No, not “nigger,” “tranny,” or “faggot.” Not “God hates fags and Lady Gaga”—though these are indeed hateful words to direct towards another, and we cannot stand idly by as the body count continues to rise.
I want to talk about “crazy,” “psycho,” and “crackpot.” Or “wackadoodle” and “damaged goods.”
But why stop at “crazy”? How about “crazy bitch”? Or maybe even “batshit crazy”?
Is this not what you had in mind when I said that I wanted to talk about hate speech?
Now I want to talk about stigma. Mental illness is highly stigmatized. Stigma ensures that people with mental illnesses remain second-class citizens even though “disability” is a protected status under current nondiscrimination laws.
For privacy reasons, I’m not going to describe in detail the situation that prompted this post. I’ll just say that the lack of response from the community was highly disappointing to me. People who would never tolerate hate speech being directed towards someone like them remained silent when a person with a mental illness was being targeted. Community leaders either didn't notice, or stood by and said nothing as a woman who had likely been through hell was verbally attacked many times over, and even had her existence dismissed by one particularly cruel comment: "[G]irls like this make me sick. There is no reason for them to exist."
In my opinion, if you say something like that, you have blood on your hands. Hateful statements like the one above fall just short of a call for violence, and may, in fact, encourage someone who has been teetering on the edge to finally step over it and attempt suicide.*
And if you say nothing after hearing such a statement, you're complicit. As much as we value our illusory independence, we are actually interdependent beings. In spite of the rampant individualism in the U.S., we have a social responsibility to treat one another with kindness and respect, and to step in when someone is being mistreated.
If you want allies, you must be an ally. You must speak out against all forms of hate speech. It is not censorship to tell someone you think that they are doing harm.
It does get better. But it's not enough to tell people to "tough it out." We need to stop the bullying, of and by kids and adults alike. Whatever prejudice it's driven by, and whomever it's directed towards, we must step in and intervene whenever we witness hatred in action.
Words matter. Words can kill. As Robert Fulghum aptly said, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.”
* If you are thinking about suicide or you believe that someone you know may be at risk, you can get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).