/ 10 January 2021

Words matter and have consequences

The US Capitol buildings were stormed by a mob of Trump supporters on 6 January 2020

In a 16 December 2020 Mail & Guardian article titled Democracy at Risk, my colleagues and I raised the alarm about the fragility of democracy and the threat of violence in the United States. The dangerous and unprecedented events in Washington DC on 6 January show us that words matter and have consequences. What started with words of hate, ended with violence and threats to democracy. Auschwitz survivor Max Eisen warned: “It all began with words.” 

We should be learning from the past, from genocide in the 20th century, to internalise the consequences of hate speech.  We hope the harrowing events in the Capitol were the beginning of the end of the assault on democracy. It is our role to be part of the solution.  Education, dialogue and lessons for humanity, focusing on human rights and warning of the dangers of indifference, apathy and silence, should encourage us all to be an active voice against instances of hate speech and related human rights violations everywhere.