Monday, 16 June 2014
On the criminalization of offensive language in private conversation (aka the 'Sterling' effect) through the eyes of a Nigerian
I believe that in Nigeria, we are lucky not to have the politics of the 'other', a situation that implies the complete objectification of another group to help to get the primary group to a mental state that will permit the oppression of the 'other' without moral repugnance. There is constant use of 'othering' in race, gender and identity politics. In societies where this othering has formed part of the societal landscape e.g. the USA and slavery, there have been attempts made to 'unother' the 'other.' To do this attitudes have to be changed. Attitudes that 'other' are frowned upon and punished in various ways. But what is the content of the subject of punishment? In this case, its racism... a racist is punished to either cause him/her to change or to exhibit to others that such attitudes are repugnant to society. Now if we examine this clearly, we realise that what is being punished, i.e. the being racist, is a state of mind. A state of mind is a fact, but it is a fact that is impossible to prove. The only way to prove it is my words spoken in private or in public. Now the truth of the matter and the problem rightly identified by many, is that in themselves words are not racist. Furthermore, a true racist is unlikely to use such terms in public as he/she is well aware of his own racist nature and will not want to advertise it. Therefore, we are left with the fact that an attitude/state of mind can only be punished and proven by statements - and that should not be conclusive proof. Depending on which society you live in, this will apply to race, gender, lifestyle, ethnicity, religion etc. My position therefore is this, racism, misogyny and intolerance of ANY kind is unacceptable. The purpose of punishments is to change people’s attitudes so the evidence will of necessity limit a person’s freedom of thought. The other option will be to allow people to continue in these attitudes and situations such as the Holocaust, Slavery, Genocide, Apartheid, Jim Crow, will occur unchecked. Because it is the IDEOLOGY that lives on in these events; the names my change, but its evil spirit lives on, stubbornly refusing to die, despite our resolute insistence that we live in a post-racial, degendered, multi-cultural world.
If I had to choose, I would prefer to curtail my talk in public and in private and give a rethink to my attitudes about groups I would naturally 'other' for whatever reason than to live in a world in which 20 million people would be stolen, subject to the horrendous Middle Passage, used as livestock and sexual objects, tortured and raped, their offspring though free persistently subject to degradation, discrimination and humiliation. This does not mean that I think it is a perfect solution, I just think it is the one we have for now. Any maybe one day, evil othering ideology will cease to be. We can always dream, can't we?