Free speech is a luxury. It implies freedom, which we all “technically” have freedom, but there are too many subtexts. For those living in a post-racial fantasy, now is the jarring time to wake up. Black people don’t have free speech, per se – if you are in a position of privilege, free speech is unquestioned and innate. It is part of your identity as a North American. Otherwise, you’re still going to be treated how people like you have treated decades ago, and free speech will endanger your safety. Removing a monument won’t really make a difference in that.
And what is the purpose of free speech? We need to use it for a cause that’s meaningful. Free speech in the media can go two ways – it can be incredibly damaging, and 2017’s version of propaganda (hello, fake news?), or it can incite a fire of revolution, and turn things in the right direction.
Nowadays, free speech is just another form of racism and bullying/hate speech isn’t free speech, as we’ve learned from this election. It never has, and never will be, yet we have neo-nazis and white supremacists galore, toting around their hateful rhetorics and prejudices in a neatly tied package called “Free Speech”, and the ACLU somehow finds an excuse to find this acceptable. It’s not the first time this has happened – in 1978, the ACLU famously came to the defense of a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through Skokie, Illinois. It was a suburb of Chicago that was known for having a large population of Holocaust survivors, making this blind approval even more insane. Oh, and let’s not forget how they fought for our dear Milo Yiannopoulos.
To me, it seems like the main pillar of free speech needs to be listening, instead of talking. Asking “why?” instead of stubbornly pushing out beliefs on others. This will lead to learning, which is the only chance we have as a species to not rip each other apart. My mother is a teacher, and the biggest part of knowing how to teach is knowing how to learn.
Ex-ACLU director Nadine Strossen told Vox.com,”Government may not censor speech because of its viewpoints, but it may censor speech because of its effects.” Wouldn’t we say that the effects have deeply grounded themselves in our society, by this point? At which point were viewpoints and their effects mutually exclusive, when it all spawns from the same toxicity?
When free speech impedes the freedom of others, it becomes something else entirely. If we can’t restrict hateful speech because that’s “censorship” yet the underdog will perpetually be in a defenseless position, the only feasible thing that can be done is to restrict guns at public events like protests (such as Charlottesville) that could potentially get out of control. Until then, we have to look to and join the white allies marching everywhere from Boston to Arkansas, standing up and taking a stance for equality at a time when we most desperately need it. That’s where the real positive effects take place, as opposed to nazi-punching, which won’t solve anything (though it would be gratifying).
Free speech is one of the last, shakily standing pillars of America, and if they want to salvage that collapsing country at all, empowering those who need to be given a voice needs to be a top priority.