I have been thinking a lot lately on the relationship between stigma and violence. When bad things happen, for example: an abortion clinic is bombed or a gay person is beaten for being gay, those who preach intolerance are very quick to deny responsibility. They claim that preaching intolerance and stigmatising marginalised populations is not the same thing as committing violence. They claim that they do not condone this violence. This famously happens frequently when abortion clinics are bombed or abortion providers are murdered.
This is without a doubt disingenuous. Intolerance and violence are all part of the same spectrum. Much in the same way that street harassment is indicative of a culture and attitudes that allow and even promotes rape and other forms of violence, so too does the culture that preaches hate and intolerance against a certain group of people. It is not simple tolerance of violence. The active marginalisation of people is an active promotion of violence towards them. Violence towards patrons and providers of abortions could not happen without the framing of abortion as murder and the participants murderers. The same could be said of anti-gay violence. It could not happen without the framing of people with diverse sexual and gender expressions as deviant, perverted sinners.
Actively contributing to an environment where people are othered, excluded and treated with suspicion and disgust makes it infinitely easier to commit violence against those people. It is important to note that violence is not purely physical but can be psychological and emotional , but physical violence is also a result of othering.Every time we do or say something that others another human being we participate in a culture of violence. We reinforce a culture that says some people are less than and it is OK to hurt them.
I am tired of people not taking responsibility for their actions. If you preach hate you are responsible for violence. It may not be the type of responsibility that holds up in court, but that does not make it any less real. The intention to cause violence is not necessary to be responsible, even if it is just in some tiny way, for it. If we participate in a culture of marginalisation then we are culpable in the violence that is the inevitable consequence of that culture.
Do we really think that these young men were beaten because some teenager just decided that being gay was worth beating them for? No, they were beaten because of the little and large things that added together that made it seem that beating these young men was acceptable, or perhaps even the right thing to do. Violence does not occur in a void. The people who perpetuate it generally need to receive messages that what they are doing is justifiable.
At the end of the day, if we do not actively subvert a culture of violence then we must take a long hard look at ourselves and evaluate how we are contributing to it. Culture is an ambiguous concept. To me it is the many different things that define what is ‘normal’ for us. The kyriarchy makes a lack of empathy and compassion both normal and laudable, that is not something I can stand for.