Opinion: Hate speech is an unnecessary evil

A response to "Hate speech is a necessary evil"

This month, Stacy Brinson wrote an article for The State Press titled, “Opinion: Hate speech is a necessary evil.”

The views presented in that column are equally ignorant and dangerous. 

The column states, “There are laws that exist to protect citizens from institutional and physical acts of racism so there is no need to censor some speech as uncomfortable as it may be.”

This statement supposes that because it is illegal for employers to fire people explicitly because of their race, structural racism disappears. The law says all U.S. citizens are equally protected, so the most damage anyone can do with hate speech is say “uncomfortable” words. Sticks and stones, right? 

Wrong. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in 2005 that 191,000 hate crime incidents occur in the United States each year. The vast majority of those incidents (much like sexual assault and domestic abuse) go unreported. 

Of the more than 7,000 hate crimes that were reported to the FBI in 2018, 61% included violent physical assaults. A binary line cannot be drawn between speech and action on this issue. The aggression of abusive language is what motivates and causes the eventual incitement. 

The man who is suspected of shooting 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue practiced hate speech on the social media site Gab writing, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered ... I’m going in.”

The man who allegedly killed nine black parishioners in Charleston in 2015 became “self-radicalized” online according to prosecuting attorneys, delving into white supremacist resources on the internet prior to his massacre. If those white supremacists had not been allowed to spread hate speech it is likely those nine parishioners would be alive today.  

The logic is simple. Hate speech incites violence.

To say one is in favor of hate speech but against violence is like saying they are in favor of fossil fuels but against climate change. 

The clearest example has been the election of Donald Trump. In the month following his 2016 victory, the New York City Police Department cited a 115% increase in bias crimes. More specifically, counties which hosted a Trump rally saw a 226% increase in hate crimes compared to counties that did not. 

It’s clear that emboldening and platforming hateful speech directly puts minorities at risk while empowering white supremacists. Hateful rhetoric cannot be disentangled from the murder and bloodshed which follows from its inflammatory inquisitions. 

When given the chance to comment on this claim, Brinson asked, “While there may be a linkage to Trump’s hateful rhetoric and an increase of hate crimes, is there a possibility that it’s a direct result of the desire to silence hate speech?” suggesting that P.C. culture could be blamed for racial violence. 

She continued, “When we attempt to silence individuals, those individuals lash out and cause more violence than there would have been had there been rational discussion to disprove those opinions.”

Brinson sooner places the blame for white supremacist violence on P.C. culture and deplatforming than she places it on the actions of the violent perpetrators themselves. This is akin to blaming fire departments for the actions of repressed arsonists. 

Even if hate speech didn’t cause external violence, the effects it has on the victim’s psyche are seldom considered. 

A study by Syracuse University found in 2004 that increasingly negative ethnophaulisms (slurs) being hurled at ethnic immigrant groups in the United States supported increased suicide rates. 

Another 2008 study found that race related stress was significantly more unhealthy to black Americans than stressful life events which did not involve their race. 

Over 40% of transgender individuals surveyed have attempted suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that rejection, discrimination and victimization (in other words, hate speech) were the primary drivers of self harm. 

The internalized impact of hate speech goes completely unaddressed in Brinson’s column, while activists on campus who care about these psychological effects are happy to speak out. 

Yet the column dishonestly posits that hate speech has something valuable to offer an intellectual community. 

Brinson falls back on the tired notion that hate speech is some valuable counterweight within our political discourse, embedding a Spring 2019 incident where College Republicans United’s internal racism was exposed, and everyone had a productive and healing conversation on the Old Main lawn. 

Except they didn’t.

After CRU was caught using racial epithets and hate speech in their private communications, they set up a public apology. Protestors naturally met the racists there, only to hear the perpetrator repeat the N-word aloud in the same sentence he claimed he had never used it. 

Brinson used a video of the clash in her article as an example of the valuable discourse which stems from hate speech. In reality, it only shows how useless it is to force minorities to engage with the bigots who threaten their lives. 

Brinson might have used her platform to pressure the University into discouraging this behavior, or asked students what kind of action they would like to see instead.

Ilona Vine, a junior studying behavior, physiology and neuroscience with a minor in women and gender studies, said due to the frequency of mass shootings, universities should be responsible and maintain a plan-of-action. 

“They have a responsibility to maintain an environment that is respectful and inclusive to all students, regardless of age, sex, gender, race or ethnicity,” Vine said. “Without an inclusive university at the faculty and administration level, the student community will never be safe.”

National restrictions on hate speech are common in places like Germany and England, and neither of those nations have descended into total authoritarianism.  

It’s also telling to analyze which “free speech” the column is concerned about. 

Panhandlers routinely face laws and regulations which bar them from asking for money here in Arizona. A true free speech absolutist might have targeted those laws instead, because asking for money doesn’t place disadvantaged groups at risk of violence. 

People who need artificially expensive drugs owned by large pharmaceutical companies are another victim ignored by free speech absolutists. Arbitrary copyright and intellectual property laws allow these companies to monopolize cures which are cheaply produced elsewhere. 

Workers like Rashad Long, who was fired from Amazon for criticizing its working conditions, rarely have their free speech rights invoked against the interests of capital. 

A sincere free speech absolutist might take issue with the fact that universities fire left-wing professors at more than double the rate they fire conservatives, despite the common perception that university professors are left-leaning. Of the 26 political firings in 2017, 19 of them targeted liberal professors. 

ASU Latin American history associate professor Alexander Aviña explains, “In times of war or sustained grassroots political resistance the US government has had no qualms about extrajudicially and violently infringing upon the free speech rights of Native Americans, labor activists, socialists, union organizers or self-defense community organizations.” 

He cited Fred Hampton, Wounded Knee, Eugene Debs, Standing Rock, COINTELPRO, BDS and Palestinian rights activism as examples of this infringement.

Free speech that critically interrogates the white supremacist bases of state power in the United States, he said, has always been, and continues to be, restricted and violently targeted.

The column claims that limiting hate speech is a slippery slope toward some 1984 authoritarian state, but Brinson doesn’t reach that conclusion from any of the aforementioned examples. 

Rather, the columnist (and thousands of others) only speak up when racists inciting violence are challenged. Contemporary free speech discourse only exists to serve capital and racial hierarchy, rarely invoking the slippery-slope fallacy in the interest of the homeless, the sick, striking workers or the minorities who have their voices structurally muted.

It’s useless to postulate Brinson’s motives. Regardless of the author’s sympathies, columns like this serve to embolden white supremacy. 

To obfuscate the link between hateful pontification and physical violence is to set back the progress we could be making towards keeping those victims safe.

Hate speech is disgusting, evil, dangerous and absolutely unnecessary.

The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.


Reach the columnist at drustemp@asu.edu or follow @denzel_for on Twitter.

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