Racial, Ethnic, and Homophobic Violence: Killing in the Name of Otherness

By Michel Prum; Bénédicte Deschamps et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Hate-motivated violence is now deemed a ‘serious national problem’ in most Western societies.1 In the last decade, laws against racial hatred have been widely debated in Britain, Australia and the United States, as punishing hate crimes is being increasingly viewed as a priority on the agenda. Yet what is a hate crime? The legal definition used by the United States House of Representatives is that a hate crime is ‘a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or, in the case of property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person’.2 However recent scholarship has challenged that definition, by introducing a new approach not based solely on the motivation of perpetrators, but also on the consequences such crimes may have on their victims. The additional harm to the individual victim and to society at large, in terms of tensions being created between communities, has been explored.3 As hate crime ‘constitutes a threat of more violence to minority group members’, it sends out a message of terror to the members of the victim’s group, what Paul Iganski calls the ‘in terrorem effect’.4 Sociologist Kathleen M. Blee thus emphasises the limitation of a narrow intent-oriented definition which leaves ‘little analytic room to consider whether violence can be about establishing race rather than being an effect of preformed racial categories.’5 In fact, depriving a selected victim of their rights to life or property is the very act by which the injured party is constructed as Other and thus ontologised. ‘Call your dog a name and drown it’, the proverb goes. Naming and killing often are indeed two sides of the same coin. Naming the Other is often a way of obliterating their identity as a professional, a citizen, a member of the family, whether on the terraces at football matches or in the confines of a police custody suite.6 This metaphorical murder of people who are marginalised by mainstream society boils down to an exclusion that can be felt by the victim as complete annihilation, and understood by other potential offenders as a call for bloodshed.

The aim of this book is to study the mechanisms that lead men and women, institutions and governments, to single out groups of individuals whom they

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