Hate and Ignorance

Hate is a strong word used unusually often. It creates a sense of urgency, finality, that we’re at an end-point so far removed from the place we want to be and intervention is necessary. It’s one of those words, like privilege, that is widely adopted in talking about systemic oppression that can instantaneously put a person on the defensive; “but I live with so much hardship, I can’t be privileged,” “I have many loved ones who are black, I can’t hate black people.” When words with certain nuances from a particular discourse enters popular discussion, it’s easy for them to turn single-use and be used with less finesse. Hate, now, is somewhere between an ingrained disposition and what is lawfully a hate crime. To be accused of hate is to be accused of having criminal tendencies, that you are of an unhealthy disposition needing to be dealt with by various governmental institutions. To be designated as hateful can lose you your job, industry reputation, friends, and other connections that come from public shaming. So, by necessity, people avoid exhibiting anything that might be seen as hateful, or more commonly, feel fine where they are at if they don’t believe themselves able to commit an out-right hate crime. If you can display a purity of moral character, you are therefore moral. I want to complicate this a bit.

I mostly avoid using the word hate, or words that define themselves by hate or fear, in my personal practice with engaging with politics. It’s a decision I made when I realized how ineffective as a term it is when we rely on the conventional definition of ‘hate.’ First off, I don’t think most of the people that we need to reach with advocacy hate in this manner; they are not people who hold, intrinsically, the will to subjugate other people. Secondly, when there are displays of literal hate, it monopolizes people’s attention, creating currently discussed binaries of censorship versus political awareness. Should Republicans that actively say nasty things about minorities be allowed to ascend to presidency? If this level of inquiry is what consumes your thoughts the most, you haven’t approached the struggle that actually affects marginalized people just yet.

Instead I want to revisit our other much-detested term, privilege. One of the many ways you can define and explain privilege is ‘the ability to ignore.’ With this, we can set up some theming around why such a term needed to be coined, like having privilege means certain social oppressions affect you so minimally that you don’t notice them. This also implies its reverse, that socially minoritized people cannot ignore effects of oppression since it is completely ingrained into their daily lives. One might become dulled to it, or believe that’s just how life is, but would not react with shock or disbelief in the way someone with privilege would. This might be a preferable angle since it takes off what is distasteful about the common use of privilege to those who have it while also stressing what is actionable, that is, forcing the privileged out of their own curated bubbles. In my own practice, the point isn’t to get people to feel more or less valued based on their privileges, rather gain an awareness that their perspective on life is shaped by social systems and in need of a forced rupture. Ignorance is how marginalizing behavior is most commonly expressed, and so I feel the nuance of our language should reflect that.

So, what is hate then? I feel like I’ve read some quote somewhere about the most hateful thing a person could do is not violence, or spiteful, or outwardly malevolent, but to be completely indifferent. To act as if you weren’t there, or didn’t matter. Their life would be exactly the same whether you were alive or dead. Hate, in this context, is the way we make others incidental in our lives. It’s the way we isolate ourselves in environments with people similar to us so we don’t have to look at what is happening to others. It’s normalizing the suffering of others so their pain isn’t something you need to keep track of. It’s allowing activist action to be the work of the oppressed instead of yours. It’s all the ways that you allow yourself to ignore. Here, hate shares more with complacency than malevolence, and within this context, implicates a larger range of people. Here, hate is cold, it’s unthinking, it’s empty. Here, hate just doesn’t want to feel. It doesn’t want to care. Apathy is a much more contemporary issue than outright bigotry.

I wouldn’t start using ‘hate’ right away, especially not without establishing this particular angle I’m going for before I do. It’s still very strong to say “You hate women,” even with this laid out. We keep the word because we want to keep that power. I think it’s a helpful shift in language when wanting to communicate more nuanced and contemporary problems with oppression, and in trying to understand your own role without needing to identify with the elitism that feels inherent in the terms privilege and hate. Hate as cold and unaware creates other avenues for creative expression on the topic, especially for art created from privileged perspectives. This mass complacency on social issues is the contemporary expression of hate, maybe not actively wanting problems to go away or sort themselves out, but fashioning their lives so that’s the only option available.

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