Active Listening #4: H8 Speech by David Smooke

Active Listening is a series that unites composers with audiences who care about social justice. The goal of this series is to inspire empathy, educate listeners, and offer steps to actively support each cause. Each composer has chosen to address a social justice issue they feel passionate about, and with each installment, actions which listeners can take are provided.  A new installment of this 10-part performance video and interview series will be released on the first Wednesday of each month through September 2019, featuring works commissioned and performed by pianist Lior Willinger. This project has been funded by an award from the Presser Foundation.

As the title suggests, this Active Listening installment addresses the ever-persistent problem of hate in our communities. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the United States is at all-time high with 1,020 currently operating. They are working relentlessly to infiltrate vulnerable minds through the spread of harmful propaganda which vilifies those with a different skin color, religion, or sexuality from their own.

H8 Speech by David Smooke

Hate has a First Amendment right. That doesn’t mean we have to be passive in dealing with its presence. That same First Amendment right gives us the right and responsibility to take biased incidents seriously and hold people accountable for their words and actions. Free speech means we can overwhelm hate with love and unity.

In H8 Speech, violent turbulence and gentle sweetness compete for supremacy, representing a hypothetical encounter between protestors and counter-protestors. The use of “H8” not only refers to the abbreviated informalities of social media rhetoric but also to the secret, coded language used by hate groups. With “h” being the 8th letter of the alphabet, Neo-Nazi groups use “88” as a shorthand for a despicable utterance: “Heil Hitler.” In the video below, David talks about his love for the First Amendment, the organizations working to protect free speech and combat hate speech, and the importance of seeking unbiased, accurate news.

So what can we do?

David offers the following:

  1. This Community Response Guide from the Southern Poverty Law Center offers comprehensive insight on how to drown out hate with love, acceptance and community.
  2. Check the SPLC list of hate groups to see who is in your area or is actively trying to influence people you know.
  3. Research the sources for all of your information. Check media bias charts to see the agenda of the person telling you information.
  4. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union and to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The ACLU works to protect our right to engage in political discourse without limitation. The SPLC identifies people and organizations whose ideas involve silencing others. The recording of H8 Speech is available on Bandcamp, and all proceeds from the sale of this track will go to support the ACLU and SPLC.
  5. Listen to others. Support their right to speak, but also hold them accountable for the content of their speech.

Free speech, including our art, can be a powerful force for good. With it, we can embrace our differences, promote civility, and stand up for one another.

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