Innocent or Guilty? Galliano’s Communicated Stereotypes In French Court

September 8th, 2011 | Categories: Religion

Today CNN sent out this CNN Breaking News report.

“Flamboyant fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty Thursday in a French court on charges of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe. He has been fined 6,000 euros but has not been sentenced to prison time. One symbolic euro has been awarded to each plaintiff.

Galliano, who was fired by fashion giant Christian Dior in March after a video surfaced showing him praising Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, testified when the trial opened in June that drugs were to blame.”

I’ve been following the Galliano story since I added a video clip of Galliano’s rant to the Celebrity Gallery. The announcement of the verdict in his case raises a question of interest. Who determines when a person is communicating a stereotype innocently (i.e., not considered a criminal action) or in a way worthy of a guilty verdict (i.e., considered a criminal action)?

In some ways the answer to this question depends upon whose standards are used. For example, according to Brookings, France
–”targets virtually no policies directly at racial or ethnic groups”
–”bans hate speech, making racial defamation and provocation to racial hatred or violence punishable by criminal law.”
–”collects no census or other data on the race (or ethnicity) of its citizens.”
–”ban[s] groups that seek to promote racism.”
–”banned the collection and computerized storage of race-based data without the express consent of the interviewees or a waiver by a state committee.”
– “incorporated a ban on Holocaust denial into its hate speech provisions.”

So with these types of laws in place it’s clear that Galliano is guilty in France according to French law.

But communicating stereotypes is more complicated than these official policies and their enforcement would have you believe. Consider that these laws do not exist in the United States. Instead, the laws in the US would protect the rights to engage in these behaviors arguing for the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly as well as policies like affirmative action. Galliano would certainly be innocent in the United States under US law.

Moreover, if you are American you may take pity on Galliano because
–his intent, it seems, was not racist. Galliano argued he is not a racist and that “they are not views that I hold or believe in.”
–of the unfortunate situation in which he was overworked and using alcohol and other drugs as a tension release.
–of his addiction to alcohol, Valium, and sleeping pills.
–his father and close associate had both recently passed away.
–he was a man pushed to the edge because of the culmination of all of these issues.

Because of the distinction between a French and American way of viewing a communicated stereotype like Galliano’s, there is a unique opportunity to peek into the constructed nature of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth. There is no right, ideal, or best way to determine whether a stereotype is wrong to communicate. Instead it seems dependent on the laws and policies related to these issues, those who uphold these, and those who report violations of these to the authorities.

So where does that leave the average person who wants to know whether communicating a stereotype in France will be considered an innocent comment or something more serious enough to report to an authority?

Well, from a social construction perspective, the meaning attributed to a communicated stereotype has nothing to do with the stereotyper’s personal issues or governmental policies and laws. Instead, it has everything to do with how others in the conversation responded to you when you communicated that stereotype. If you communicate a stereotype and those around you laugh, it’s socially constructed as a joke. If you communicate a stereotype and those around you call you a racist, guess what? You’re a racist.

Is Galliano innocent or guilty? Guilty. Because that is the meaning the people in the conversation gave to his behavior. So, if you are going to communicate racist, homophobic, sexist, and so forth comments, make sure, unlike Galliano, that you are as certain as possible that all of those around you are willing to respond in a way that says communicating that stereotype was a good idea. If not, at the very least be sure to stay out of France.

Be Sociable, Share!
No comments yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.