Being a bigot in your own home is still being a bigot.
Belief - a simple word, just like any other.
At first glance, it would seem to be merely a combination of letters that is harmless and innocent; but when given meaning, it suddenly transforms into a possession, something that is fiercely protected by its owner.
The nature of human belief and its significance has often had me staring at walls, lost in deep thought, thinking of the various possible answers to my never ending pit of questions. I have always been intrigued by the reasons behind why people believe what they do. Is it because of the nature of their belief? Or is it because their friends and family do? Do they carefully weigh out the pros and cons? Or do they just blindly pick one from a bowl of chits?
For belief is powerful; the world is governed by the actions of people; actions are influenced by thought; and thought, by belief. Thus, what the world is today is a result of billions of minds believing in various things. Each individual’s belief is like a thread and together, we weave a beautiful and diverse tapestry that is the world.
So, it would seem that belief is something beautiful, something to be protected and cherished. But sometimes beliefs are based on misinformation, prejudice, and intolerance. So those beliefs cannot be protected, they must be changed. For not only are they incorrect in the world view they perpetuate, but also in the very non-abstract, real world impacts that bigotry has on individual people, especially those from minority communities.
This is what the new hate crime bill passed by the Scottish Parliament aims to do: prevent harmful actions based on beliefs founded in prejudice and hatred.
On advice from Lord Bracadale, the government introduced the Hate Crime and Public Order bill which expands the scope of prosecution based for aggravated offences that are based on prejudice in regards to race, religion, disability, age, transgender identity or variation in sex characteristics. It also edicts that blasphemy was no longer an offence, and that stirring up hatred was one (this having been applied only to race in the past version). This was a massive change from its initial conception, where valid criticisms of the low threshold of prosecution were raised.
But then, from the more conservative sections, arose a new “concern” claiming that the bill imposed on freedom of speech and expression. “I am free to believe what I want to believe, and express those beliefs. The government can’t throw me into jail for that”. So, the government ensured that you could think and say whatever you wanted in the privacy of your own home. But that wasn’t all. Another problem was raised. The bill had a strong focus on intent and likelihood of causing harm. But that was too vague. Who determined what the actual intent was? Who decides what the likelihood of horrendous actions was? So again, the government changed the remit of the bill, the likelihood test now a judgement of is a “reasonable person” would think about the intent and effects.
Now, as a queer woman of colour, I have several problems with this. While I appreciate the importance of negotiations and compromise in the legislative processes, it is ridiculous for the government to back down to the people with the very beliefs that the bill aims to change. Advocacy against discrimination shouldn’t be a partisan issue, yet it is, and the perpetuators of discrimination have been given a voice, and consideration. The bill is no longer a strong piece of legislation, protecting the people that it aims to protect, but has become an arbitrary value judgement that benefits to some degree the White, Christian, heterosexual, cis-gendered males in society.
Being bigoted within the confines of your own home doesn’t mean it is no longer a bigoted belief. Being a vocal homophobe at the dinner table, with your daughter who might identify as queer but is in the closet in fear of retribution, is still a hate crime. But even if your daughter isn’t queer, you’re influencing her to be a homophobe, discriminate, and actively hate. You create a cycle of viciousness that doesn’t just exist within the bubble that is your house, but very horrifically impacts very real people outside of it. If you can’t express your transphobia in the confines of your own home, guess what... I don’t care. It is wrong to be a transphobic, it is wrong to be a bigot, just as it is wrong to commit assault. Now that you can express whatever you want to believe within your home, who protects the minority groups within that household? Who ensures that the constant exposure to hate speech does not impact their mental health and well-being? Who makes sure that even non-minority groups within the household learn, grow, and change to be tolerant and accepting and good?
But the problems don’t stop there. Who decides who a “reasonable person” is? Reasonable to the perpetrator of hate? To the already privileged, who are causing harm to others for no reason? And more importantly what has reason got to do with anything? Hate crime isn’t accidentally saying something insensitive. No one is going to file a police report if you accidentally misgender someone, or unintentionally say something insensitive. They will correct you, ask you to not do that again, you apologise, learn your lesson, listen, and move on. That is reasonable. That is acceptable. But a hate crime is based on a belief that is irrational. It does not stand to reason to address someone using a racial slur. It does not stand to reason to bully someone simply because they have a disability. Yet, the victim - who is absolutely correct in calling out such hatred and protecting themselves, protecting others within their community - is held to a higher standard. That isn’t fair. That isn’t justice. No one but the individual facing the brunt of hate can fully decide what is reasonable and what is not. It seems unreasonable for a third party who can't truly understand these shared experiences to be so integrally involved. And even if they have to be for the sake of the law, such a diluted term such as a "reasonable person" leaves far too much room for interpretation.
I appreciate the effort; I commend your initiative. But I implore you to not give in to the very beliefs you are trying to fight. I beg you to protect the people you claim to. This bill, to me, is the equivalent of a nice thought. Sending someone flowers when they are sick in the hospital. But it takes doctors, nurses, and medicines to actually solve the problem. Instead of disinfecting the wound like you intended, you have just put a plaster on the issue, and as we all know, plasters peel off easily.
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