What is Hate Speech?

Hate speech consists of verbal and nonverbal expression that is used to demean, oppress, or promote violence against someone on the basis of their membership in a social or ethnic group.  Hate speech involves more than simply indicating that you dislike someone.  It also is different than simply teasing or ridiculing someone, or shouting an ugly word at them in a single moment of anger or frustration. 

In many cases, hate speech is created by people who are part of a majority population.  Their messages typically are directed toward people who are part of a minority population.  The targets of hate speech are chosen just because they belong to that particular group of people.  The messages of hate also are designed to degrade or otherwise harm these targets for the same reason. 

What are some examples of Hate Speech?

  • Racist cartoons
  • Anti-Semitic symbols spray painted on the side of a synagogue
  • Ethnic slurs or other derogatory labels for a group
  • Burning a cross in the yard of an ethnic minority
  • Politically incorrect jokes that target the disabled or the aged
  • Sexist statements
  • Anti-gay protest signs and chants

Who can become a Target of Hate Speech?

Just about anyone can be a target of hate speech.  Some people might become targets because they are of a particular race, nationality, or religion.  Other people could be targeted because they are disabled in some way, or because of their gender, age, or sexual orientation.

For More Information About Hate Speech, See:

  • Tsesis, A. (2002). Destructive messages: How hate speech paves the way for harmful social movements. New York: New York University Press.
  • Walker, S. (1994). Hate Speech: The history of an American controversy. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska.
  • Whillock, R. K., & Slayden (Eds.). (1995). Hate Speech. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.
  • Valentine, T. M. (2004). Language and prejudice. New York: Pearson Education.



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