I thought I might republish the article I wrote a few months back for The Guardian that was published on Tuesday 29th April 2014. Here is the link to the original if you wanted to read the 353 comments in response to it. This was before the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 were scrapped. I'm so thankful they were. I hope you enjoy and feel free to let me know what you think.
Everyone deserves the right to be free from discrimination. There is no place in our community for hateful, shaming, denigrating, humiliating and intimidating speech. It’s just not on, and I’m not sure how we arrived at a destination where some believe that this type of behavior is acceptable, or even an absolute right.
Whenever someone is granted his or her rights, someone else always has to lose theirs. This is true when we talk about the racial discrimination act (RDA). Yes, the RDA protects people and groups against the above type of abuse and I fully believe that this is their right. And yes, on the flipside, other people will have their right to be viscously bigoted removed, but surely this is a good thing in a world where people are fragile, sensitive, lonely, isolated and where minority groups abound; a world where bullying and suicide is an everyday occurrence and a huge problem. Not everyone has a thick skin, nor should they have to. With all this in mind, if we make the right to deeply hurt others a priority, what is that really saying about us as a whole?
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in our community to discuss anything controversial or offensive. There absolutely is. It’s just that we need to consider how we go about it. Many people talk, write, publish, share, perform, make art and debate on subjects that are difficult and uncomfortable every day, but they do it in a way that doesn’t offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate others, and lead them to federal court. In fact, if you read beyond Section 18C of the RDA you find that in 18D, there is provision for free speech on matters of race, as long as it is done "reasonably and in good faith" in practically any public situation, and that it is a "fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest".
To go beyond this, to contravene the RDA as it currently stands requires that you do much more than just publically present or discuss something racially offensive or controversial. This could include being factually inaccurate, distributing misleading and deceptive content, mentally or physically abusing those being discriminated against, reducing or removing the esteem or social standing of those people, influencing others to believe or condone the wrongdoing being perpetuated, and of course being racially prejudiced in all of that.
It is imperative that those on the receiving end of this type of discrimination have a way to protect themselves and achieve some sort of vindication publically via the judicial system. This is a system that provides a protected and safe avenue for those who cannot speak for themselves and ensures justice for those being crushed.
There is free speech, and then there is the responsibility we all share as decent human beings not to savagely hurt others or incite hatred within the community. I believe we should be able to express offensive views, but feel that care needs to be taken that they are not misinformed, exaggerated and vicious. As a community we need to show and take responsibility for each other, not just ourselves and our loved ones, but the broader community as a whole.
Discrimination of any sort is just plain wrong. From personal experience, I’ve spent much time in tears, not wanting to leave the house, avoiding being in public and feeling a dark cloud of shame hanging over me. This is not because I felt as though what was said contained any truth, but because I’m a sensitive woman who wears her heart on her sleeve and who has found it very difficult to reconcile what is being said about me with who I truly am. Through the broad and powerful influence of public humiliation and discrimination, I’ve lost friends, acquaintances, community standing and professional opportunities. All this has left a scar in my life. The worst part of this is that the discrimination has come from people who have never once met me, talked to me, talked to anyone who knows me, or even tried to make any sort of contact with me at all.
But please note that is about more than just protecting people from hurt feelings. If you tried to take someone to court with "hurt feelings" as your pretense, I doubt you would get very far. These court cases take years, require rigorous investigation and need to be more than just a public discussion or presentation of something offensive (see section 18D). In fact, when read as a whole, the RDA does not restrict the airing of unpopular or unsavoury ideas but encourages them while protecting the community – particularly the vulnerable – from people taking these ideas to the extreme.
We only have one very short life. Do we really want to spend our time hardening our hearts and hating on each other? Is this the legacy we want to leave the next generations? Will we be grateful at the end of our lives that we spent our time spewing forth so much hate and hurt? Is all of this motivated by fear? Pride? These are very harmful and damaging things. However, to live a life where loving others is a priority, whether they measure up or not, and where sacrifice is a goal and compassion a valued quality, is the kind of life that leaves a heartfelt and genuinely important legacy.
It’s all about the heart, for out of a person’s heart flows his whole life.