I live outside Boston, a bastion of liberal attitudes and progressive thought. The reputation I like to think we have for inclusion and even-handedness has been battered recently by a spate of hate speech among teens. Some of these instances have happened at some of our most respected schools. At Boston Latin, the oldest school in America and one of the city’s most competitive, black students have been told to go back to Africa and at Newton North, a high school in one of the most affluent communities, Jewish students were taunted about killing Jesus.
Hate speech is by no means limited to Massachusetts – far from it. A quick search reveals incident after incident from across the country. Here are a few from just in the past week:
You don’t have to look far to get a hint as to why this kind of talk is on the rise. This election cycle has forced us to accept a lot of things: anger and a lack of decorum as signs of authenticity, hate as an acceptable language to engage one another and a constant barrage of language that inflames and belittles. And, we have been told (by some) that this is a desirable and acceptable situation.
When someone as straight-laced as Mitt Romney stoops to making sex jokes about Donald Trump’s wives, you have to ask yourself what is happening. When Donald Trump can use bombast and base language to mock and deride critics, the media and anyone else that catches his eye, you need to question how that language is being received.
What lessons do teens take away from a candidate for president referring to women as fat pigs? To another mocking the size of an opponent’s penis? To demeaning women, minorities, the disabled and members of religious groups – what does this discourse teach?
We’ve allowed topics, themes and tones that have no place in civil discussion to become the norm, a norm that pulls everyone down as it descends into insults, invective and name-calling. We’ve welcomed inflamed passion, unchained anger and even physical violence into conversations where they have no rightful place. And woe to anyone pointing out this problem. They are accused of being PC, of being inauthentic, of soft peddling pressing problems.
Passion and heated rhetoric are part of politics but hate is something else all together.
Hate is a pernicious thing. It is easy to arouse but difficult to control. It gives a feeling of strength and power to those who preach it. It presents simple solutions to difficult problems. It can be donned in a moment but is not so easy to remove. When it is celebrated in some quarters, as it is today, why should we be surprised that hateful language becomes the lingua franca of so many?
One of the real causes of concern here should be the fact that many of the examples of teen hate speech explicitly reference Donald Trump. Rightly or wrongly, teens are taking up his anger and expressing it in hate-filled ways. Kids are emotional and passionate creatures. When a message comes at them that is loud and clear it can reach them and resonate. I’d like to think no one is intentionally inciting teens to hate but the fact is kids are adopting and spreading some of this.
For those of us with a hand in shaping and spreading stories – we need to ask ourselves what we can do to help moderate what is going on out there. Hate should have no place in the teen experience. These years are difficult enough without layering on a helping of hate; and trumpeting hate as a reasonable way to engage the world hurts everyone.