OP-Ed & Features, Gender & Sexuality - Thursday, April 16, 2009 9:20
Words hurt: is it time for hate speech legislation in Barbados?By Antillean, News Monitor Service
Carl Walker-Hoover was a boy scout who went to church every Sunday with his mother, and prayed every morning before school. He was bullied, daily, taunted about his alleged sexuality and ostracized. When it didn’t stop, he wrapped an electrical cord around his neck and hanged himself. He was just 11 years old. Tomorrow is his birthday.
Carl Walker-Hoover’s death is not unique, the hurt he experienced is not atypical and the circumstances that led to his death occur in Barbados – daily. Anyone who argues to the contrary is delusional.
By 2009, humans have advanced to accept and appreciate these now-universal truths: the world is not flat, slavery is wrong and ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is nonsensical. Carl Walker-Hoover’s death may have been miles away, but the problem of bullying and hate speech is universal.
This article gives a basic overview of these two social issues in Barbados and concludes with a call for legislation similar to what obtains in normal, civilized states.
Bullying in Barbadian schools
Bullying is prohibited within schools and has been since a broader, revamped code of conduct was introduced in 1994/1995. Students who breach the code receive no mandated punishment, it is the prerogative of teachers to do something, or nothing at all. There are no anti-bullying NGOs as they are in the United States and there is no school that has an anti-bullying centre. Even if these facilities existed, a counter-culture that mandates against and punishes “snitching” remains in effect, which may mean that those bullied never report it. In the absence of pro-active monitoring within schools and workplaces, as well as educational campaigns – bullying remains covered up.
There has also never been a study on bullying in schools; there is nothing to quantify just how many victims of bullying there are, the remedies available to them, or their general emotional stability. Of the two Ministers of Education in Barbados, neither has pursued this issue or even made mention of its existence. One, in fact, is too busy trying to get parliamentarians out of the closet, and believes that the answer to decreasing the stigma attached to HIV+ persons is to throw drugs at them so they look healthy enough not to be jeered at.There is also no denying that a small island mentality prevents dialogue on this matter: bullying, like the once-common lashing of wives by husbands, is a fact of life – surviving it makes you a man. If even a dead one, eventually.
The hypocrisy of so-called disciplinarian school principals also needs to be brought to light in this regard. While they are keen to make public shows of expelling children for breaches of school uniform code, and while they ban drums at sports events, none of them has lobbied government to investigate the spate of bullying, and none of them has called media cameras to discuss it themselves. Bullying in Barbados is officially a non-issue.
Hate speech – a cultural wont?
By way of simple introduction, Jane Shuttack recently moved to Barbados from the USA, and her blogs often force one to look inward at the things we often take for granted here in Barbados. She recently wrote about a time when a friend – a Barbadian – commented on her weight gain, much to her offense. After an entire year comparing thoughts and contrasting cultures, she accepts the undeniable fact that Bajans say whatever they want to say – feelings be damned.
This observation even holds true for hate speech. In fact, many revel in it.
One definition of hate speech follows as:
Speech intended to degrade a person or group of people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, social class, appearance, mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability.
Of particular interest to this article is hate speech towards sexual orientation, but this in no way diminishes the equal seriousness of all other categories. In fact, the use of hate speech in almost each of the above categories is so entrenched in Barbadian society that it is almost cultural. As someone with a special-needs relative, it was not uncommon to hear ‘that child is retarded (or stupid, slow, etc.)!’, and in some neighbourhoods where travelling [normally East Indian] salesmen ply their trade, it is expected that someone will announce the arrival of the ‘coolie man’. Exported to anywhere but Barbados, those expressions could land one before a magistrate. Here, it is ok.
Hate speech against homosexuals in Barbados is particularly rife and equally vehement. Though, for the moment, public response in Barbados excludes the mass village stonings that obtain in Jamaica, it appears that for some insecure men, the labeling and taunting of suspected homosexuals is part and parcel of being male. This ignorance fuels the speech that fuels the ignorance… and the cycle goes on, ad nauseum. Going on the same definition of masculinity that has seen some idiots fracturing their penises in reverence to deejays’ predilection for rough sex, any detours from the hyper-masculine, brutish, rude boy image is viewed as dirty, effeminate, gay. It deserves no mention that ‘downlow’, masculine men are key practitioners of homophobia and hate speech, since one clearly cannot be gay if he verbally assaults homosexuals. The cycle continues.
What makes hate speech unique is that the things on which the hate is predicated are unchangeable. Those who still believe that homosexuality is a choice are often anti-intellectual spiritists who prefer to believe that a man in Barbados, Jamaica or anywhere would choose to be gay, being so absolutely intrigued at the prospect of continuous verbal assault and physical violence that they revel in having sex with members of their own gender. Smarter people however realise that homosexuality is not a choice, it is not changeable, it is not ‘curable’ by marriage or prayer and many homosexuals, if surveyed, might even express thoughts of wishing to be straight – if only to escape the pressures imposed on them by society.
The case for legislation
Protecting the vulnerable in society should be the mandate of any government.
Anti-bullying legislation and laws barring hate speech have minimal cost attached and immense public benefits, both for the victims and wider society. Carl Walker-Hoover is the embodiment of the case against bullying, and any psychologist can make the case against hate speech: it changes nothing, it edifies no one and, as was evidenced in Columbine, it often leads to reciprocated hate. In fact, the true social cost of bullying and hate speech is yet to be quantified through research: how many former victims now victimise their spouses or children? how many former victims now live in depression, or have maladjusted personalities? Victimizers too, need to be evaluated – normal people do not bully, or inflict hurt and pain on other humans.
Until government or a consortium of NGOs agrees that this issue is worthy of further study, the answers needed to put a face and cost to bullying and hate speech will continue to elude us. Barbados can never be accused of being a civilized, developed society if action isn’t taken to label these crimes as crimes, and Barbadians will continue to do a disservice to the morality they claim to have if they continue to wink their eyes at this destructive behaviour.
Have you ever been bullied, or been a victim of hate speech?
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