By Erica Chu
Queers, Hate, and Videotape
A couple months ago, one of my Facebook friends commented on a video, and after noticing how many people had commented on it, I decided to see what it was all about. The video was three and a half minutes of a woman and a man exchanging insults and occasional kicks and punches. The two were having this altercation on North Halsted and weaved in and out of a crowd of about twenty bystanders who all appeared to be watching the scene with a certain amount of joy.
What is it about people fighting that is entertaining? Recently, the entire country has been in shock over a local school fight caught on camera, a fight which ultimately ended in the death of a high school student. That fight, which is gut-wrenching to watch, ended in personal tragedy for those involved, and it also represents a need for systemic change.
What is wrong with our communities, school systems, criminal justice systems, kinship groups, and sense of morality and honor, when these kinds of fights happen? And why is such a painful result necessary before such a problem is recognized as serious?
In the case of the fight I watched on Facebook, no one was injured, but the signs of a serious systemic problem are all too evident. Hate speech was invoked in reference to ethnic and racial identities as well as economic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
One of the most striking aspects of the video is that each of the people exhibiting hate speech has likely been subjected to ridicule for their own identities. For instance, the woman who calls the man a “nigger” and some of the bystanders “white trash” and “faggots” is herself transgendered and has presumably endured ridicule from others for her identity. The man is the only person of color in the video and speaks with an accent. I would assume he has faced some amount of discrimination. Still, he exhibits misogyny when he calls the woman “fat” and “sissy,” and implies she is only after sex.
If this weren’t bad enough, the onlookers (themselves likely queer) seem to be entertained by the fight. Two people are recording it on video, many more are laughing and watching in amusement, and a few men in the crowd (who appear to be both gay and deaf) mock the entire event. If those who experience oppression because of their identity cannot restrain themselves from inflicting hate speech on others because of their identities, then we too require systemic change.
I sat on my couch watching this video and critiquing the bystanders who did nothing to stop the fight or neutralize the speech being used, but I also sat on my couch shaking my head at the derogatory language used in the video title and comments. I couldn’t do anything about the fight or speech being used on North Halsted that night, but I could have done something about the hate speech being used on Facebook. I knew I should have too, but because I didn’t want to rock the boat or upset people, I said nothing.
This is a shame. We shouldn’t wait until tragedy occurs before we’re willing to stand up and speak out for what is right. It’s only by rocking the boat in our communities, our workplaces, and our kinship groups that we will change the attitudes that will ensure safe spaces for all kinds of identities. I hope we value our own safety enough to protect the identities of others.
Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog keepingitqueer.blogspot.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.