Free speech

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.


8 thoughts on “Free speech

  1. Hear!Hear!
    For one to advocate stopping the uproar of free speech opposing Imus use of free speech-would be to not allow free speech-as well-so, roar on-
    The Rutgers girls have already shown they are bigger than the small minded fellow called Imus who was seeking attention by being outrageous-as always-to get himself noticed-but instead he has brought notice to their finer attributes-so who won? Rutger’s Ladies have. Thanks Imus-we would never have known these young ladies were so fine-

  2. My sentiments EXACTLY… I agree with every word down to your disappointment of who he MAY be from the bio and whether or not he really is Black. Also, I never did have very much respect in the NAACP due a a personal incident with them that began with the wrongful death of my father and ended up with the advancement of the lawyer who presided over the case… NAACP lawyer. I hate that group down to its very core. They are NOT who they once were nor who they claim to be.

  3. Bob Herbert of the New York Times had this to say:

    The crucial issue goes well beyond Don Imus’s pathetically infantile behavior. The real question is whether this controversy is loud enough to shock Americans at long last into the realization of just how profoundly racist and sexist the culture is.

    International law has this to say, specifically Article20(2) of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

  4. Btw did you see this clunker of a quote from Imu’s producer?

    in an interview with The New York Times in May 2000 he defended the breadth of the show’s humor, even if some blacks in particular might be offended in the process.

    “It’s meant to be descriptive, not pejorative,” he said . “If the N.B.A. were peopled by a bunch of Romanians, we’d be making fun of Romanians. To not satirize someone just because of their race, I think that would be patronizing and racist in itself.”

  5. Pingback: links for 2007-04-13 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  6. Some of the defenders of Imus are so pathetic it’s almost funny. That’s what happens when you try to defend somethng that’s indefensible.

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