02 May 2012

Prophecies Of Hate On The Campus Walls?

Last night, a friend told me that there has been a rash of "hate" graffiti on the campus where she teaches.  Most of it has been anti-Semitic, but there have been scrawlings against gays and other groups of people.

Based on my own none-too-scientific observations, I'd say that there's more such graffiti, and it's in a greater number of places, than there was a few years ago.  I wouldn't say there's more graffiti overall, although I have seen it return to the subways after an absence of nearly two decades.  However, the kinds of graffiti I'm seeing give me pause.

In Sounds of Silence, Paul Simon wrote, "The voices of the prophets are written on the subway walls."  In other words, graffiti is often an echo of what people will say when they're not in "polite" company.  While I won't venture an opinion as to whether more people are prejudiced, or whether people are becoming more prejudiced, I think that current conditions are causing some people to murmur, if not say out loud, what they've been thinking.

For all that we hear about "tolerance," it's the people who feel more or less secure that express acceptance of people different from themselves.  In other words, it's the people who haven't slipped into the underclass, whose jobs haven't been outsourced or made redundant.  And they're the same people who can rely on their social and professional networks if things get a little rough.

However, there are whole communities that are being displaced, even in this so-called economic recovery.  In previous economic upheavals, it was mostly the unskilled and semi-skilled workers who lost their jobs and never got them back.  Now we're seeing professionals and managers exhausting their unemployment benefits without getting new jobs.  And the industries in which they worked are disappearing--or moving to other countries, or online--in much the same way the steel industry all but vanished during the past three decades.

According to Bob Marley, "a hungry man is an angry man." People--particularly men who were conditioned to expect a well-paying job--fester with resentment when they lose what they believe to be their rightful place in society and the economy.  Too often, that resentment turns into hatred and violence against members of "minority" groups, who are seen as privileged.  All it takes for that hatred and anger to turn into a full-blown pogrom is a fiery, charismatic leader.  What I am describing, of course, happened in Nazi Germany:  Hitler channeled the misery and desperation of people whose lives were ravaged by hyperinflation and a worldwide depression by scapegoating Jews, Gypsies, gays and other marginalized groups of people.

It's really disturbing, though, that such hate is being expressed so openly on a college campus.  I often hear students express little or no faith in the future:  They realize that they could end up unemployed, and unemployable, even with a degree.  If they start to feel real despair, and that is channeled into hatred against some group or another, who else will fall prey to the sort of rhetoric that equates prejudice with social justice?

No comments: