Tag: 1st amendment

On the Spirit of Free Speech

Ellie McFarland | United States

In the wake of what has been dubbed “The Smirk Seen Round the World” questions about the morality of doxxing are arising. In the case of this most recent incident, a video surfaced of a group of private Catholic high school students (attending the March for Life), “Black Hebrew Israelites”, and a Native American veteran ensconced in a what amounted to a commotion of dull screaming and a drum beat. But what caught the internet’s attention was the now infamous smirk of Nick Sandmann– the student pictured most prominently in the video. Soon after the video was released, the internet at large erupted into a tsunami of hit pieces and Twitter hate mobs. Eventually, full-grown adults found the addresses and other personal information of several Covington high school students. This is doxxing.

Continue reading “On the Spirit of Free Speech”

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Steven Crowder Fans Should Change Their Minds

Glenn Verasco | United States

I have dedicated an absurd portion of the past week of my life to understanding, discussing, debating, and writing about the recent Lincoln Memorial confrontation between Nathan Philips and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School. While there is much to take interest in regarding the matter, nothing is as captivating as the hallucinations people have had and, amazingly, continue to experience when watching videos of the incident. The human mind is a baffling device.

The other day, I opened YouTube and clicked on the latest episode of Steven Crowder’s “Change My Mind,” a segment of his show Louder with Crowder. “Change My Mind” involves Crowder and some of his crew members setting up a table in a public location and displaying a large sign that espouses a provocative political statement followed by the words “change my mind.” If you are social media savvy at all, you’ve probably come across the meme “Change My Mind” has inspired:

Image result for change my mind meme

Image result for change my mind memeRelated image

The stated goal of this experiment is to attract dissenters of the displayed statement then invite them to sit down and have a rational and healthy dialogue to express their disagreement. I am not exactly a fan of his, but watch Crowder’s videos on occasion.

As productive political discourse in America, particularly the online variety, seems to have taken a turn for the worse over the past few years, Crowder’s project is noble on the surface. But Steven Crowder is not the man for this job.

In his most recent video titled “PROTESTER SCREAMS Then Rethinks: Change My Mind,” which takes place at UT Dallas, Crowder has his table set up with a banner that reads “Build the Wall: Change My Mind.” But rather than a typical “Change My Mind” video in which guests are sitting down at the table with the host, the video begins with Steven approaching a group of students demonstrating against him a few yards away.

Throughout the rest of the video, Steven either hallucinates or lies on myriad occasions and acts as anything but an authority on rational discourse.

Free Speech Bullying

I’m often told that while free speech is a right, some speech has consequences. This is a fair legal argument but can be an awful human argument when applied too broadly.

First off, what is and what is not legal does not determine what is right and what is wrong. Driving through a red light is illegal, but driving through a red light at a completely empty intersection where the driver has the field of view to determine with certainty that no cars are coming from any direction is not wrong.

Saying “nigger” in front of a black stranger or screaming “fire” in a movie theater are not criminal acts, but they are examples of wrongful behavior because they are liable to cause problems without reason. This is to say that just because you have Constitutional protections that allow you to do something without government interference does not mean you should do it.

While some speech is reasonably treated as wrongful behavior that has consequences regardless of legality, some speech or expression currently deemed offensive does not deserve the consequences it elicits. For example, James Damore was fired from his job at Google for writing an internal memo that mentioned scientifically observed differences between male and female psychologies. Additionally, early critics of the Covington Catholic School boys whose initial perceptions have been proven invalid are moving the goal posts to argue that the boys were asking for trouble by wearing red Make America Great Again hats. Both of these instances illustrate active consequence assignment, as opposed to consequences coming about naturally. The people who bemoan evolutionary biology and the sitting president’s signature merchandise are being intolerant bullies, and third parties must stick their necks out and stand up to these bullies to preserve an environment of liberal expression.

About a minute into Crowder’s video, he decides to abuse his First Amendment rights to the detriment of others. Crowder, camera crew in tow, approaches the demonstrators, and says “I understand there’s a protest going on here.” A white girl (WG) says they are not protesting, but “representing our views.” She says this calmly and politely and, in my opinion, in a way that attempts to communicate to Crowder that they are not trying to dehumanize or demonize him, but simply express their countering views.

Crowder then engages a guy holding a rainbow umbrella (GHU) and questions his group’s decision to demonstrate instead of joining him at the discussion table. He, as calmly and politely as WG, explains as follows:

For one, there is a fear for our safety. We don’t want to be put online where people that have similar beliefs to yours potentially would dox us and come at us and harass us. We feel that our point of view standing here was enough to be said. But now you’ve all come here and essentially forced us into this interview.

When those critical of identity politics and modern left-wing activism here the word “safety” in the context of political and social discourse, it may ring bells of the “safe space” culture eviscerated by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff in their groundbreaking essay  “The Coddling of the American Mind.” But what GHU and his group are afraid of is not encountering opposing views; they fear the same internet mob tactics that have upended the lives of the Covington Catholic students among so many others.

