Since we’ve all clearly decided not to abide by the trite little guideline, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” we’re going to need another way to filter our speech.
Certainly the filter should not come from our government, especially not under the current administration. Besides, restricting the use of certain terms or symbols will only result in the creation of replacements that serve the same purpose.
But should neo-Nazis and white supremacists really be allowed to spew whatever hatred and bigotry they please without any consequences?
Quite frankly, no. And since it would be dangerous to give the state the power to restrict speech, the responsibility of managing acceptable rhetoric falls to the public.
For example, companies who feel that such views as those that were displayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, do not align with their values should and do have the right to fire employees who espouse such reprehensible ideologies.
The Editorial Board is, however, not blind to the likelihood that ostracized, newly isolated extremists will likely further radicalize upon their rejection from society. Festering in the annexes and cellars of society, these groups could potentially radicalize and incite violence in the capacity of domestic terrorists.
Despite these dangers, we still believe that an approach to handling hate speech that is grounded on culture, rather than laws, is better than conceding the responsibility to the likes of President Donald Trump and his attorney general Jeff Sessions.
While there are many ugly parts of our country’s past and present, our nation is not devoid of sociopolitical triumphs. Free speech is a pillar of American democracy, the destruction of which we should aim to avoid.
Having clarified this, if a private sector organization wants to fire employees who have, say, wielded Tiki torches while attending a white nationalist rally that led to riots and murder, they should be allowed to do so. In this case, it seems that the participants’ chants of their irreplaceability should actually lead to their professional replacement.
Of course, there’s a right and wrong way to do everything, including the retribution against perpetrators of hate speech. Logan Smith, who runs the @YesYoureRacist Twitter account, recently promised to make famous any Charlottesville rally attendees by finding names to match photographed marchers with the intent being that their communities would punish them.
Be wary of such “amateur sleuths,” as the New York Times has dubbed them; the lives of misidentified culprits can still unjustly fall in harm’s way once Tweets have circulated too widely. Kyle Quinn, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Arkansas, was wrongly identified in a photo of the now infamous rally, and he received such instantaneous backlash that he and his family went into hiding for a weekend at the home of a friend.
Ultimately we, the Editorial Board, are not saying that racism qualifies as an opinion. It doesn’t. We just don’t want the expression of legitimate opinions, political and otherwise, to be impeded in some kind of well-intentioned but poorly executed restriction of hate speech.
We shouldn’t let our government tell us what to say, but we should be mindful of those who broadcast hatred and treat them accordingly. That could be through mitigating opportunities for them to do harm or through thoughtful engagement and dialogue.