Let’s talk about hate speech

IF YOU want proof that hate speech is on the rise, look around you.

There is hate speech online. There is hate speech in our schools. And there is hate speech on political party platforms.

Hate speech is any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are.

Everyday life can be littered with instances in which, even if we do not put the label “hate speech” on it, a person is subject to slurs that serve only to demean.

Today, as the world observes the International Day for Countering Hate Speech for the very first time (the UN General Assembly proclaimed the day only last July), it is clear this problem is a danger to everyone.

Recent events in this country have served to underline the insidious ways in which hate speech has been normalised in almost all realms of life.

But whereas online comments can be moderated or deleted, students can be warned or disciplined, other forms of hate speech are more difficult to tackle.

The lack of real consequences for people who wilfully deploy hate speech suggests there is plainly a need for legislation.

Such legislation has been proposed before. Last December, High Court judge Justice Frank Seepersad urged authorities to act.

“It may also be advisable for us to consider the enactment of hate regulation laws so as to declare, with certainty, that there is no room in this republic for speech or conduct which, inter alia, belittles, offends or discriminates against a fellow citizen on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion or disability,” he said.

Of course, the biggest stumbling block to getting officials to act is the fact that many politicians are frequent beneficiaries of an environment in which regulation is either non-existent or in which the few measures for regulating free speech are seriously defective.

In this country, there is a long history of colonial-era laws which have too often been used to censor free speech instead of promoting it. The so-called sedition law remains controversial, as do laws which class certain forms of libel as criminal.

Any proposal to ban hate speech would likely also encounter the challenge of defining hate speech in such a way that fully reflects the melange of cultures in our society, a society that is also defined by a picong sensibility.

But it is precisely because of the need to protect our unique diversity that we need, at the very least, to start talking about how best to tackle this problem.


"Let’s talk about hate speech"

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