If you were to walk across Concordia’s campus, you might be surprised by the language that you hear. There have been multiple times this year that I have heard my fellow Cobbers say something in passing that makes me stop and consider what type of person they are. Your speech and the words you use reflect who you are as a person and the things that you believe in. For instance, if you say things like, “I don’t believe in same-sex adoption, nor do I believe in same sex marriage,” people may start to believe that you are homophobic. When you say things that are hateful, you start to become complacent to more and more harmful behavior, such as hate crimes.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate crimes in our country have dramatically increased. Data collected within a five-year period concluded that 2016 had the
highest rate. And yes, the increase in hate crimes is likely correlated to the events leading up to the 2016 election. When there is a community that encourages the use of hateful language, it is more likely that they will act on their feelings. In the most extreme cases, hate speech has been proven to be a leading cause of genocides around the world. From the Connecticut Law Review in 2010, “European norms recognize that history provides ample cases of hate speech instigating violence. History overflows with examples making it clear that propaganda was essential to the Nazis’ eventual genocide of Jews, the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda, [among others].” They found that when you let hate speech run rampant, people will become desensitized to increasingly violent actions, and if nothing stops them, that can lead to genocide. I am not suggesting that we will witness something as horrific as genocide on campus, but students and others in our community must recognize that their speech can have negative consequences.
There are other, more normalized consequences of hate speech, too. For instance, people and groups that are seen as hateful have a hard time connecting with their peers because others will not feel comfortable around them. It can be hard for an LGBT+ person to reach out to others without first knowing that they will be accepted for who they are and how they identify. If you are constantly saying things that could be considered homophobic, you can’t wonder why people within the LGBT+ community, and their allies, do not want to be friends with you.
What we should be more focused on is how to use inclusive language. You can start by not using derogatory terms or words that have a history of being used to demean a group of people or individuals. If you are called out for using hate speech, your first reaction should not be a defensive one. Instead, listen and learn why it is harmful in the first place. One thing that I have personally been trying (and struggling) to do is completely remove gendered language from my vocabulary. It does not make any sense if I am speaking to a group full of girls and I address them with “Hey guys.” It has been difficult, but through my attempts, I have learned that the type of language I use in my conversations is important in understanding how they affect others. The most important thing to remember is that your words have consequences, and you must take responsibility for how others feel about the words you use.