SANCHEZ: Hate speech hiding under guise of free speech, lacks value
Opinions Column: The Champagne Socialist
Last week, Rutgers, the U.S.’s most diverse university, had the dishonor of hosting professional troll, Milo Yiannopoulos. The openly gay, bleach-blond British provocateur is traveling the States on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour, and was invited by the Rutgers chapter of the right-wing Young Americans for Liberty (Y.A.L.). Ever dramatic, the talk was titled, “How the Progressive Left Is Destroying Education.” That’s right. It’s not coaches and administrators with six and seven-figure salaries that are destroying higher education in the U.S. It’s not the exploitation of part-time lecturers and adjuncts. Hell, it’s not even Sallie Mae and the crushingly high rates of student debt. It’s the feminists, the liberals and all the uppity queer, transgender and dark-skinned folks that are destroying our universities! This surreal worldview’s short-sightedness is staggering of course, yet every Pied Piper has his flock, and they trotted out in droves to see him last week.
Y.A.L. president and my fellow columnist, Matthew Boyer, argued that even if Yiannopoulos spews fads and fancies of all sorts, that there’s still “value” to his speech. And what valuable, intellectually engaging words has Mr. Yiannopoulos graced us with? Well, according to witnesses and reports, Yiannopoulos called people who believe in the wage gap “idiots” and that rape culture doesn’t exist. He’s compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan, claimed that lesbians are behind sexual assault, that he isn’t “entirely sure” if non-penetrative sex was a thing, and that transgender people suffer from a “psychiatric disorder.” He even slammed Rutgers as “Hitler’s Austrian art college.” Why a Rutgers student group would invite a person who seems to hold such contempt for their own University and fellow schoolmates is beyond me.
What is also beyond me is how someone can compare the Klan with the Black Lives Matter movement. The former was the worst white supremacist organization the country has ever seen, responsible for beatings and lynchings, against African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, white liberals and all sorts of "purifying" violence. Black Lives Matter is about opposing the disproportionate murder of African-Americans by the police, a movement backed by the president, presidential candidates and statistics from the Guardian, the Washington Post and so forth. As for the wage gap, it exists across occupations and affects all women, even the educated and well-heeled. Furthermore, it’s even worse for queer and non-white women. The wage gap is also attributable to how we penalize motherhood, even though mothers literally reproduce the workforce. The U.S. is shamefully the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have pro-family policies like paid maternity leave to further close this wage gap. And rape? According to a 2015 Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation study, 1 in 5 college women have been sexually assaulted, and that’s most likely an undercount. As for the lesbian and transgender thing, I won’t even deign to comment on it.
So to Mr. Boyer and others, I ask what “value” is Mr. Yiannopoulos giving us? What “value” do bold lies and gross, shameless, baseless, ahistorical mischaracterizations have? If Yiannopoulos, a two-time college dropout, was trying to write a thesis or a research paper arguing the nonsense he does, he’d be laughed right out of the academy. My friends, the only business Yiannopoulos had here was to promote hate speech, and he cloaked himself in the guise of "liberty" and "free speech" to fool you otherwise. There’s nothing novel or brave about him. Yiannopoulos is an old-fashioned bigot, and to hell with whomever invited him to come here or cheered him on. But to me it’s not simply enough to poo-poo these reactionaries and their poisonous words, we ought to censor them.
Free speech isn’t an absolute right suspended in a vacuum. It must be balanced against others if we’re to pursue a just society. And remember, equality is freedom’s precondition. Courts have already said we can’t scream “fire!” in crowded theaters or libel people, so we already regulate speech. In Stalinist hellscapes like Canada, France, Germany and other industrialized democracies, there’s already bans on hate speech. Indeed, denying the Holocaust’s existence is punishable by law in many European countries. As New York University School of Law professor and author of "The Harm In Hate Speech" Jeffrey Waldron has said, there’s already legal precedent in regulating hate speech, namely the concept of "group libel" as taken from the Supreme Court’s 1952 Beauharnais v. Illinois decision. "Group libel" refers not simply to people taking offense to something but defaming attacks on the dignity of entire groups of people. Using such a legal standard could protect the higher good of women as well as religious, racial, sexual and other minorities of living lives free of intimidation and harassment.
Speakers who preach hatred and bigotry should never be welcomed to Rutgers. This isn’t about "having a debate," because the debate is over. I’m a gay, black, Puerto Rican cis-man and am entitled to a good life just as much as anyone else, regardless of gender, religion, disability and so on. The debate’s over! So next time hate speech comes to Rutgers, let’s shut it up and shut it down.
José Sanchez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in history with a minor in political science. His column, “The Champagne Socialist,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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