Ridden with flesh-deep wounds from years of institutionalized racism, South Africa continues to succumb to a devastating evil: prejudice, in its various incarnations. Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism and more plague nations around the world, yet efforts initiated to address them are often tragically non-existent.
Today in South Africa, there is no mechanism for the reporting or recording of hate crimes. In fact, hate crimes are not defined in any piece of legislature and patterns of violent, prejudice-motivated attacks persist at increasing rates, despite the country’s progressive constitution. Sadly in places across the country, “correctional rape,” store-looting, stoning, stabbing and death threats are used to target and oppress minority groups—none of which involving firearms.
Learning from and reflecting on the conflicting narratives that often silence truth in South Africa, I have been frustrated by a narrative prevalent in social media scenes in the U.S. in response to the June 12 Orlando shooting, in which a terrorist killed 49 people and wounded at least 53. With such a prominent incident, it is pivotal that conversations surrounding the shooting also prioritize the underlying prejudice that motivated the attack.
It is important to clarify that the Orlando shooting should spark a conversation on gun control, especially since the U.S. is in desperate need of greater gun control, and Florida’s notoriously weak gun laws. However, the Orlando shooting must first spark a conversation on racially charged homophobia—a topic that is less likely to be addressed in the future when another gun-related tragedy occurs.
I fear that once this attack is tethered to such a politicized issue, it will be forgotten like the countless other incidents of “poor gun control” in action. For example, Dylan Roof has been indicted for a hate crime involving his murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, and still policy-makers and other government officials refuse to taste a drop of the immense suffering that boils the blood of his attack’s direct and indirect victims. “Conversations” that follow the same series of mourning, public moments of silence, and place minimal emphasis on the actual lives lost, will only ever result in further disappointment. While gun control issues are of utmost importance, Orlando provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to hate crimes against queer community-members of color who are adding these most recent shootings to a litany of similar attacks against their existence.
Intersectional forces were at play with the Orlando shooting, as they often are in South Africa, where a black lesbian woman can be targeted on the grounds of both her race and sexual orientation. These forces, though seemingly too complex for some, demand the greatest of effort in addressing. Black and brown queer individuals are targeted on a daily basis, but that is a narrative the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge when it can so easily buy into the topic of, say, gun laws—neglecting the most fundamental plight of minority queer communities. While recognizing the tangential role of gun control in the context of Orlando does not disqualify gun control as a viable issue requiring media attention, until due diligence is afforded to the stories of LGBT people of color, the social structures that perpetuate said crimes will continue. Minorities in the LGBT community will continue to experience alarming rates of hate violence until social norms change and allies and proclaimed activists alike challenge legal tides.
Though controversial to acknowledge, homophobia as it pertains to racial minority groups has only been on the rise since the prioritization of the needs of mostly affluent, white, cis, gay men, also known as the legalization of same-sex marriage. As best put by writer Jamie J. Hagen, “Within the LGBT population, the poor, people of color and women continue to face economic and racial injustices in addition to discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity—concerns obscured in the pursuit of marriage equality.” The point made in addressing same-sex marriage legalization is not an attempt to disrespect the milestone, but rather to draw attention to the fundamental and systematic neglect of minority groups that face critical overlapping challenges and prejudices. Prejudice is a global phenomenon, and until proper policing methods, expedient judicial responses and above adequate monitoring and reporting mechanisms are implemented, minority groups around the world will continue to share thoughts and prayers in vain.
Specifically in South Africa, despite the nation’s long-standing history of racial turbulence, it is now members of the LGBT community who are facing grave levels of persecution. Notably, in 2013, a Pew survey revealed that 61% of South Africans are opposed to societal acceptance of homosexuality. The U.S., with its disturbingly similar history to South Africa, can perhaps learn a thing or two on the long-term consequences of hate crimes, and the scope of influence our response can have when carefully thought through.
Hate crimes deserve the fullest light of day for the sake of immediate victims and their entire communities. Victims of hate crimes suffer consistently higher levels of psychological distress, and the span of sequential trauma warrants the most specialized of psychological, legislative and policy responses and prioritizations.
There were 6,727 victims of reported hate crimes last year in the U.S. Contrarily, in South Africa and many other countries, no such database exists to collect those statistics. However, as with every single corner of the globe where prejudice irrationally informs perpetrators, action must be taken to reform both society and our political institutions.
There is much "privileged to be checked" in discussing these issues, particularly if tangential issues are to be brought up given the influence our various backgrounds can have on what we perceive to be a prejudiced attack. Beware of the narratives you receive, take time to digest the intersectional forces at hand and contextualize this most recent attack in a history of subjugated minority groups worldwide. Ending prejudice is a global effort, but it begins with everyday people, you and me.
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Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.