No other word but hate

I love reading “Overheard in Kingston” when readers send them in, and these days I find myself listening in a little more to other people on the street. Some of what I hear, though, isn’t funny.

Don’t get me wrong—this is coming from a girl who was once chewed out by a police officer for yelling the word “bacon” from a moving car on the main street of my hometown. But that’s a little different; I was 15, and the officer had just missed the first few grocery items we were randomly yelling.

I’m talking about something much more serious than playing a game in high school.

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard people yell “Fatty!” at an obese man walking down the street, and some idiot guy yelling “Ugh, I need to eat something!” at a girl who was very thin.

One night in the Hub,a bunch of boys yelled “Emo fags”—whatever that means—at my friends and I.
Two arguing boys who were asked by a woman to “use their indoor voices” in Burger King one night urned to her and said “Fuck off. Men are speaking here.”

A few weeks ago, Florence Li wrote a signed editorial about a man walking past her quoting a racist and sexist line from Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket. For some reason, people seem to think that you can get away with more in public spaces than you can in more intimate environments.

It’s as though turning to the guy beside you in class and saying “Hey fatty, why don’t you go on a diet?” is not okay, but it’s fine if you say it while you pass him on the street. How do sizeist, sexist and homophobic hate speech become acceptable when shouted by a complete stranger in public?

Obviously fear and intimidation are key in allowing these kinds of incidents to take place, as the humiliated victim is not likely to respond to this unexpected affront, thinking perhaps that the speaker is representing something that everyone else is thinking as well. Passersby are unlikely to get involved, and so the whole interaction goes completely unaddressed. I’m no different. I’ve never spoken up either. I didn’t consider it worth my time. Was I intimidated, or did I just not know what to say? But there is danger in that.

The fact that privileged, educated students buy into world views that rate people on scales of weight, gender, sexuality, race and any other prejudice is disturbing. At Queen’s we hear all this hype about being the future leaders of Canada, about being the best students in the country, and while we have so many clubs and campus groups defending human rights around the world, we’re willing to let injustices take place when it’s committed by some drunk guy on University Avenue.

If we accept hate speech in our everyday public exchanges, who is to say that we will not then accept hate violence? If hate speech is allowable in the street, when will it be allowable in the classroom or the courtroom? We need to start calling hate speech what it is, when it happens.

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