From the Introduction
Do all humans hate? If hate is employed to navigate danger, is it hardwired in human identity? The answer is unknowable. We cannot extract human emotions from the cultural contexts in which they are named. What interests us here is how the concept of hate has evolved and how it functions today. The question is not so much why individuals and entire communities may have this feeling, but how they use it and how it constructs, through language and symbols, the material world and human actions in it.
One of the most noted “hate crimes” in recent US history was the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. On October 7, 1998, Shepard, an openly gay, twenty-one-year-old, middle-class, white University of Wyoming student, was robbed and beaten to death by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, two methamphetamine-addicted, economically disadvantaged men his own age. The murder was immediately characterized as a hate crime even though Wyoming’s penal code had no such classification. There was no evidence that Shepard was murdered because he was gay, although this may have played a part in his being selected as a robbery victim. Labeling it a “hate crime,” the media highlighted issues of anti-gay violence. At the same time this classification obscured the issues of class, poverty, and gender that also defined the murder.
Many in the United States are wedded to using hate to explain our personal interactions and political ideologies. Society has created a “hate frame” in order to explain violence, seek justice, and attempt to understand human goodness. What would it look like to disentangle hate from justice and replace the language of hate with that of goodness?
Compare the Matthew Shepard case to the noted 2012 rape that took place in Steubenville, Ohio. On August 12, 2012, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, two high school football players, were accused and, months later, convicted of sexually assaulting a highly intoxicated sixteen-year-old female student from a neighboring high school at a large, out-of-control party. Fellow students witnessed the assault, disseminated photos on social media, and openly discussed it. The media coverage was filled with outrage, but the words hate
and hate crime
were never used. News reporting and commentary highlighted issues of teenage drinking, male sports culture, and the desensitizing impact of social media. There was some media discussion of the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in the United States, but almost no attempt was made to contextualize the assault as an example of the socially accepted hatred or animus toward women.
The language of hate, or its absence, shapes how so many individuals and institutions understand and order the world. It prioritizes events, actions, people, groups, and beliefs. It helps define the self in relationship to righteousness, fairness, and justice. Society labels certain illegal acts as hate crimes because, morally and legally, it has been decided that they were motivated by a clear animus against a specific person or group because of their religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, disability, or ethnicity. Members of the media ask, Why did the 9/11 hijackers hate America? News stories describe anti-gay slurs in high school hallways as “hate speech.” Yet society does not generally define violence against women as motivated by hate. Nor do most people think of New York’s stop-and-frisk policing policy—overwhelmingly aimed at young men of color—as motivated by hate. We want to examine what individuals and groups mean when they use the word hate
. What are the personal, social, and cultural impacts and consequences of the language of hate? How does hate work?
Copyright © 2015 by Kay Whitlock, Michael Bronski. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.