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Education, best antidote to hate speech

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Hate speech is a public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. It denigrates a person on the basis of membership in a social group.

Typical hate speeches involve epithets and slurs, statement that promotes malicious stereotypes. It can also include non-verbal depiction and symbols. These hate speeches cause psychological harm to its victims and physical harm when it incites violence but it also undermines the social equality of its victims. The targets of hate speech have, therefore, suffered from social marginalisation and oppression.

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The traditional liberal position regarding hate speech is to permit it under the auspices of freedom of expression. Although those who take that position acknowledge the odious nature of the message of hate speech, they maintain that state censorship is a cure that causes more harm than the disease of bigoted expression. Hate speech is not merely the expression of ideas, but rather it is an effective means of socially subordinating its victims. When aimed at historically oppressed minorities, hate speech is not merely insulting but also perpetuates their oppression by causing the victims, the perpetrators and society at large to internalize the hateful message and act accordingly. Hate speech, in conjunction with a boarder system of inequalities and unjust discrimination that burdens the victims, effectively silences them.
   
In Nigeria, the Hate speech bill is being deliberated and upon passage into law that could mean death or life imprisonment for offenders. The bill states that“ a person who uses, publishes, presents produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria. Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging. In this section, ethnic hatred means hatred against a group of persons from any ethical group indigenous today Nigeria.”

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Currently, the United States of America has no concrete law that addresses or prevents hates speech. Sometimes the law may get involved if the hate speech is perceived as a genuine threat to harm. However, just because it isn’t technically considered a crime, that doesn’t mean that hate speech doesn’t influence society. Words, name-calling, hateful phrases, casual racist comments – they all have an impact, especially if those words become convincing to a large number of people.
    
Many people have been and will continue to be victims of hate speech but how the victims react to it are what matters. Some people retreat or recoil in fear and let it affect them negatively. There have been cases of some people committing suicide or harming themselves physically. They let the words of people “eat them up” and gradually they start to cower under social pressure. Racism and online malicious comments on social media that tend to displace people are the order of the day in many countries all over the world. Some celebrities, public icons and even students are victims of hate speech and even react negatively to it. 

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On the other side of the coin, there is a positive response to hate speech. There are many celebrities and public icons that have stood up to racism and hate speeches, putting out positive comments in the face of negativity. They use their social influence to champion change, exhibiting faith and positivity. Some of the celebrities are Kevin Hart, a popular comedian, Zendaya Coleman, a 24-year old actress and singer who is no stranger to racism and controversy, Barack Obama who is the former president of America.
 
We can exhibit faith and positivity by fighting against hate speech. We should speak about equality, inclusivity and diversity. Some refer to this method as counter speech. The more we can undermine hate speech with loving words, logical arguments and truth-telling the more that hate speech will begin to lose its power. Another method that can combat hate speech is education. When it comes to bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and hate speeches, the more people are educated on these issues, the more we can prevent them in the future rather than cowering in fear and reacting negatively.

There is no cure for hate speech, but there is a way to stand up against it. Speak out against hate speech. Fight against racism and bigotry with love, empathy and strength. We may not be able to eliminate hatred entirely, but the more steps we can take to educate and support human beings and speak out against injustice, the better this world will become.

Esther is a student of Mass Communication, Anchor University, Lagos

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