What is hate speech? TikTok defines it as “a statement that attacks or incites violence against an individual or group of individuals on the basis of protected attributes.” Other social media platforms say much the same. I think of hate speech as statements that are directed at people who our society tries to push to the margins: Black and Latinx people, LGBTQ people, and disabled people, among others. Hate speech projects hate onto these groups, attempting to dehumanize them and push them further outside the bounds of society.
So why did I recently receive a notification that TikTok had suspended one of my videos after labeling it as “hate speech”? Why, when I appealed this suspension, was this video permanently removed?
My video portrays a wooded scene. The camera slowly zooms in, and after a few seconds, the Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name” begins to play, while the words “patriarchy”, “white supremacy”, and “capitalism” flash on the screen and animated flames creep onto the bottom.
What about this video constitutes “hate speech”? Is it the inclusion of the words “patriarchy” and “white supremacy”, which describe the systemic oppression of women and people of color, especially by white men? Is it the inclusion of the song, whose lyrics condemn police violence? Who exactly does this video “attack or incite violence against,” in the words of TikTok’s policy?
It is clear to me that someone who saw the video didn’t appreciate me naming patriarchy and white supremacy. Perhaps they took those words as an attack on their whiteness or maleness. But discomfort with words does not equal an attack. Naming harm caused does not threaten people with harm.
Clearly, this is a minor incident. Removing a video from my TikTok account with all of 11 followers does not hugely infringe on me or my insignificant audience. But it represents an attitude that has been growing more and more prevalent.
This attitude aspires to “color blindness”. This attitude claims that “reverse racism” exists. This attitude promotes our supposedly “post-racial” society, which allegedly disregarded racism with the legislation and social change of the 1960s. This attitude ignores all of the disparities in wealth, income, health outcomes, educational attainment, and so many other social factors between people of different racial groups, or if it must confront those disparities, it blames them on some character flaw inherent to Black and Latinx people. This attitude writes off any dialogue about race as irrelevant. Or, as with my TikTok video, this attitude describes any statement mentioning race or calling out racism as racist itself. This attitude conveniently cuts off our ability to speak about, write about, or in any way address racist actions, attitudes, and policies.
We must push back against this attitude. Regardless of when or how often it is wielded against us, we must recognize and call attention to racism — overt or covert, explicit or implicit, interpersonal or systemic. I will continue to create videos, post articles, and write essays — however many or few people see them — that direct our attention to the racism among us. I will continue to speak out in my work, in my friendships, and in my family. I will push myself to go further and do more, regardless of who sends the misguided message that I am spreading hate by doing so. In fact, I am spreading the antiracist message of love. Not the love that says that we will all magically set aside our differences and become one people, but the love that says that we must care for one another because of our common humanity.
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