Othering and hate crime legislation

Wherever so-called hate-crime legislation is passed, the strawmen get built and waved around at an alarming rate. The biggest strawman in the current debate about hate crime legislation in the USA is that it gives gays, blacks, non-Christians special rights against straights, whites and Christians (an argument often flourished accusingly in other jurisdictions as well). But language excluding straights/whites/Christians simply isn’t in the Bill currently before the US Congress, which defines hate crimes as crimes that “manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”

Notice how there isn’t any particular race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity mentioned there? So why are the white, straight, Christians (WSC) so sure that they’re excluded from the protections of this Bill? Because they are engaged in a classic display of Othering.

To themselves, WSCs are the default, and thus they operate day to day on the assumption that they don’t actually have a race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity worth mentioning, only Other races, religions, sexual orientations or ethnicities need mentioning, because WSC is the unspoken norm against which all Others are measured. Only Others can have a race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity against which prejudice can be manifested, apparently, despite the tortuous paths this takes the WSC objections that this bill leaves them without protection against prejudice manifested in their direction.

The guestblogging Mikey at Feministe lays out these misconceptions, and Amanda at Pandagon picks up the ball with some recommendations on how best to shoot these bad-faith arguments down.

when you’re dealing with someone who buys into the line that hate crime legislation offers “special” protections, it does well to be as blunt and simple as humanly possible. I advise, when you hear someone pull the boneheaded “so you get protection, but I don’t” argument, boil it down to two easy-to-remember talking points.

1. If someone beats you up for being straight or white or Christian, then that is also a hate crime.
2. If someone mistakenly thinks you’re gay, Muslim, or non-white and beats you up for that, it’s also a hate crime.

Easy to remember and tends to shut down the bad faith arguments fairly quickly. If they persist, point out the legislation says prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, etc. and doesn’t specify certain religions or sexual orientations

Amanda then nails the reason it’s so critical to skewer these bad-faith cloaks to the ground and let the real sentiment motivating the opposition rear its nasty head:

If people want to argue against hate crime legislation, they need to be out with it and state openly that they fear that without tacit social approval of vigilante violent oppression of certain people, equality is more likely to flourish, and that is what they’re against. Or, simply put, if you can’t gay-bash anymore, then gay people are going to be emboldened to walk around freely as if they have a right (which they do), and if they do, people are more likely to realize they aren’t that bad after all and tolerance will spread. And that opposition to hate crime legislation is, at its core, opposition to the idea of this freedom and equality for oppressed minorities.

I’ve never heard of any other hate crime legislation which isn’t similiarly generalised to cover all bases, and if there are any hate crime legislations which say that the protections are only afforded to minority groups then I think those laws are poorly drafted and wrongheaded to boot. The way to redress a power imbalance is not to deny protection to one group at the expense of another, and the hate crimes bill as worded does not deny protection to anyone who is being targeted due to prejudice.

I’ve got some other thoughts swirling around tying this reaction to hate crimes bills to the reaction to the theoretical formulation that various ‘isms’ are more than just |prejudice| but are actually |prejudice + power|, and thus there is no such thing as reverse ‘isms’. I can’t make all the connections there right now though.

Categories: law & order, social justice

Tags: , ,

4 replies

  1. *attempts to tone down my US-centrism*
    Do you have hate crime statutes in Australia, too?
    Also in the US, some WSCs are quite vocal about feeling like they are the victims of “reverse discrimination” and complain about minorities being racist against them, etc. There was one article I read about “hate crimes by gays against straight people” and it was *drumroll* a woman who said she opposed gay rights and got a piece of dog poo on her doorstep. Yeah, like that’s symmetrical with straight people beating up and torturing gays.
    And BTW, I’m working on putting my own blog up (run into a few technical difficulties) and I’ll link this blog and Feminism 101 when I do 🙂

  2. We have moves towards them federally, and some states have them in place. In Victoria we have a “Racial and Religious Vilification” Act which seems to have been badly drafted and used to charge people just for critical speech with no incitement to violence, which strikes me as problematic to say the least.
    In general, I’m uncomfortable with limits on actual speech rather than laws which take notice that crimes based on hatred of a group are acts of terrorism which affect more than just the victim of the act of violence. That’s what Amanda especially pointed out regarding the American bill: it says nothing about criminalising the feeling of hate and/or verbally expressing hate. It’s all about providing federal funding for prevention programs in areas where a propensity to terrorising groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity has been documented.
    That some people are so threatened by that exceptionally mild “hate crime” bill is frankly scary (granted, most of the people expressing alarm don’t know the actual language of the bill, they’re just reacting to what some pastor or politician has told them about how bad it is).

  3. PS if you’re having trouble setting up your blog (yay, I look forward to reading it!), I might be able to lend a techie hand. Drop me an email if you like.

  4. I mentioned on Pandagon the need for a hate crime bill after a gay person was killed in Greenville, South Carolina in a hate crime.

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