Child's Play, The Citizen, December 2016 Racism, Sexism and Hate Speech: The Truth about Tolerance

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.

Are you as tired as I am of hearing so many shrill comments from those on both ends of the political spectrum about those other people who are irredeemably intolerant? I’m tired of a culture that keeps complaining about people being intolerant. It isn’t that I’m against tolerance. I’m all for it. I’m just tired of the incredible irony of people being intolerant of people who are allegedly intolerant.

I understand where it comes from. People in the U.S., really good people, don’t always realize how bigoted and intolerant they can be. I don’t deny that fact at all. Sadly, since the perceived end of the civil rights movement, many white people have come to believe that racism and sexism are dead issues. But the fact is that both are very much alive.

It is a lack of awareness that sometimes keeps the fires of “isms” smoldering. In order for us to move to the next level of cultural equity we have to be aware of our covert biases through which we unintentionally perpetuate racism and sexism.

But the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the continuum to the point that these words have completely lost their meaning. By definition, racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another – usually white over non-white. Likewise, sexism is the belief in the superiority of one gender over another – usually male over female.

While anyone can be racist or sexist, those with power have the ability to oppress those whom they don’t value. While African-Americans can be racist, they are less likely to have the power to wield it over others. Ditto for women in a masculine culture.

But there is a difference between hate speech – something that used to refer to overt racist diatribes such as one might hear from the KKK – and disagreements over ideas, religion, or politics. Disagreeing with policy is possible without being racist.

Unfortunately, even academics who should know better have been part of the chorus that has perpetuated careless use of these terms. College classrooms ring with claims of hate speech for anything that isn’t in line with a particular way of thinking.

Ironically, those who scream intolerance are, themselves, being intolerant. If it is noble to tolerate diversity, shouldn’t those who laud such tolerance be at the forefront of defending those who disagree with them?

It is possible to disagree with a religion, political perspective, or public policy without being racist, sexist, or a hater. Disagreeing isn’t inherently hateful. If that were so, then those who disagreed with those accused of hate speech would by definition be committing the very act of hate being denounced. Nobody could disagree with anything.

Regularly since President Obama’s election eight years ago nearly anyone voicing an opinion different than that of the President, was labeled racist. In the most recent election, those who opposed Hillary Clinton were branded as sexist. Even career journalist Cokie Roberts claimed that Hillary’s defeat was “reflective of a strong sentiment about not having a woman president.” Are Clinton supporters “haters” because they disagree with Trump? I would hope not.

Even counselors and psychologists who pride themselves on tolerance and sensitivity are not immune to this goofy bandwagon effect. While attending the American Counseling Association’s annual conference a few years ago, I was in a workshop on diversity. The workshop was led by a gay man who led the group of 75 or so participants in a 3 hour session making fun of Christians. It wasn’t his intent, but that is what happened.

While allegedly presenting on how faux “therapies” have been promoted by people of faith, the group participants were openly laughing at and making fun of people of faith. While I actually agreed with the facts that were being presented, as a person of faith I have never felt more uncomfortable in my life. These well-intentioned counselors, many of whom were LGBT, were doing the very thing they were condemning.

Tolerance has been elevated to a religion and has come to mean that anything goes – as long as it doesn’t violate some politically correct perspective. In other words, tolerance means “think like me” – the very thing it was a reaction against.

I suspect historians of the future will look back at this era and chuckle at the obvious contradiction. Intentions were good, they will note, but in the attempt to battle the clear intolerance of their past, they created an environment where those with the power to require tolerance didn’t practice it themselves.


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