No, "Witwolf" or "Boerseun" sounds far more impressive. And a lot less likely to carry consequences.

Aside from that, it also tends to taint good, decent Afrikaans people with that horrible shade of bigotry reminiscent of the bad old days in this country. Indeed, when I see posts like that, I have to wonder how far have we come in the last 15 years - and how far we still have to go before we live up to claims of being a "true" democracy.

Oddly enough - or maybe not, many people who are blatantly racist are also the same folks who indulge in homophobia and transphobia. Often their conversation or topic of their derogatory "jokes" will swing from one to the other. Next time you're in a group of people who are telling jokes to each other - or hacking away at the humanity of others, just listen.

It's funny what people will say if they don't know what you are who you are. I mean, they so often assume that I am Christian, because "everybody is" - or "should be" - and so it is perfectly okay to rant about non-Christians and rip their dignity and humanity to shreds in public because "everybody feels the same" about it. Whoa. Big surprise there, buddy.

I have often heard people going beyond political dissatisfaction and anger, and attacking the worthiness as people of those they dislike, taking things to a highly unpleasant, unnecessary and personal level. Their targets often vary from Black people and Colored people to Gays, Lesbians and Transgender - and to top it all off, Jews. Oddly enough, many people today - even the average racist - is sensitive to not actually attacking Jews in polite company, because many of them don't actually like to be called Nazi's - although they seem pretty bloody adept at trying on the shoes to see if they will fit - and still find it perfectly acceptable to say the very same things about other groups.

I am forced to conclude that such people are unstable, insecure and prone to hate - and express it in order to feel better than other people they perceive being different to, or a need to feel superior to - and in order to assert their own need for "superiority" and to establish their own position in the social pecking-order they want to identify with. Of course, this could well be supported by current research in this direction, indicating that racism and homophobia could well be signs of an underlying mental disorder. Then again, some of us have been saying that for quite some time, but it didn't look like anyone was listening. Go figure.

Look at the definition of racism, homophobia and transphobia and compare them, substituting the words "race" with "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" and vice versa. SAME THING, no? All these groups are characteristics which it has become generally accepted fact are equally natural and cannot be altered. The bottom line here is: Hate is hate - and that SHOULD BE the crime, not just WHO it is directed against - and certainly not just on the grounds of "religious" prejudice.

Many groups in South Africa - and the world - today are arguing that unreasonable and unfair prejudice and discrimination against one group is wrong, immoral and unacceptable - and yet perfectly acceptable, moral and even just against another, simply because it is a group they happen to dislike, for whatever reason.

I'm certainly not oversensitive about my race, gender, sexuality or even religion - in fact, I can laugh along at a good natured joke any time - but there is a marked difference between that and a joke intended to hurt or offend me - or other minorities. If you want to talk morality, then I shouldn't tolerate nasty "jokes" about any minority group. If they want to talk "morality", people shouldn't make such "jokes".

The thing is, there will always be people who dislike - or even hate - other people to the point where they will carry grudges, make comments or bad jokes - or carry their grudge to another level where they will actually support campaigns against any and all minorities that are the bigotry flavor of the month. Likewise, there will always be people who get hurt, either emotionally or physically as a result of these comments or acts - hence the description of the term hate crime.

Every time we see nasty comments, or hate groups online, some of us feel compelled to act and to speak out, report the abuse and to get it removed. And it seems that some hate crimes are judged more harshly than others, despite the obvious fact that hate is still hate, no matter at who it is directed.

Let's take two examples. In 2008 the SA Human Rights Commission was inundated with complaints against Jon Qwelane, a "newspaper columnist" for the "Sun" who, in an article with accompanying cartoon, equated gay marriage and human rights for gay people with bestiality and pedophilia. He even urged people to remove gay rights from the SA Constitution, thereby inciting intolerance. Rightfully, a large portion of the community, both pink and straight, were hurt, angered and outraged. While the SAHRC is doubtlessly still working on bringing this man kicking and screaming to court to answer for the offense and injury caused, it has been almost 2 whole whole years since the issue broke - and I am beginning to wonder if he will ever be forced to retract that brag that he would "never apologize" for it. The cynical side of me wonders whether they are just waiting for us to forget the whole thing so it can go away quietly.

Our second example is the Reitz Four issue, the group of students who posted nasty racist videos on Facebook. I can remember it broke news a matter of weeks after Qwelane-gate, and I can remember even more clearly that it took the SAHRC just 3 days to make critical statements in the media about it, and to get the Face book group closed down and the offending students on the red carpet. We all know what happened with this story because it had a widely publicized sequel this year - and some form of closure, even if it was technically only "forgiveness" - which I concede, is an awfully magnanimous thing to do in the face of such insult.

However, the pink community in South Africa still has no closure on the JQ issue. It still seems like homophobia is less of a crime than racism, because if you post homophobic comments, you somehow can slip through the cracks - but if you post racist slurs you will face the consequences - and very promptly and very publicly.

Moving on to that other front on the internet - Facebook, it seems that the social networking site, was unusually responsive the other day and actually heeded calls to remove a few racist hate groups - unlike our regular attempts to remove similar homophobic and transphobic groups, which regularly drag on for a week or longer, or are never resolved at all. I did check though - the racist groups I knew about have been removed.

I am loathe to conclude that racism seems to some people to be more serious than either homophobic or transphobic hate! Despite the provisions of the Constitution, we still have a prevalent mindset of "separate but equal" in the new South Africa, even 15 years into a new democracy. Some of reinforce it by their prejudices and inflexibility - and the rest of us have to face it in our daily lives. I would have thought that after experiences with Apartheid, people would have better understood just how "equal" people are when their human rights and civil rights are kept separately from others.

I wonder at their grasp of human rights, freedom and democracy, right and wrong, justice and good and evil - if they can actually justify this outlook - and if they can sleep peacefully at night, their conscience.

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