It’s been a tough week. It has been globally terrible. There was the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando and one of our brilliant female politicians was murdered in the UK. It has been a week showcasing the power of hatred, how infectious it can be, spreading pain from person to person, a rippling impact.
These two events share one thing in common, the media has taken pains to emphasise that the perpetrator was mentally ill. Now, of course, mental illness can lead to people doing terrible things, but it’s not the be all and end all. Mental illness is not an excuse, and it is not the sole reason for a person’s actions. No one lives in a bubble. Both of these acts of violence are a product of the society that they occurred in. They are the result of a society that perpetuates the demonisation of certain groups of people – homosexuals, immigrants – a society in which hate speech is not only excusable but actively used within our politics. As my friend Cheryl Morgan said, hate speech is a gateway drug for hate crime. In the US there is Trump, in the UK there is Brexit – both are stirring up hatred, and both have blood on their hands.
As someone who is both queer and has an active awareness of her mental health, this week has been very trying. My people are by turns victimised and demonised. But it’s also made me think about issues of intersectionality. The majority of the victims of the Pulse shooting were Latinx, something that the media seems to have skimmed over. Was it a coincidence that the shooter chose a Latinx night to attack? Subjugation has layers, we are not equal in our suffering. Any sexism I face as a white woman is nothing compared to the racism and sexism faced by women of colour, and again nothing compared to the racism, sexism and transphobia faced by trans women of colour, who face disproportionate levels of violence, even compared to other groups within the LGBTQI community.
The murder of Jo Cox, a British Labour politician who spent her career fighting for the underdog – the rights of women, the safety of refugees and migrants, the poor and disadvantaged – was an act of hatred by someone who named himself ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. This was an act of both sexism and racism. There are plenty of other politicians who shared Jo’s views, but it was her, one of the few female politicians we have, who was murdered. Wherever you stand in the EU argument, it is unquestionable that this was also an act influenced by racism, symptomatic of the political rhetoric that has invoked a fear and hatred of migrants – migrants, I might add, who are escaping a war-zone that we, the UK, helped to create. Imagine how you wish the Germans had treated the Jews, now apply that to the UK’s treatment of migrants. One far-right politician literally remade Nazi propaganda and used it to try and make his point. This is what some areas of British politics has become.
It’s easy to get bogged down by all of this hatred, I certainly did for a number of days, but I think it’s also important to see the love and kindness. The number of people who rushed to help during the shooting; the people who stayed in the club when they could have escaped just so they could find their friends and give them the chance to escape too; the number of people who have donated blood to help the victims; the amount of money that has been raised for the Jo Cox Memorial Fund to support her favourite charities – those supporting volunteers, Syrian rescue workers and to combat hate within local communities. I heard somewhere that whenever you see terrible things happening or on the news, you should always look for the helpers – they are always there.
I haven’t worked on my PhD this week, I’ve been too sad or angry in turns. But it has emphasised to me how important it can be – education, visibility, representation – it all adds up to hopefully reduce the hate and fear that can be manipulated with terrible impact. Always remember who the real bad guys are, always look out for those with less power than yourself.