The presence and impact of proactive haters is multi-layered, but if left unchecked can cause immense harm both to those who are the targets of the hate and to what becomes a more divided, antagonistic society. (I thought I’d keep this manageable by restricting it to Australia, although there is of course plenty worse that happens in many other countries).
There is a small but influential number of people who see it is part of their job to exacerbate public antagonism towards particular groups in the community – either because they believe in what they are doing, or because they know it gets them more attention/ratings. And of course, there are those ‘amateur’ hate-mongers, who tend to be particularly prevalent online, although they are certainly not limited to that sphere of activity.
It is sometimes hard to decide whether it’s better to ignore such people or to tackle them head on – I think the answer to that is ….. “it depends”. Every circumstance is different.
A wise person once said “blessed are the peacemakers”. I’m not sure I’d ever qualify for being blessed (at least based on my actions – I am certainly blessed in the sense of having had a lot of good fortune in my life, not least to be born in a wealthy country which is not experiencing war within its borders), but it is a good ideal to keep in mind none the less.
Whilst poking around online recently, I saw a quote originally by a guy called Arthur Martine (from 1866) stating “In disputes upon moral or scientific points, let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent.” It is hard not to attack back against those who lash out with hate and lies, but while falsehoods need to corrected, fighting abuse with abuse isn’t always a very good idea. However, people in positions of power and influence who deliberately stoke hatred need to be called out and stood up to, but trolls online are often best ignored or gently ridiculed.
But more broadly, we need to try to rise above the name calling wherever possible and engage with people at the human level. I think a big part of the reason the recent #I’llRideWithYou concept got such immediate and innate support from so many people in Australia is because it was a message which was completely positive and supportive rather than attacking, especially at a time where many people were understandably feeling more fearful. The vast majority of people in our country clearly recognise the dangers and unfairness involved in targeting any group of people based on their race or religion, but aren’t always sure what they can do about it.
I’m not always sure what to do about it either, which is why I thought I’d stick it on this list with a specific recognition that I should none the less try to do more about it. The fear/hate that’s present amongst a minority still needs to be recognised and engaged with – even if the way to engage with it depends on who and how it manifests. One example which struck me last year is the proposals to build new mosques on both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Both have met with some blatantly bigoted local opposition. Some people have made the specific effort not only to speak out in support, but to go to rallies/actions to show support in person.
Online, there has been growing support for an anti-Muslim campaign under the guise of opposing halal accreditation of food. Some of this is obvious trolling, but it is a campaign which as a whole still needs to be confronted and the blatant errors of fact and reasons which underpin it exposed.
Racism and bigotry towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is also still prevalent and in some contexts seen as almost socially acceptable. As a country we are still a long way short of acknowledging the treatment of the First Peoples of the land. Over many years I have met many people of goodwill who do not know what they can do to help address this. It is not always easy to know what to do, but one definite thing we can all do is to stand up against racist attacks and to call for the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be heard, rather than everyone else telling them what should be done.
Asylum seekers are another group who are explicitly singled out publicly with an aim to demonise them. The issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat is a difficult policy matter, which is not as easily remedied as people on either side of the debate might sometimes suggest. But the fact that it is a difficult public policy issue is no reason to demonise or brutalise the people involved. Contrary to some suggestions, there is not a single piece of evidence that brutalising or abusing the asylum seekers has helped remedy anything. (Which is not to suggest that boat arrivals to Australia haven’t stopped – they clearly have, even though there is still plenty of examples of people fleeing on boats elsewhere in our region. I am just saying that it is not in any way due to the brutalising of people that those specific boat journeys have stopped.)
There are plenty of issues that are challenging, confronting, confusing, complex and frankly beyond ready resolution. Some of those involve easily identifiable or isolatable groups of people within the community who often have difficulty getting their own voices heard. Directing antagonism at them at the same time might be an easy thing to do in the absence of clear solutions, but it is not going to achieve anything concrete other than make things harder. Pushing back against that antagonism might not be quite as easy a thing to do, but I think it is a valuable thing to do and when done well, has a good chance of being very effective in a positive way for society as a whole, as well as reducing the harm to those people who are the direct subjects of the attacks.