A VIDEO resurfaced last week from Police Scotland’s campaign featuring the parasitic “Hate Monster”. The monster lurks inside us all apparently, waiting for feelings of insecurity or inadequacy to rise within us so it can feed. Once it’s taken hold of its host, it compels us to attack someone in the chippy or at the bus stop – “and before you know it, you’ve committed a hate crime”.

The ad hasn’t been popular and as an anti-racist activist, I can see why. It seems to suggest that one can accidentally stumble into a hate crime. Worryingly, it implies victimhood of the perpetrators and I have found myself wondering why the wider debate around hate crime seems to do the same.

The context is, of course, the new Hate Crime and Public Order Act. And whether you agree with the bill or not, there is a clear case for increased action. Hate crime is on the rise, with the number of incidents doubling in the past five years and that’s just the ones that are reported. The bill extends protections afforded to racial minorities since 1987 to more groups protected under the Equality Act. What to many would seem a logical next step has sparked massive controversy.

For the bill’s opponents, it all comes down to a debate about the right to offend and the dangers of police incursion on public conversations. I too am sceptical about increased police powers given the police have been implicated in the oppression of minority communities since their founding. However, the debate for me highlights our collective naivety about the rise of far-right activity and our inability to link so-called harmless truth-telling debate with real violence. In short, our inability to accurately define the “Hate Monster”.

READ MORE: Inside the hate crime law protest at the Scottish Parliament

Unsurprisingly, this last week, the bill’s opponents have made a racket about their fear of persecution from a law that will likely have no effect on them. Prominent right-wingers like Joe Rogan and Laurence Fox have weighed in to condemn the bill and thousands of Twitter/X users have joined them, with much disinformation being shared. Ironically, the most vocal critics seem to be those who are most likely to be supported and believed by the police, while people from minoritised groups are less likely to report crimes perpetrated against them.

They, of course, have the right to oppose the legislation. However, seeing images of protests outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday with attendees mourning over an empty coffin representing free speech showed a flair for the dramatic from the various anti-trans and anti-abortion groups who turned out. They seem deeply concerned about a world where we take their rhetoric seriously and acknowledge its harm.

It reminds us that the right-wing has changed. They no longer want to be thought of as intimidating and dangerous but rather as common-sense heroes embraced into the mainstream. I find myself wondering what happened to the good old-fashioned bigots of yesteryear who wore their hearts on their sleeves and embraced the labels of “racist” and “homophobe”? They were undoubtedly awful, but at least we called them what they were.

The National: Police Scotland has launched a 'Hate Monster' campaign to combat hate crime

For example, I recall the Louis Theroux documentaries about hateful people and their views that I watched growing up. It was a sort of Jeremy Kyle for people who took themselves too seriously with episodes like Louis And The Nazis or Boer Separatists (probably not recommended viewing for a 12-year-old).

Theroux’s interviewees would proudly spew their shocking views on race-mixing and gay rights and I would sit on the sofa and marvel at how people could be so bonkers. They were dangerous people, but these types of programmes lulled many of us into a false sense of security. The caricature-like subjects weren’t in Scotland so they couldn’t hurt us. However, the year I saw my first Louis Theroux Weird Weekend was the same year a boy threw banana skins at me while making monkey noises. It was the beginning of years of similar experiences.

Compared to what I have heard in my years as an anti-racist activist, it was relatively small fry. But it was a realisation that people weren’t going to proudly pre-declare their racism and I would have to learn to be smarter to protect myself. I think it’s about time Police Scotland took a lesson from 12-year-old me and did the same.

How did a 12-year-old decide to liken me to an ape? Was it his in-built hate monster? Perhaps, but he didn’t originate the comparison. Aren’t racist scientists, propagandists and politicians who fuelled a debate about the humanity of Black people more to blame for what happened?

READ MORE: Tories delete ‘bizarre’ campaign poster after widespread ridicule

After all, they were the ones fascinated with measuring skulls. Police Scotland’s campaign doesn’t deal with the real root causes. I’ve felt insecurity many times in my life, but I can’t say it led to me accidentally committing a hate crime. Would it not be more impactful to use the “Hate Monster” to acknowledge the connection between intellectual hatred and violence?

Other minoritised groups that the bill will protect know this link well. For years, there was a debate, carried out by anyone from biologists to behavioural psychologists about whether gay men were dangerous to young boys – which led directly to policies which persecuted gay men en masse. In some cases, they were chemically castrated to reduce the “risk” to society.

Decades later, despite this being proven entirely false, gay men still face false accusations of paedophilia. Let’s look also to the forced institutionalisation and abuse of disabled people, driven by eugenicists who were embraced by the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Winston Churchill. The same slurs now levelled at disabled people were once used with impunity in scientific papers. All of these prominent thinkers told us they were well-meaning and wanted to protect society, but their ideas led to death, torture and erasure of too many.

It's true that things have changed. You are more likely to have such ideas censored in traditional publications now, but the arena has moved, and millions more can tune in to watch. Social media has made it easier than ever for the far-right to drive debate.

The National:

All while social media companies fail to moderate hate speech. Free speech is an important value that I believe in, but we cannot presume innocent intent from all online bigots who are being stirred up by huge far-right influencers. One only need look at Elon Musk’s Twitter/X profile to see dangerous antisemitic ideas being courted by the powerful.

Police Scotland’s ad feels unmistakably targeted at working-class Scots, evoking crass stereotypes. It’s true that your local nightclub’s doorman is likely to face abuse but why not mention the theatre, the lecture hall or the boardroom too?

The reality in Scotland is that the conditions that feed the THate Monster” aren’t just created in the queue for a battered sausage but by the wealthy and powerful. If our discourse fails to recognise this, minority groups will remain unprotected from rising violence.

Ndaye Lisa Badji-Churchill is an anti-racist activist and policy consultant and head of advocacy at Intercultural Youth Scotland. She co-chairs the Racism and Racist Incidents subgroup as part of the Scottish Government’s Anti-Racism in Education Programme and is a member of the design advisory group for the Anti-Racism Observatory for Scotland. She also works with Black Girls Hike CIC. 

This article is part of a partnership with Pass The Mic, a national programme to amplify the expertise of women of colour in Scotland