I Don’t Understand

I always try to understand people. I think that it’s important to understand one another, because if we don’t, then we can’t ever enact change. If we refuse to see anything from the perspective of another, then we are eternally stuck within our own heads, unable to acknowledge that things exist even if we don’t personally experience them, unable to grow or learn or make the world a better place.

But I have to admit, when it comes to all this, I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how you can hear a fellow human being begging to be taken seriously, begging for equality and the chance to live safely, and just shut them out.

I don’t understand how you can tell other people that the way they feel is wrong, just because you don’t feel the same way.

I don’t understand how you can look at superficial things like skin colour or background or birth and think that that makes you better than them.

I don’t understand how, on August 12 2017, a man got into his car and looked down at a group of people who had done nothing more than defend what they believed in, and he decided that he would run them down. I don’t understand what led him to that decision, to accepting that he wouldn’t know who this would injure or even kill, and he didn’t care. I don’t understand how he could accept that a child might lose her mother, a father might lose his son, and yet he thought that that was an acceptable price to pay for an attempt to silence them, to scare them out of their fight for equality.

I don’t understand how you can look at a group of people, any people, and think that they are inherently lesser than you. I don’t understand hating some that much, especially not for something like their race.

And I want to understand, not because I agree with what they did but because I want to be able to say something that they might understand, that might stop this from happening again. But I don’t think I can. All I can say is that I am sorry to the families of the deceased, and I am sorry to those who were injured. All I can say is that the anti-racist protestors should have been there, needed to be there, and they should continue to be there even after this; do not allow violence like this to silence a worthwhile fight. Do not allow them to win like this. All I can say is that the boy who did this was a terrorist, and his actions should be treated accordingly.

And to those whose ideologies supported this boy’s way of thinking, the white supremacists and the Nazi sympathizers, all that I can say is that, while I do not understand you, I feel sorry for you, because I cannot imagine how much you suffer by choosing a life so filled with hate.

Free Speech Used to Disguise Hate

I believe in free speech. I really do; as a writer, I think that it is one of the most fundamental and important things that our society should uphold.

I believe that any society that stifles and controls speech is limited.

I believe that the only way for new and better ways of thinking to be formed is if they have the chance to be talked about and explored freely.

And considering all of that, I have a very hard time when it comes to people who openly and blatantly make harmful comments and claim that it should be protected under the idea of ‘free speech’.

“I’m just saying,” one person recently said on my Facebook feed, “I don’t think transgender people actually exist. I think they’re all just extremely mentally ill and gender confused.” When someone pointed out to them that their opinion was a hateful one, that same person replied with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!”

But what about the transgender teenager on your Facebook feed that saw that comment? And sure, you can say that you don’t have any transgender teenagers on your Facebook feed, but how do you know that? How do you know that your niece, nephew, cousin, child to a long-lost friend, whoever it might be didn’t stumble upon that status and feel a sudden sinking feeling in their gut, paired soon afterward with a sense of self-loathing? How do you know that your status won’t come to mind later on in their life, when they’re thinking about the fact that there are people who don’t believe that they exist? When they start to wonder if they do exist? How do you know that your comment won’t someday contribute to the reason why they never express themselves for who they are, or the reason why they develop a life-altering, perhaps crippling depression? How do you know that your opinion isn’t the reason why someone someday kills themselves?

And I know, this is a difficult field to enter into altogether. On the one hand, people can’t live their lives constantly monitoring everything they say to ensure that it isn’t offensive, and even the best of us slip up now and then. And we do happen to live in a society where people can internalize harmful ideas, so it isn’t unheard of for good people to believe in bad things. But that isn’t the issue that I have here. The issue that I have is the use of free speech as an attempt to excuse hate.

Think about if someone were to make a harmful comment that wasn’t targeting a specific group of people, but rather one person in particular. Imagine someone walked right up to another person and said, “you’re a stupid, worthless waste of human life.” How would you react? Well, hopefully, you’d point out that that’s a cruel thing to say, and if the bully in this scenario responded with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!” you’d roll your eyes just a little bit, wouldn’t you? Because, yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be harmful and that they do have consequences.

The same thing applies to beliefs that are harmful towards specific groups of people. You can hold onto ideas that are transphobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, but at the end of the day, you should understand that these are people who deserve rights and respect. They shouldn’t be invalidated, they have just as much of a right to take up space and be themselves as you do, and if you do make an active attempt to undermine their existence, then you should expect a response, just like you should expect a response if you actively walked up to someone and insulted them. In a society where free speech is allowed, you are free to hate as much as you want, but you should also expect to have it pointed out to you that what you are saying is hate, and you should respect their perspective just as much as you want your own to be.