I’VE been thinking about some of the issues around intolerance an awful lot lately – especially since the horrendous happenings in Charlottesville.
I imagine similar thoughts have been invading the hearts and minds of many of you reading this. I don’t have the answers. I have no idea where to begin. I do not have adequate words to express my feelings on the state of the world, let alone to connect to the enormity of the situation.
And – make no mistake – enormity really is the right word here!
Reading Layla Saad’s blog made me think – and feel – even more deeply and, really, that’s what prompted me to write this.
It makes uncomfortable reading, but sometimes – just sometimes – discomfort is precisely what we need in order to sit up and take notice.
In her blog, Layla speaks at length about white privilege; it’s not a new concept and certainly not something I was hearing about for the first time, but there’s something raw and even more moving about considering that topic amidst the glowing embers of Charlottesville’s flames.
White privilege is something many of us here in the UK will struggle to get our heads around. Hands up – I’ve shrugged it off in the past myself, dismissed it as a concept that only creates more divide and perpetuates hate. But it’s real, and I don’t believe we should keep closing our eyes to it. The US has a very different history to ours, but we can still make ourselves aware, and we can still at least be a voice among the many calling for equality, understanding and mutual respect. And if you feel like a lone voice, that’s okay – many lone voices become a choir… it just takes someone brave enough to speak up first.
Layla particularly directs her blog at “spiritual white women” and calls for us to make our voices heard. So, here I am. Do I agree absolutely with every single word Layla pours onto the page? Not entirely. And not just because it makes difficult reading, but simply because my personal belief system isn’t perfectly aligned with hers. Do you know what? That’s okay. Our views do not have to be identical to somebody else’s for us to take their hand and stand beside them in the face of hatred, ignorance and prejudice.
Of course, those far right rallies we’ve heard about aren’t all about skin colour and heritage. As a woman who happens to be married to another woman, I’m all too familiar with the homophobia that still exists in the world. And I don’t care whether you file it under religion, learned hatred or just sheer stupidity – it’s out there and it’s damaging.
The tolerance paradox and freedom of speech
There’s a side issue to all of this that’s made me feel sick to my stomach. It’s dangerous and insidious and concerns all of us – regardless of gender, sexuality, colour or creed. I’m talking about the tolerance paradox.
I’ve been seeing so many posts on social media – often from people claiming to be acting as devil’s advocate – calling us ‘loony lefties’ out for trying to quell freedom of speech.
Hell, I’m a former journalist and editor – I’m ALL FOR freedom of speech, but there has to be a line, doesn’t there?
I’ve been reading so many comments that have been dripping with venom – on both sides of the divide – and it’s a divide that’s growing. Social media has some wonderful uses, but it’s also enabling us to widen a gulf of our own making.
When that freedom of speech includes inciting hatred, of any kind – and waving a swastika flag most certainly ticks that box – we need to close it down. When that freedom of speech points people towards violence, rape, torture and murder it turns into a hate crime. And we cannot – MUST NOT – keep allowing that.
Which leads me back to the tolerance paradox. As a so-called tolerant society, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of tolerating the intolerant. Trouble is, the more we tolerate intolerance, the more intolerance breeds and takes control until, ultimately, it quashes tolerance altogether. And if you think these are crazy ramblings, go hit the history books – or Google – and remind yourself of how easily seemingly sane people have been led astray by the skewed beliefs of a clever orator. Think of the holocaust for starters!
We’re in a massive melting pot, people, and we need to wake up. We need to stop making excuses – yes, even those based on interpretations of religious texts dating back thousands of years. We need to move on and we need to remember that we are all connected. We are all human beings. We all have hearts. We all have blood pumping through our veins. We all bleed.
We need to wake up. We need to recognise that hatred isn’t restricted to gender, colour, creed or sexual identity.
We need to recognise that, though our brothers and sisters of colour have, arguably, been persecuted more than most, none of us are safe if these issues continue to spiral.
We need to recognise that whilst the old ‘colourblind’ argument has sometimes caused more harm than good when it comes to racism, the *energy* of hatred, in its purest form, is blind to all kinds of things.
The *energy* of hatred seeps through the smallest of cracks. It’s the *energy* of hatred that feeds intolerance, prejudice, violence and war. It’s the *energy* of hatred that so often gets lost in translation and continues to breed and infect people whilst we’re all so busy concentrating on the practicalities of the challenges of the day.
And it’s the *energy* of hatred that I want to remind the perpetrators about – the supremacists, the extremists, the angry hearts wanting to war. Right now, that hatred is buried deep in the prejudices we’re all bringing to the fore – but that pure hatred will pick merely on the most obvious difference, and it doesn’t really care what that difference is.
Hatred doesn’t care who it hurts. Some day, that might be you. It might be your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your lover, your brother, your sister, your son, your daughter, your friend. Just because current prejudices don’t seem to apply to them, it doesn’t mean they won’t some day.
Hatred is an energy, an emotion, a formless quality that wreaks havoc and destruction. Prejudice is learned. We are not born with prejudice. Put a child into a bunch of other kids from all kinds of backgrounds and he’ll care far more about getting his hands on the Lego than the colour of his peers. Let’s stop teaching our children to divide and detest. The world is too small. We don’t need that. Stop opening doors for hatred to dive through.
We need to find balance. We need to remember we’re all team human. We need to wake up. And those of us on the extremist edges need to stand down. We need to find common ground. Our future depends on it.