Feb 092005
Authors: Kelly Hagenah

I often express how much I love our ability to communicate, to discuss, to speak our mind … how much I love our freedom of speech.

And although I stand by my belief and admiration of this right, there are times when people, much to my disgust, abuse this privilege and in doing so make our world a worse place to live in.

Hate speech is one of the most shameful things a person can amount to, and even though it is just as disturbing as any physical abuse, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

It troubles me so deeply to know that there are people in our community, and sadly our campus, who are actually able to carry out an act from which absolutely no good can come. I know life isn't always fair, and I understand that hate may always exist in this world; however, I cannot accept any reason for why we need to express such a harmful emotion.

Honestly, what is the point? While I am not arguing whether or not hate speech should be protected (because as an advocate of free speech, I am weary of drawing any lines), I am declaring that just because something is legal does not mean it is right.

Now, please recognize the type of hate I am talking about. I do not mean the hatred we feel for a certain food, or a pet peeve, or even the hate that can overcome us after betrayal. I am talking about the hate that once uttered, changes lives forever. The type of expression that cannot be taken back, that shatters what we know, that forces a person to become unrecognizable or causes someone to shrivel up inside. It is this hate, these fighting words, this abusive and threatening language that drives society to the brink of evil, violence and malice.

The voicing of hate has caused so many regretful moments in our history, yet we continue to use it. We even do so without knowing or thinking. Maybe the loathe felt toward certain religious groups has faded, but it has only moved elsewhere, aiming at other less-publicized systems of belief. Maybe the scorn held for certain races and sexes is not as vivid as it once was, but it too lingers behind the scenes, feeding off the hate that has developed for gender preference and identity. And maybe the spite once held for certain countries has improved over time and healing, but it has only progressed into the hate felt for specific profiles that we deem to represent a nation as a whole.

So much of our communication is constructed through imitation, and as long as hate is vocalized, it will continue to impress upon and be learned by society. Maybe we have come a ways since the age of our parents and grandparents and the civil rights movements they heatedly discussed.

But we too still struggle with these realities as well as our own that have developed in recent years. We may be more liberal than the generations before us (even if you're conservative), and we may fight more confidently for our liberties, but we still judge, still stereotype, still assume, still have a hard time accepting the things that shake the world we know.

These trials and obstacles are not easy to overcome and neither is the struggle to silence hate speech. But while this war may seem never-ending, we can slowly overcome it by winning the smaller battles. We have the chance, this Monday, to turn a regular Hallmark holiday into a fight against hate speech. Use Valentine's Day as it is intended — to show how much you care and to spread the words filled with affection and appreciation.

Take advantage of the right to communicate through the feelings and emotions that make a difference in a good way, that make people feel alive inside. Share your love and acceptance of the world in which we live and all who surround us. The right to speak the words that wound may be out there, but if we all use our voices to express our love, we may be able to silence hate.

Kelly Hagenah is a senior speech communication major. Her column runs every Thursday.

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