The Harm of Words: The Escalation of Discrimination & Hate Speech

“Together with all its material supports, authoritatively saying someone is inferior is largely how structures of status and differential treatment are demarcated and actualized. Words and images are how people are placed in hierarchies, how said stratification is made to seem inevitable and right, how feelings of inferiority and superiority are engendered, and how indifference to violence against those on the bottom is rationalized and normalized.”

Catherine Mackinnon (1993: 31)

On July, 26, Trump made the following three tweets stating that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the US military.

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This prompted Breitbart News to write the following article:

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The article was brief, stating that former Defense Secretary Ash Carter had issued an order that allowed transgender troops to serve openly and undergo gender reassignment surgery and formally change their gender in Pentagon systems. It continued by stating that new Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had decided to delay that decision, giving the military service chiefs another six months to review whether allowing transgender people to enlist would affect the “readiness and lethality” of the force.  The article goes on to state:

“After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months,” he said in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. “We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.”

Trump’s decision also comes after Mattis issued a series of other memos directing that decisions be based on whether it makes the military more lethal and is a good use of Pentagon funds.

This led to almost 14,000 comments made by Breitbart News readers, many of them expressed prejudiced ideology which could be labelled as hate speech.

I don’t wish to expose the identity of the writers, but here are some examples:

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I could go on, but these three examples demonstrate how the quote at the beginning of the article is applicable in this situation. Trump, as President of the US, makes a statement to exclude a minority group, and by doing so, constructs them as inferior and places them on a lower level of a social hierarchy. When a person in such an position of authority makes such a statement, it encourages others, in this case many Breitbart News readers, to post texts on a mainstream news media source, which escalate and intensify the prejudice and hatred against the minority group.

By making the tweets concerning transgender people, Trump has given the green light to prejudiced individuals to write texts of hatred toward this group of people, which may in turn influence readers of such texts to create more division and prejudice in society.

 

MacKinnon, Catherine. 1993. Only Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

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