I’ve been thinking for some time about free speech and political correctness. The latter, it seems to me, is simply a matter of courtesy: you can no longer with impunity make comments that are offensive to women, people with disability, LGBT people, people of colour, people of different religions. You cannot, these days, go around making offensive comments and think it’s okay. It’s not. Hate speech is so often a part of patriarchy and patriarchy is starting to crumble. I won’t say it’s over, because obviously it’s not – witness the last throes and thrashing around in the Trump administration.
Free speech, on the other hand, is a bit tricky. Yes, you have a right to put your views BUT the same applies as it does to political correctness: you do not have the right to be horribly offensive or make comments which incite violence or hatred towards particular groups of people who are not white.
Because when you look at those who are loudest about free speech, all too often they are the ones who say it’s okay to make homophobic comments; to make racist jokes about minority groups; to vilify the religious beliefs of Jewish and Muslim people; to cheer when Donald Trump advocates violence against people who don’t support him; to sneer at people with disabilities; to deny the Holocaust of World War 2 never happened. Why? Because they go beyond the bounds of decency, tolerance and kindness.
And when it comes to the mainstream media, the idea of free speech really is a bit of a joke. You, me and the average person on the street do not have ready access for free speech in the highly influential corporate media (although that hold is abating somewhat with the rise of social media). But magnates like Rupert Murdoch and those in the UK who are super-wealthy and own the like so the Daily Telegraph or Daily Express do have the right to say what they like whether it’s the truth or not. And if they are, on the very rare occasion, found to have overstepped the mark, you’ll find an apology in small print buried towards the back of the publication.
Frankly, I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the so-called free speech of the extreme right, the white nationalists, the self-appointed militia, the KKK, the racists because of the impact it has on sections of society who find themselves faced with discrimination, violence, death threats, arson, bullying, terror and hate. The people who demand free speech for themselves to advocate discrimination are not the ones on the receiving end of the violence their “free speech” invokes. They are not the children who are scared they’ll be pulled out of school and deported. They are not the undocumented migrants who work hard to support themselves and their families with honest toil. They are not Aboriginal, Native American, African-American, Middle Eastern people who face discrimination because they aren’t white. They aren’t non-white people being abused on the streets.
Free speech requires a degree of self-governance – that we are respectful, polite, kind, tolerant and compassionate. And if you can’t abide by those guidelines, then just stay quiet and don’t show yourself up to be a lesser human being.