This Washington Post piece has so many problems that I don’t even know where to start. It is a flawed free speech defense of Don Imus’ racist spew. Like so many other defenders of reprehensible speech, the writer makes a number of errors:
- Shutting down offensive speech does not “advance the dialogue about racism or sexism.” No, shutting down offensive speech sends a clear message that racism and sexism are not to be tolerated. It does not shut down dialogue. But it does assist in assuring that thoughful, rational discourse can take place. If you don’t believe that the dialogue about racism or sexism can be maintained without using slurs, then I don’t know what to say.
- Firing Imus would be a step towards destroying “our culture of free speech.” The First Amendment was intended to protect individuals from censure by the government. If “pressure groups” are able to persuade MSNBC to fire Imus, he will not be deprived of free speech. He will, however, lose a platform to spew his ignorance.
- Imus is no different from “haters on black talk radio who regularly praise and play Louis Farrakhan tapes.” I am not aware of any black talk radio haters who have the audience Imus does. And I’m not living in a culture of Black Supremacy, either. But in any event, I don’t subscribe to the idea that “they do it, so we can do it too.”
- “If we prize freedom, we should let the radio talkers talk.” I believe that this tends to indicate how free speech is privileged over discussions of racism. I prize freedom. Nobody is talking about taking away Imus’ freedom. But I prize civility and rational discourse as well. What I do not prize is the systemic reinforcement of white supremacy and the ways in which supremacy is reinforced and validated.
- “There is no captive, fragile audience or hostile environment such as the workplace or schoolhouse to worry about.” Use of the word “fragile” seems to be another form of accusing people of oversensitivity. And I guess I could always just turn the radio off. However, turning the radio off does not affect the thousands of people who have the radios on. And that audience makes my country a hostile environment.
There have always been limits on free speech–obscenity, libel and consumer affairs come to mind. So the courts have recognized that not all speech is protected. Arguments have been made that hate speech should not be protected speech–because its intent is to shut down rather than further discourse.
Also, what about my free speech? Don’t I have the right to speak out against hate speech? Don’t I have the right to voice my opinion about what should be tolerated in my society? I value freedom. I don’t value racism. So I find it ironic that people use these free speech arguments in an attempt to invalidate my speech.
I was also greatly discouraged to read the brief bio at the end of this piece:
The writer is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and a former assistant national director of the NAACP.
Yes, I know that I shouldn’t expect people of color (or maybe he’s a white guy?) to have a greater understanding of the way white supremacy operates. Oppression functions best when everybody cooperates nicely.