Last week, a study out of UCLA reported some disturbing findings about hate speech against Latinos. The legal definition of hate speech is communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence.
In a similar vein, it has also been defined as speech that creates a climate of hate or prejudice, which may in turn foster the commission of hate crimes (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993). People are thus protected (to some extent) from hate speech because words have the potential to incite real harm.
Hate crimes – especially crimes based on racial hatred – are on the rise. Hate crimes against Latinos, in particular, increased 25 percent between 2004 and 2008 and at a higher rate than those committed against other racial/ethnic groups. In response to these alarming trends, UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center conducted a study of hate speech in Los Angeles County talk radio programs. They chose Los Angeles County because it is not only the most populous county in the United States, but also because nearly half of the county’s population are Latinos. They examined the content of three conservative talk radio shows, which together account for 91 percent of total talk radio weekday programming – The John & Ken Show, The Lou Dobbs Show: Mr. Independent, and The Savage Nation.
What they found is that these shows disproportionately targeted Latino, Mexican and immigrant groups. They categorized the hate speech into different categories including:
Targeted statements: These remarks targeted “vulnerable” groups (two thirds of whom were Latinos, undocumented immigrants, and people of color in public office), and called for action against these groups or against their supporters. Instances included numerous references to “illegal aliens” and one remark about “throat cutters from the Middle East.”
Excerpt: Business can be leaders, in this society of ours, or they can be the bad guys. These illegal employers or illegal aliens are the bad guys.
Unsubstantiated claims: These were false, unverifiable, and/or distorted claims. John & Ken, for example, had only a 55 percent accuracy rate and many of these claims were about immigrant groups. A number of unsubstantiated claims were used to portray poor Latino communities as violent or unworthy of support.
Excerpt: South L.A., poor people, they don’t care what they look like.
The Mexican diet is what’s shot up the obesity rates in Los Angeles.
Divisive language: Word choice figured prominently in this analysis. In particular, the researchers examined how language created an ‘us’ vs. ‘them‘ position.
Excerpt: We’re losing our jobs.
You know, you could offer them a veggie panini sandwich, and they’re going to look at you like you dropped from Mars.… I don’t know how much of these areas are now taken over by the Mexicans, but, you know, good luck.
There has recently been a campaign to take John & Ken off the air after the show provided the personal phone number of a Latino rights activist on the air. When popular media can generate so much negative discourse about certain minority groups, it is the responsibility of media consumers to demand better.