In this post, Teresa Marques discusses her recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on whether hate is an essential component of hate speech.
Does hate speech express hate? Why would we call it hate speech if not? In my recent paper, I argue that hate speech is speech that is constitutively prejudicial because it is expressive of hatred (and not just because it may have harmful consequences).
This idea – that hatred is an essential part of hate speech – is an unpopular view nowadays. People give a variety of reasons for this. For instance, some say that there are communicative acts that are harmful and discriminatory, although speakers don’t feel hatred for the members of the targeted social group. Maybe speakers only have false negative beliefs, or their feelings include contempt, disgust, or fear, but they wouldn’t say they hate anyone. On the other hand, there are cases where people seem to express their hatred for someone else (they may even say, “I hate you!”), although it would be unreasonable to count such personal expressions as what hate speech regulations sanction. After all, states should not regulate people’s private thoughts or feelings.
If these are good reasons, and hate speech does not express hatred, then what is hate speech? Here we face a problem. Although many people deny that hate speech is essentially tied to hatred, there is no consensus about what it is. This is a problem because, historically, hate speech or hate propaganda seems to have been correlated with episodes of hate crimes, mass violence, and even genocide. In recent years, the United Nations launched its Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, and the European Union and various European countries have likewise enacted resolutions against expressions of racism and xenophobia. It is thus important that we can conceptualize hate speech in a way that can at the same time cover paradigmatic cases like for example the hate propaganda against the Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s, as well as what the UN and other organizations condemn.
We could think that hate speech is harmful because of its prejudicial effects on groups of people identified by certain characteristics (race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, etc.) But it may be that we want to identify hate speech even in cases where it does not have the harmful effects characteristic of hate crimes or mass violence. Or we could think instead that hate speech is systematically discriminatory and enacts norms that prescribe harmful behaviour or practices. But those norms may not be followed and therefore have no actual harmful effects. Also, this seems to cast too wide a net: policies or norms may end up discriminating one group over another, or having harmful effects, but that are not the kind of racist, sexist, or xenophobic expressions that the UN or the EU warn against. Faced with such different views and seeming counterexamples we could think instead that there is no single coherent notion of hate speech, or that there is nothing essential to hate speech. But this is less than optimal, and it does not serve the theoretical and practical purposes of the concept.
I think that hate speech does express hate, and that objections against this idea are based on a misunderstanding of expressive speech acts, on the one hand, and on a disregard for how hate can contribute to organize people’s social relations, on the other. Current work in semantics, pragmatics, and on emotions can help to explain the features that many take to be part of hate speech. Speech that is expressive of an emotion, a sentiment or an affect presupposes that affective state as fitting towards its object. If this presupposition is accommodated, it modifies common ground with the appraisals that are characteristic of the expressed affective state. Under certain conditions, the goals and action tendencies that are characteristic of that affective state can be shared. If certain speech acts are expressive of hatred against a socially significant group, then those speech acts presuppose hatred as fitting towards that group. Which are the appraisals, goals, and action tendencies that characterize hate? Current research on intergroup hate hold that hate is an appraisal state, and that intergroup hate can indeed contribute to structure people’s social relations. Through hate, outgroup members are negatively appraised as malevolent or malicious, and ingroup bonds are reinforced. Hate can motivate actions of destruction or elimination of its targets: humiliation, social exclusion, and, in extreme cases, physical violence and killing.
Recognizing that hate speech is expressive of hatred can help explain away the supposed counterexamples to hate speech’s essential connection to hatred. Second, certain aspects hate speech – it may have harmful effects, it can be systematically and constitutively discriminatory – are consistent with placing hatred at the heart of hate speech. What makes hate speech pernicious, then, is the hatred that it normalizes and the action tendencies and goals that it tends to generate.