Recently a San Francisco-based writer, Sarah Slocum, wore her Google Glass into a bar. Two women approached her. Cursing they ripped the wearable technology from her face. Slocum posted about the incident on her Facebook page where she called it a “hate crime.” Reaction to her posting has been all over the continuum — from hostile to dismissive. Newser’s Matt Cantor called Slocum a “Glasshole” and New York Magazine’s Adam Martin termed it a hysterical discussion of stupidity that happens on a “drunken night you would want to forget.”
Some feel the rhetoric ignores the overall social context of Slocum’s attack. Maybe choosing to wear Google Glass can feel like an identity, especially for someone who doesn’t have much of an identity. It could be a way to make you feel like you’re part of the in-group and finally get to set at the “cool table” in the high school lunchroom. With a price tag of $1,500 it does same something about where the wearer feels their place in life is. It would be easy to see how the unidentifiable identity would lead to the “victim” terming assault a hate crime.
Beyond that though, calling something a hate crime adds a certain feel of violation to the assault. People often call things hate crimes when they aren’t. Getting mugged isn’t that rare, but it’s not a hate crime. Being a victim of a hate crime is very rare — especially if you’re see as an affluent white person. Our justice systems centers on perpetrators, not victims. It’s impossible for a justice system to help someone focus on restoring a sense of safety after being attacked, regardless of the reason. At the end of the day, maybe calling someone’s experience a hate crime is just a way to gather sympathy that might otherwise go lacking.
The term “hate crime” doesn’t mean that the person was attacked by someone who hated them as a person. It just means the attack was done with the intent of hurting a person who is part of a social group who historically has been subjected to stigma, prejudice and discrimination.
Do Google Glass wearers fit into the category of people who have been subjected to stigma and prejudice? The answer is plainly, no, they do not. A Google Glass wearer has not been denied rights by other people. A Google Glass wearer doesn’t suffer from poverty or abuse. They aren’t even usually considered to be inappropriate as friends, partners or employees. A Google Glass wearer isn’t profiled by the police for unlawful searches and seizures. A Google Glass wearer isn’t given a tougher sentence than someone else for committing the same crime. While people who are labeled “nerds” do experience bullying and finding themselves the target of ridicule, so are people that have red hair or whose name sounds funny.
So while the assault Slocum went through was probably not a hate crime, that doesn’t mean that there’s no social context to it. Her attackers may have seen her as an “elitist” or member of the tech “cool kids club.” While it’s not a reason to assault someone, many in Slocum’s station in life are being seen as the bad guys for being able to afford more and driving out people who can’t.
In an ideal world, room could be found for sympathy for Slocum, and her Google Glass, as well as criticism of her claim that it was a “hate crime.” Slocum’s lack of knowledge when it comes to sociology — as well as tech-related etiquette — doesn’t make her experience any less scary.
Editorial by Jerry Nelson