Last month Manchester Pride published (Most) Humans are Good!, my article on the importance of recognising the goodness in others in order to build a more peaceful society for all. In a furious demonstration of how wrong I was, the Twitter post sharing the article was inundated with hateful, transphobic comments. But there was something really fascinating about the specific nature of this hate: many of the hateful positioned themselves as heroes, retaliating against a (wrongfully) perceived threat that trans people pose to others. Of course, trans people as a group are not a threat to the general public (or to children and cis women especially), but instead are experiencing an incredible amount of harm, from media fearmongering, to legal and policy challenges and limitations to a huge spike in hate crimes (a 59% increase this year alone, the largest increase ever recorded!) But despite the truth of the situation, several of these hateful commenters clearly felt that their words and actions were both necessary and good, and while I find their cruelty horrifying, I also think this gives us a pretty interesting insight into the nature of hate and what we can do about it.
Understanding hate is far more complex than might be initially apparent. According to Samuel Cameron, hate is ‘both the willingness to incur costs to harm others and the expression of violent dislike towards others’. This seems straightforward enough, but how does this then apply to hate crime? For example, if you hate your boss and you attack them this is considered assault, but it is not a hate crime, despite hate being your primary motivation. But if you attack someone because they are Black, or disabled, or LGBTQ+, or any number of protected characteristics, then this counts as a hate crime. Why? The reason for this distinction is important; it has to do with the purpose of the hateful action.
Barbara Perry, a leading expert in hate crimes, argues that hate crimes function to ‘sustain the privilege of the dominant group, and to police the boundaries between groups by reminding the Other of [their] “place”’. In other words, in a system of oppression, hate and hate crimes aren’t really about the perpetrator or the victim/survivor, but are more about maintaining the perpetrator’s social group’s power and/or ensuring that the victim/survivor’s social group remains subservient and marginalised. For example, racist hate crimes function both to reinforce white supremacy and violently subjugate people of colour. This is likely why the majority of hate crimes in the UK are reportedly committed by white men under the age of 25. With bigotry at its core, Levin and McDevitt argue that hate crimes, unlike other crimes, are:
This begs the question: what kind of person would be excessively violent to a complete stranger just to reinforce the status quo? What motivates this kind of violence? Matthew Williams, in his study of how everyday prejudices and biases shift to more egregious forms of hate, argues that there are four key profiles to be aware of:
The ‘defensive hater’ is particularly relevant to the UK’s current economic and political climate. Take, for example, the rise in anti-trans and anti-migrant sentiments propagated by the UK media, which create a perceived threat that trans people are harmful to women and children and that refugees and immigrants are a detriment to the UK’s culture and job market (none of which is true). In the midst of austerity cuts and the cost of living crisis, such media-perpetuated myths create the perception that marginalised communities are to blame for everyone else’s suffering. From here, it is no wonder that some may want to ‘get rid of,’ subjugate or better control those they perceive as a threat. As Nathan Hall explains, ‘economic strain, although not always the sole cause of hate crime, may instead provide a platform from which it can emerge. In this sense people will require a scapegoat upon which to blame the situation in which they find themselves’. People are suffering in this country right now, but it is more important than ever that we think very carefully about who and where we point the blame.
When we hate one another it does nothing to improve our quality of life. Instead, not only does it maintain the status quo, but it causes significant harm to our most marginalised communities. Both Paul Iganski and Herek, et al. argue that hate crimes not only have a deeply harmful psychological impact on the individual victim/survivor, but hate crimes also act as a form of terrorism on that individual’s entire community. The act of hateful violence sends a clear message that members of the particular social group are not safe, are not valued, and should not ‘step out of line’ or ‘threaten’ current systems of power or oppression, or else they will suffer the consequences.
So then what do we do? How do we bring an end to hate and hate crimes? While Nathan Hall explains that legislation and education are the most common approaches to fighting hate crimes, Barbara Perry, Matthew Williams, Jeanine C. Cogan, Emma Dabiri and Shon Faye all argue for the same approach: collaboration. Specifically, the majority of these voices call for coalition building, which Dabiri explains involves different groups ‘identifying shared interests’ and then working together ‘in pursuit of common goals’. For example, returning to the hateful comments on my last article, if those who call themselves ‘gender-critical’ truly want safe spaces for women, then they should understand that attacking trans people will in no way achieve this goal. Instead, as trans people also need safe spaces, it would be far more productive for everyone across the spectrum of gender identities to work together toward these shared interests by opening parallel institutions for community safety and/or fighting against the austerity measures that are closing essential services. By addressing systemic issues, rather than attacking each other, we can create communities that stand in solidarity with one another, that address the root causes of hate and that make clear that hate crimes have no place here.
Of course, this is a big ask. There are some people I’m just not willing to work with. Some people really are bad, they really are too hateful and harmful to collaborate with. This is a painful truth, and it’s important we all have boundaries for protecting ourselves against those who would commit violence against us and our communities. But I also think that this accounts for only some people. Some people are bad. But not all. And if we are ever going to create a hate-free world, then I hope we can assume the goodness in one another. I hope we can work with one another, and collaborate in our shared fight for liberation. I hope, at the end of the day, we can each choose kindness.
I Choose Kindness is Manchester Pride's campaign to tackle hate crimes towards LGBTQ+ people. Find out more and how you can get involved here.