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Free Speech is Free Speech, Precisely for the Speech You Don’t Like

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Free speech is free speech, precisely for the speech you don’t like! It seems this part has been missed in media’s rush to throw out the next shiny new object.

What happened to the failing Russia narrative? The red menace has been supplanted by the next threat; the resurrection of the Confederacy. All of a sudden we’re inundated with racists. Racists are waiting around the corner, racists are trying to snatch our babies, racists are everywhere – behind that tree, under that bed. And of course we have their ring leader, Donald Trump, the mastermind, manufacturing fascist in the basement of the White House like Orcs in Lord of the Rings.

I agree that the ideology of White Nationalist, Alt Right, Neo NAZIs, regular NAZIs, White Supremacist, and hate purveyors in general are detestable. I agree that Donald Trump’s tone and espoused rhetoric kicks a hornets nest in the sense that putting someone in that office that members of that ilk identify with may embolden a silent hoard to feel brighter at work or when they tuck their kids in at night; and a rowdy few to brandish torches and show up at spots in America to strut their renewed vigor. I agree that the indomitable Cornell West and some of the other religious leaders that went to contest the hate groups were morally superior to the intentions of the group there to intimidate. I front all of it before proceeding.

None of that is really the point, however. Acknowledgment of reality and preservation of civil liberties is the point! We live in a country with a bitterly racist heritage where men were violently disfigured into slaves for the purpose of free labor? It would be the height of ridiculousness to believe that each and every person in a country of 325 million people would agree with the goals and aims of integration. Are they still Americans? Contorted and mangled true, but Americans nonetheless. Does the right of free speech somehow not include detestable people and groups that wish to say detestable things?

Free speech is precisely for the speech you don’t like. And yes, that also means people are free to respond. But Charlottesville was an immensely predictable street fight, ending in the murder of a brave soul that was there to contest the depraved remnants of a dying society. It’s a slight departure but one necessary for a different perspective. The genuine left bashes and rails against unnecessary interventionist wars in other countries. Why!? Part of it has to do with the motives of the government in pursuing those aims, that’s true. Another part however is the cost versus benefit, particularly with regards to the human toll. Do all acts require a response? It’s easy to punch a NAZI; harder to determine when to let them die and dwindle to irrelevance. For the sake of perspective, a call went out to a country of 325 million and they got upwards of 500 hard core racists to join their unmagnificent band of malcontents in Charlottesville. There are times when ignoring or attacking indirectly is better than the implicit agreement of relevance that is acknowledged through direct confrontation.

Now Charlottesville is a thing that’s representative of something. A new shiny object for the media to inflate and manipulate to obfuscate from issues that can actually be addressed. Racism is not solved at the level of the racist. Attacking and denouncing is cathartic, but no racist has ever become “unracist” through the wag of a finger. I’m not unsympathetic to the conversation inasmuch cynical and distrustful of the respective political and economic incentives pushing Democrats and media to casually use superficial conversations between agenda-driven talking heads to create a narrative self described as a “national dialogue”. All to assiduously avoid real conversations on the one malleable driver of racial tension – the disfunction and inequities of our economic model.

If we’re going to talk about race, let’s talk about race. How many black bodies are locked in cages for nonviolent drug crimes? How about a conversation on Nixon starting the war on drugs to attack Blacks and Hippies for purely political aims? How about having the first black president to know that, and not do anything about that? How about the number of blacks disproportionately stopped by cops, and another magnitude disproportionality murdered by “peace officers” without legal recourse for the victim. Let’s discuss those “structurally” imprisoned for longer terms than their white counterpart? Let’s even interrogate the soothing linguistic euphemisms like “structural”, as even the language of racial dialogue in the media serves to obfuscate the underlying truth that the edifices pushing these disparities by race are managed by actual people making choices.

Certainly, if we’re engaging in an honest and nuanced conversation on race, we’d be remiss to not dig into the overt historic and societal reasons for the gross disparities regarding poverty and race, the effects of poverty on the individual and the wider society, and the utilization of policing as a release valve for the vagaries of a capitalistic system incapable of actualizing human potential it once relied on to built a nation. We can have a national conversation on race and the tension of history, thought, and values that provoke terrifying outbursts. The images and language around Charlottesville however is a vulgar spectacle that has devolved into attacks on the very principle of free speech.

Now, Trump not repudiating his base is a story and Democrats want to hold an investigation into “White Supremacy”. Of course, Obama was going to comment and of course it got a billion likes. It’s Obama; he’s soothing in moments like this. Mind you the guy murdered thousands of innocent civilians throughout the Muslim world with flying killer robots without a shred of Constitutional authority to do so. The Republican President before Trump, George Bush is pulled from his new career at finger painting to unequivocally condemn racism. The guy that murdered 1 million Iraqis and illegally tortured human beings to create a nonexistent link between Iraq and 9/11 is now the standard for moral turpitude in the Republican Party. This is lunacy! It’s worst than lunacy, it’s a spectacle at the expense of real and deeply felt feelings from an immensely complex and difficult shared heritage.

The murder and injury of the anti fascist warriors in Virginia is tragic. Nonetheless, I won’t invest myself into self serving narratives that seek to either monetize or politicize real trauma. I will vigorously defend the principle of free speech. That is NOT in any way to be conflated with hugging a NAZI. The bottom line is I have no interest in becoming a fascist in name of rebuffing fascists.

Jamarl L. Thomas hosts the Progressive Soapbox on YouTube.

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