Our jaws often drop in the face of discriminatory conduct that surfaces on campus, in politics, and in the media. Yet for communities that are constantly plagued by prejudice, resurgences of hatred are hardly surprising. Particularly in the midst of the dramaticism that has pervaded the current political climate, hatred in its less blatant forms often slips by unnoticed — but we should not lose sight of the systemic factors that underlie shocks to the public conscience.
Shock has a productive role to play in the fight against hatred. Instead of dwelling on surprise, we ought to heed isolated instances of extreme hatred as warning signs — encouraging us to come to terms with the pervasive ignorance around us. Ultimately, it is in our best interest to utilize reactionary responses in a more productive manner.
Blunt and overt hatred is becoming the new normal in political environments across the globe. In the US, Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by labelling Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals. In Europe, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, has suggested that Europe is facing an “Islamic invasion” and has been charged with inciting hatred for making racist comments about Moroccans. And with the notoriously anti-Muslim Marine Le Pen preparing a bid for the French presidency, the Western world is witnessing a campaign of open hatred that is incomparable to mainstream political behaviour in recent years.
Perhaps it is due to this newfound blatancy that many remain in sheer disbelief that hateful sentiments continue to pervade political discussions. Regrettably, this may delay or interfere with confronting them directly. Canadians are certainly not exempt from such phenomena, and we see examples of this on campus as well.
For instance, some critics of The Algenheimer’s recent conclusion that U of T is the “third worst university in North America for Jewish students” were based on the erroneous proposition that campuses are now entirely free of anti-Semitism. This is ignorant of instances of anti-Semitism that occurred this very academic year, such as the defacement of campus signage with swastikas.
Meanwhile, classroom conversations about politics are often riddled with expressions of surprise at the experiences of victims of injustice — including fellow students — on the parts of those who do not regularly experience marginalization.
The reactionary dog-whistling of bigotry has been an effective and long-standing tactic in response to unseeming policies targeted at marginalized groups. At the same time, we should not lose sight of our top priority when calling these instances out: investigating potential solutions.
There is another sense of urgency associated with this, in that students are among the most affected by politics. Long-term shifts that we have only just begun to observe will eventually take their toll on our generation, and it will be up to us to make sense of what we are now witnessing.
Students also have a unique ability to address hatred where it lives. Our position at the epicentre of the university, a locus of political conversation, grants us enormous advantages in terms of organizing for social change. Our education trains us to be more critical and discerning in what is now so popularly referred to as a ‘post-truth’ world. Considering the institutional resources we have at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a time in our lives when the same quantity and quality of information will be so readily available.
Therefore, we must collectively take advantage of the opportunities at our disposal to equip ourselves with facts and logic. Doing so will allow us to dispel the myths and falsehoods that appear so often in political demagoguery.
Once armed with the facts, we can initiate more conversations about the true pervasiveness of bigotry when it arises in the form of isolated incidents.
The hope is that the existence of bigotry will eventually come as less of a surprise to all of us, having developed a better understanding of why and how it spreads. At the same time, veering from shock to more nuanced understanding should not be done in the name of desensitizing ourselves to the often traumatic effects of hatred, nor dilute the condemnation we ought to express in its face.
If anything, urgency should be accompanied by a collective acknowledgement of how much work there is to be done before systemic issues are truly eradicated. Such a pairing is optimal, and ought only to spur us forward.