July 19, 2019 | 87° F

EDITORIAL: ‘Free speech’ can become hate speech

Recognizing microaggressions will not limit First Amendment


Oftentimes, Rutgers hosts events within the University where panelists come to speak to the students about certain issues that are relevant to what is going on in the world around them. Last night, a panel of speakers visited the Douglass Student Center as a part of their tour entitled “Unsafe Space,” a name-play off of some groups on campus’ recent and ongoing efforts to deem New Brunswick as a “safe space.”

The “Unsafe Space” speakers centered their conversation on free speech and how there was a new “hypersensitivity” surrounding cultural appropriation and microaggressions. Another aspect of the conversation circled around “identity politics” where panelists expressed the idea that understanding police violence has little to nothing to do with racial identity politics and provided statistics that black people are not as at-risk of being shot by the police.

But, the Black Lives Matter chapter at the University showed up to the panel ready to make their voices heard. They expressed that the panelists tried to substitute statistics for the values of one’s life and how questions they asked were not given answers. Rutgers One, an alliance of students, faculty and alumni from different organizations on the campus, was also there in protest of the "Unsafe Space" rhetoric. They voiced their concerns about the panelists and those who support them and said that encouraging the ideas they were proposing would motivate racist and bigoted speech on campus.

The "Unsafe Space" speakers came back to this saying that it was good that they were having a panel where people were saying something different, as opposed to the “same old event where everyone agrees.”

There are some problems here.

People need to stop looking at recognizing microaggressions and cultural appropriation as means of limiting free speech. People assume that these are new concepts that are making the general public too sensitive to the real world, but what some fail to understand is that those trying to prevent microaggression and cultural appropriation are attempting to make the “real world” a more understanding place. If you feel targeted when someone points out that your words have underlying hints of racism or ignorance, then you must step back and assess why you feel that way. By trying to implement the avoidance of microaggressions, no one is attempting to stomp on others’ freedom of speech. It is simply one group of people stating that they feel insulted by another group’s lack of education and consideration about part of their identity. And in regards to the topic of identity: When people say, “too much attention is being put on racial identity,” it is a clear implication that they do not see the reality of the world that we live in today. We live in what is known as a melting pot, and to assume that color blindness is an aspect of society is not only wishful thinking, it is incorrect. The reality of the situation is that we are all different, and sometimes because of these differences, we are treated differently. As upsetting as this is, it is a known truth. And while it is important for all sides of situations to be heard, it is also important to draw a line where freedom of speech may tread to hate speech.

As for the group itself: Although it is a play on words, it is extremely telling for a group to proudly claim itself as one advocating for an “Unsafe Space.” People must consider the implications of the words they use, and this is a firm example of this ideal.

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