Our Opinion: Answer hate speech through our own words and deeds

The violent events in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend shocked and revolted Americans all across the nation, not in the least due to the virulence of the hatred expressed by those who have been variously described as white nationalists, the alt-right, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and by other labels. Anyone who believes, however, that the festering sentiments motivating that torch-bearing horde are confined to Charlottesville, or even to the South, is being dangerously naive.

There have always existed among us disaffected individuals who have embraced the easy rationale that those of races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities and sexual orientations different from their own are the root causes of their grievances. Here in Massachusetts, a group called Boston Free Speech is organizing a rally to be held tomorrow on Boston Common. Prudent state and city authorities, with the cooperation of the FBI, are preparing contingency plans to protect public and property safety and prevent violence like that marring Charlottesville from recurring. This group's right to express its repugnant views — in fact, one might as easily label it "Boston Free Hate Speech" — is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is necessarily blind to the content of such speech. "Necessarily," because driving hate speech's toxic message underground by banning it, where it is allowed to fester, is not the solution to eradicating the cancer. It is only by allowing the snake of prejudice to rear its head publicly that we may see it as the threat it is and confront it as a people dedicated to the principles of equality and human dignity.

Probably the quickest way to discourage this upsurge in public demonstrations of divisiveness and hatred would be to starve the demonstrators of the attention they crave, and ignore them. Their movement would quite possibly fizzle from lack of interest. In the Information Age, however, that is not a practical solution. Hate groups have shown themselves to be sophisticated manipulators of all media — especially the internet and social media where the bitter and the ignorant can be readily appealed to en masse. A more effective and permanent remedy is to inoculate communities against the sickness before it has a chance to grow within them, by strengthening the bonds that draw all citizens together, and by teaching their children from the earliest age that our differences ought to be embraced and thought of as a source of strength, rather than a debility.

Here in Berkshire County, our leaders — political, civic and religious — are doing just that. Many understand that remaining passive and mute in the face of such potentially destructive forces is tantamount to encouraging them. Prejudice grows quietly in the shadows, and can emerge as a fully-developed, intractable and permanent problem if not addressed in its early stages. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, for example, said that "the antidote to what we are seeing nationally is right where we live. Pittsfield, she said, must be a city that "nurtures and celebrates diversity however it shows up." (Eagle, August 17). Members of the clergy are preaching that anyone who believes himself to be superior to another individual because of his race is an insult to the one who created all things.

In the absence of the moral guidance from our national leaders the nation used to be able to count upon, it is left to local ones, as well as individuals, to step up and create a climate where intolerance will be unable to flourish. It is not an easy task, and the natural tendency in most of us is to turn away and not get involved. But active, relentless involvement is the only way this scourge can be stopped.

We must call out prejudice wherever and whenever we see it if we value our communities, our friends, our loved ones and fellow residents. It is in localities all over America, like Berkshire County, that our nation will be freed of this stain, and by acts, large and small, of kindness, compassion and inclusiveness. It isn't only the right thing for us to do, it's a matter of survival.


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