Hate crime and identity politics

Published date01 November 2002
Date01 November 2002
AuthorBarbara Perry
Subject MatterArticles
Hate crime and identity politics
Northern Arizona University, USA
Jacobs and Potter’s work is a unique entry into the debate on hate crime. It
injects a much needed note of scepticism into the ongoing march toward
what Jenness and Grattet (2001) characterize as homogenization, elabora-
tion and domain expansion in hate crime policies. We have come a long
way in just two decades in terms of the extent to which hate crime has
become entrenched as a legal construct. Jacobs and Potter are right to
encourage us to be a little more reflective before forging ahead any further.
In this sense, I welcome their intervention and especially their caveats about
the nature and potential consequences of hate crime legislation. Scholars,
activists, policymakers and practitioners should explicitly consider each of
the questions that Jacobs and Potter raise. However, they should seek their
own answers to these questions rather than rely on the nay-saying ap-
proach favoured in Hate Crime: Criminal Law and Identity Politics.
This work raises a number of serious reservations about the utility and
potential impact of hate crime as a legal concept. I would identify the most
salient as follows: the complexity of defining prejudice and establishing
motive; the complexity of deciding what classes of conduct and victim to
include; the illegitimate construction of a hate crime ‘epidemic’ that
underlies the creation of hate crime legislation; that hate crime invokes
identity politics; the futility, and potential unconstitutionality, of punishing
‘hate’; the difficulty of enforcing hate crime legislation; and that hate crime
legislation balkanizes society.
While I take issue with most of the arguments the authors develop, space
does not permit a review of each of these concerns. Instead, I opt to
respond to two interconnected themes: the embeddedness of ‘identity
politics’ in the construction of hate crime; and the contention that hate
crime legislation is divisive. I refer to these as interconnected because
Jacobs and Potter’s analysis suggests that it is the illegitimate insertion of
Theoretical Criminology
© 2002 SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks
and New Delhi.
Vol. 6(4): 485–491; 029073

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