TOLERANCE NOT A SOLUTION TO RACISM

2015-09-20 13:35

The Internet and social media has enabled wider dissemination of racist and xenophobic content that has the potential to incite racial hatred and violence. Within that space we find people, under the guise of anonymity, saying things that they would never dare to say in person.

News24 decided to switch off the comments section in its publication purely for this reason. Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Trench, said:

“Each day the tone and substance of many of our comments appear increasingly at odds with the mission of editorial excellence which we have set for ourselves. Many commentators insist on pushing the boundaries of free speech available to us in South Africa. Comments tediously drift towards hate speech at worst and, at best, are often laced with prejudice. Interesting and considered contributions are drowned out by a cacophony of insults from a minority of users. This is not the experience we wish users to have in our home.”

No one can deny that in South Africa today there is much that polarises us, yet walk into a restaurant, a pub, a church, an office and you don’t see us standing there screaming abuse at each other. It does not happen. In physical reality, social mores hold us in line. We respect, or at least pretend to respect, the other humans in our vicinity. This is what tolerance does, it makes you fake respect in front of people to look good. There’s a thick line between loving something and tolerating it.

In the digital world, the rules change simply because you are now hiding from the public and you’re in your own private space being anonymous and finding a clear opportunity to unleash your true colours. A simple article about HIV/AIDS turns into a racial warfare. This democratic dispensation has proven to us that we cannot pass laws and create institutions to dictate the human heart. It is society that must change!

Obviously I agree with the sentimental and liberal solutions of having programmes around social cohesion and nation building. The emphasis is always put on uniting behind a national anthem, symbols and non-partisan public holiday celebrations to honour our past and build a future united in our diversity. But people will not eat symbols and public holidays.

We will only make progress and tangible difference to people when we fully implement the spirit and intent of our Freedom Charter. The hatred,  arrogance and bitterness will fall once people begin to share in the country’s wealth. Racial poverty and structural unemployment must be things of the past. Institutions of higher learning must be open and accessible to everybody irrespective of economic background and must change the family background of its recipients.

These will go a long way in addressing discrimination fundamentally not mere empty & lazy tolerance.

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