Letter to the Editor: Breaking down Harreld’s skewed perception of hate speech

UI President Bruce Harreld -- photo by Adam Burke
UI President Bruce Harreld — photo by Adam Burke

The Daily Iowan recently interviewed Bruce Harreld and posed a question about hate speech. Harreld replied that the university would not be looking to take any policy stances about hate speech, even saying that “sometimes hate speech for one person is love speech for somebody else.” He went on to conflate hate speech with the fact that people ask him hard questions and he feels hated. The problems here are numerous.

Let’s begin with the fact that the Daily Iowan was timely in asking these questions, though they were not aware of it. The prior Saturday an alleged hate crime occurred on campus. Marcus Owens was assaulted on Saturday, Apr. 30, and the attack was clearly motivated by race. His three attackers, all white, repeatedly called him the n-word during the assault. Owens would report the crime on Monday night, and the Daily Iowan interviewed Harreld the following day. And yet, the crime was not made known to the broader university community until shortly before noon on that Wednesday, thirty-six hours after the crime was first reported to campus police and then to city police after the campus police refused to act because the assault occurred just off campus. Surely Harreld does not rely on the crime alert emails to learn about campus goings-on. If nothing else, Harreld’s flippant attitude toward hate speech (a key component of the crime) is even more troubling when we consider that he was sitting on the information that an alleged hate crime had occurred within the past few days.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Harreld then turns the question of hate speech into a chance to talk about himself. Hate speech, we ought to remember, is a term for speech that attacks persons based on identity attributes, all of which are legally protected. Among these are race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Harreld describes himself as the victim of speech which “has been hateful” to him, but he is unable to claim that any of this speech attacks him for any aspect of his identity. What people seem to hate about Harreld is not his identity, but the cronyism inherent in his hiring and his remarkably tone-deaf remarks. This is the difference between hateful speech and big H Hate speech. Harreld is not encountering the latter, and is easily confused about the difference.

But I think I can make the difference clearer as well as elaborate on Harreld’s point about love speech. Harreld’s almost right that hate speech for one is sometimes love speech for another. Hate speech is never love speech toward the receiver of the speech, toward the person being hated. Hate speech is love speech for the hater, love speech for the speaker. Hate speech is love speech for bigots. Bigots are the ones who feel the love, who feel a sense of solidarity over speaking hate speech. Hate speech strengthens bigotry, and can become quite physically violent as well, as Marcus Owens can attest. Harreld does not wish to enact policy regarding hate speech, but that only allows the bigoted love fest to grow. Or fester.

Ed. Note: A May 16 report from the City of Iowa City revealed new details that called into question Owens’ initial account of what transpired on April 30. Although the full details of what happened remain unknown, what is known is that this case will be taken by many as an opportunity to discredit victims, derail discussion and distract from critical conversations about personal safety and racial justice in our community. It is important that we, as a community, avoid this impulse, regardless of what occurred during this singular incident.

Written by Spenser Santos, Recording Officer for COGS. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 199.

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