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When free speech is weaponized

In this age of information and experience, most people support free speech – when that speech confirms their own beliefs.

Under fascist regimes, news media – and other communication means – are controlled or silenced if they do not align with established values. This happens when free speech is targeted on a mass scale, but subtle rumblings of discontent over expression represent the weaponization free speech absolutism by conservatives and liberals alike.

Free speech absolutism, on the other hand, is a uniquely American idea which poses that censoring any form of speech is dangerous. Western European countries largely reject absolutism when it comes to hate speech.

In America, freedom of speech is not absolute, but it does protect hate speech.

Speech deemed radical – conveying marginalized experiences; discussing systemic oppression; linking white supremacy and capitalism; demanding change – is often subject to censorship by those who benefit from existing social structures.

Craving censorship comes from a place of fear.

Many people are afraid to question their own beliefs and are especially afraid of being wrong. After growing up with propagandized textbooks, afraid to question steadfast religious beliefs and surrounded by people who believe the same things, it is difficult to unlearn such things alone.

I don’t blame human beings for being afraid, but they should learn from their own hate and that of others. Censorship and white supremacy are not exclusively imposed by conservatives – anyone can silence oppressed voices or deem progressive speech dangerous.

Americans with privilege and power fear losing control of this country, built on the backs of Black and Brown people, particularly as those populations speak up to confront the reality of systemic oppression.

For context: White people tend to victimize themselves instead of acknowledging root issues and many blame marginalized communities instead.

Blame and fear often surface as micro-aggressions or even instances of hate speech.

Hate speech is protected under the first amendment and is not used as an official legal term. Regardless of individual ideologies, free speech means anyone can say anything –but repercussions exist.

Harassing a person or group in a discriminatory manner, defined in a plethora of ways, can result in legal and social trouble. This is not "cancel culture," the buzzing phrase describing social exile after a controversy, but, rather, accountability.

"Free speech absolutists," many of them white Americans, do not appreciate free speech by Black and Brown people on oppression and lived experience, evident through historical context.

During the post-civil rights age, white people turned to the free speech doctrine to protect hate speech and acts of racism. More recently, former President Donald Trump "banned Critical Race Theory in the White House, calling it 'divisive, anti-American propaganda' that threatens whiteness and nation."

The perceived threat to "whiteness" implies an inherent superiority and entitlement to hold power over others.

Free speech is important for many reasons and it allows us to observe others' opinions and personal beliefs, which can be indicative of their character.

While opinions are subjective and most cannot be right or wrong, facts are undeniable and disinformation poses a much greater threat than progress.

It's okay to be wrong, but do something right with it.



Opinion editor

Featured graphic courtesy of Summer Smith

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