‘Angry white male’ not abusive, says Human Rights CommissionNovember 30, 2016
The Human Rights Commission has given short shrift to a section 18C complaint by Senator David Leyonhjelm after he was described by a journalist as an “angry white male” with “the empathy of a Besser block”.
Senator Leyonhjelm, who has said he was not offended by Fairfax Media political reporter Mark Kenny’s August 9 article, filed the complaint to highlight what he regards as the absurdity of a law that makes it unlawful to offend or cause hurt feelings.
His complaint stated that as he had been referred to as gormless, a rank apologist for the resentment industry, boorish, supercilious, a hate-speech apologist, wacky, a self-promoting misanthrope and a practitioner of infantile reasoning, with these characteristics linked to him being an “angry white male”, Kenny had breached section 18C.
Senator Leyonhjelm complained that the article was “reasonably likely” to offend or insult some white males.
The article came after Senator Leyonhjelm, who criticises section 18C as a weapon against free speech, stated: “If you want to take offence, that’s your choice. You have the choice of choosing another feeling. So if you don’t want to be offended, it’s up to you — don’t be offended.” Asked at the time about the article, he said: “I’m only offended by people I respect so it doesn’t make me feel anything.”
Fairfax’s formal response to the commission stated that the article was not motivated by the politician’s race or colour. It urged the commission to dismiss the complaint as vexatious and not made in good faith as it was seeking to use a process, which the senator had publicly criticised, to advance a “political agenda to repeal section 18C”.
A commission investigator, Hyun Joo Lee, has advised Senator Leyonhjelm that it appeared he was not “a person aggrieved”, and was instead seeking an advisory opinion about whether the article met the criteria of section 18C.
“It may be very difficult to argue that the article would have profound and serious effects in relation to white males,” Ms Lee said.
“It appears that the terms ‘boorish’, ‘supercilious’ and ‘know-all with the empathy of a Besser block’ are specifically directed at you rather than at white males in general. The phrase ‘angry white male certitude’ arguably could apply to a broader group of people who you say contain some people who are reasonably likely to be offended.”
Ms Lee cited a previous judgment that the terms “white” and “male” were not terms of abuse or denigration.
In a detailed reply to the commission, Senator Leyonhjelm urged it to continue investigating and asked whether it would be inclined to dismiss the complaint if the article were about “angry black female certitude”.
He said the commission was misinterpreting 18C “in an effort to avoid my case becoming a test as to whether the law means what it says, and whether it seeks to prevent racist speech against white people as well as those who have historically been its victims”.
“My intention, in lodging the complaint, was to show that the law should not exist. Feelings are individual and vary greatly, and should not be the subject of legal intervention,” he said.
“The legislation outlaws insulting and offending on the basis of colour, not blackness. I am not aware of evidence suggesting that white people and black people, on average, have different susceptibilities to insults and offence.”
by HEDLEY THOMAS
First Published in The Australian