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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jaymes Purdy

Is it Backlash or is it Hate?

How Words Can Conceal and Enable Harm: Article 4


The words Bigotry, intolerance, partisanship, and difference of opinion overlaying the definitions of each and getting progressively bigger with difference of opinion being the largest. bigotry intolerance and partisanship are all crossed out. the definitions read:  A difference of opinion is a simple disagreement between people, which is a normal part of human interaction and discourse. It does not necessarily involve any negativity or hostility.  Partisanship involves strong, sometimes blind allegiance to a particular party, cause, or person. While it can lead to an unwillingness to consider other viewpoints, it is not always hateful or discriminatory in nature.  Intolerance involves an unwillingness or refusal to respect or accept people, opinions or beliefs that differ from one's own. It can manifest as prejudice and may lead to discriminatory actions.  Bigotry is the most severe as it combines intolerance and prejudice with hatred and often leads to discrimination, hostility and even violence towards those perceived as being part of certain groups, often based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other inherent characteristics. Bigotry is fueled by ignorance, fear and a sense of superiority.
A difference of opinion is a simple disagreement between people, which is a normal part of human interaction and discourse. It does not necessarily involve any negativity or hostility. Partisanship involves strong, sometimes blind allegiance to a particular party, cause, or person. While it can lead to an unwillingness to consider other viewpoints, it is not always hateful or discriminatory in nature. Intolerance involves an unwillingness or refusal to respect or accept people, opinions or beliefs that differ from one's own. It can manifest as prejudice and may lead to discriminatory actions. Bigotry is the most severe as it combines intolerance and prejudice with hatred and often leads to discrimination, hostility and even violence towards those perceived as being part of certain groups, often based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other inherent characteristics. Bigotry is fueled by ignorance, fear and a sense of superiority.

One of the most common and insidious forms of minimizing language is the mislabeling of expressions of hate as mere "backlash." To understand why this linguistic sleight of hand is so problematic, it's important to clearly define and differentiate between backlash and hate.


Backlash is a strong negative reaction by a group of people. It often involves public expressions of anger, disagreement, or opposition to a specific event, statement, or policy. Backlash can look like peaceful protest or anger or even calls for boycotts and change.


Hate, on the other hand, goes much further than simply voicing disagreement or opposition. Hate is an active engagement in animosity, discrimination or violence against a person or group based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. It's an extreme expression of prejudice that seeks to demean, dehumanize, or inflict harm on the targets.


Expressions of hate can take many forms, from slurs and name-calling to threats and incitement to bias-motivated violence. The key is that hate singles people out for attack based on their identities. It's not just criticism of ideas, but assault on a person’s fundamental human dignity and equality.


It's important to recognize that while backlash and hate are distinct, backlash can sometimes foster or lead to hate. Anytime a strong public reaction against a marginalized group gains social acceptance and momentum, it risks opening the door to more extreme expressions of prejudice.


The anger and sense of aggrievement fueling the backlash can start to harden into hate if left unchecked. Individuals may feel emboldened to voice increasingly nasty and dehumanizing views. They may start to organize around their shared animosity and scapegoat the marginalized group for a range of social ills. Look around us, we’ve left it unchecked for too long.


However, even if hate sometimes grows out of backlash, we must maintain the distinction between the two. Lumping them together is a form of minimization that downplays the severity of hate. It falsely suggests that vicious bigotry is just an expected, natural extension of public disagreement.


Hate must never be acceptable if we are to be a just society, no matter what spurred it. There's no legitimate public backlash that could ever justify actively promoting discrimination, dehumanization, or violence against marginalized people. Hate is not just another opinion to be debated, but a dangerous assault on core values that must be unequivocally rejected.


So, when an incident of hate occurs, responsible journalists, leaders, and every one of us must identify it accurately and specifically as hate. We must make clear that what is being expressed goes beyond mere backlash into an unacceptable promotion of hate, animosity, and harm. Only by drawing a clear line between the two can we isolate hateful conduct and promote the social norms and accountability essential for an equitable society.


The bottom line is that public anger and disagreement, while uncomfortable, are sometimes unavoidable in a society such as ours. But when backlash crosses the line into hate, it must be immediately called out for what it is. We can allow no linguistic cover or social license for bigotry and dehumanization.


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