A black girl (BG) then makes another valiant point by explaining that her lacking public speaking skills could cause her to misrepresent her own views. Although I think she is underestimating herself, it’s a perfectly fair point. But none of this dissuades Crowder, and he continues to disregard their wishes.

By bringing these demonstrators into his YouTube channel and its 3.3 million subscribers, Crowder is not violating anyone’s First Amendment rights, but he is being a jerk and a bully and potentially subjecting them to undeserved consequences. And that kind of behavior is the exact opposite of what is needed to reestablish an environment for rational discourse in America.

Who called Steven a racist?

About half a minute into the video, Crowder’s voice, dubbed over the video, alludes to nasty accusations being hurled in his direction. We then see BG and a Muslim girl (MG) for the first time. Both girls are filmed saying “I don’t engage with racists” and “at the very least xenophobic.” No other context is provided at any point in the video.

After rejecting the students’ requests not to film them, about three and a half minutes into the video, Crowder confronts MG, who is a holding a sign that says “Immigrants are welcome here: change my mind.” Crowder invites her to his table, so he can take her up on the request implied by her sign. MG refuses by saying, “I’m good.” From behind Crowder, a female’s voice can be heard saying something along the lines of MG is the one who didn’t want to speak to “the racist,” which, at least in Crowder’s video, she did not say. Crowder continues his attempt to persuade her to speak with him, and she denies.

What’s important to take notice of here is that Crowder towers over MG. She is petite as can be, and he is a fairly hefty and tall man. Crowder also has a camera crew behind him, and spectators surround the entire scene.

I do not abide by the #MeToo principle that imbalance in stature, race, gender, or position of power should have legal ramifications. Adult female secretaries should not receive special legal treatment if they choose to sexually interact with their bosses. Adults are adults.

However, as I said earlier, legality does not determine right and wrong, and Crowder’s behavior here is bullying.

BG interjects and says to Crowder that the situation he is creating might be “intimidating” for some people. Crowder all but ignores her, and stupidly explains that it’s intimidating for him to be in a crowd like this too.

About twenty seconds before the five-minute mark, Crowder says to the group “I’ve heard rumors here that Crowder is a racist.” BG denies having said that. Crowder then turns to MG and asks if she called him a racist. MG says “I said I wouldn’t engage with racists, and I don’t feel comfortable engaging with you right now.” Crowder asks if this is because she thinks he is a racist, and she says “it’s because you’re crowding me and you’ve brought a crowd of people and multiple cameras, so I really don’t appreciate how you’re crowding me like this.” Some people in the crowd jeer her response petulantly. Crowder says he isn’t crowding her, which directly contradicts the mass of people and cameras that have encircled MG and her friends.

If Crowder were decent, he would have apologized at this point and walked away. He doesn’t.

MG calmly and clearly explains that she prefers to engage in smaller groups, not in crowds. Crowder essentially admonishes her for another minute until a bearded demonstrator (BD) raises two fingers, signaling he would like to chime in. More on BD in a moment…

I recommend watching this entire exchange carefully and listening to some of the things Crowder says. Then reconsider whether or not this is the type of person you should be listening to, let alone leading a pro-discourse movement.

Protester screams?

Regardless of his views on immigration or anything else, BD, who arrives on the scene during the interaction between Crowder and MG, is the hero in this story.

Growing increasingly visibly annoyed during the exchange, BD raises two fingers and asks “Can I speak?” He then explains that he believes Crowder is doing something under-handed by basically exploiting a girl with possible anxiety issues in order to cast all of the demonstrators in a light of intellectual weakness.

Crowder then does something fascinating. In a near mirror image of the dishonest leftists he would destroy for throwing out accusations of racism when defeated in an argument, Crowder’s red herring response is that it’s “kind of like how calling someone a racist might be underhanded.” BD, who is quite eccentric and emotive, looks as though his brain has been twisted into a knot by Crowder’s non-sequitur rebuttal.

BD goes on for a minute or so explaining that coming to this campus, which is multi-cultural with a large immigrant population, with such an inflammatory debate topic is “shady” and that Crowder is exploiting the students for their emotional labor among other things.

Crowder, the self-anointed standard bearer for rational discourse, interrupts and responds by saying “everything you just said is inaccurate.”

I do not agree with Crowder that a wall should be built on the southern border, and I’m sure I would disagree with BD on a plethora of political and social issues (including the phrase “emotional labor” itself). But I would never make a comment as disrespectful, absolutist, or myopic as Crowder’s to either of them. This is because I actually want to change people’s minds, and can understand that their experiences and knowledge sets may be different from mine. I am almost willing to change my own mind and understand that every person I meet knows something I don’t, the 9th of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which Crowder is evidently not heeding.

Around thirteen minutes into the video, BD (who tells Crowder his name is Nicholas) agrees to sit down with Crowder at his table. One of Crowder’s first comments is suggesting that sitting at the table “breeds more friendly, productive conversation” and that he doesn’t want to “shout out there.” Nicholas explains that he didn’t think that was an issue, and I agree with him. In contrast to the video’s title, no one had been shouting at each other. Yet, Crowder accuses him of “shouting” and “yelling” during the first few minutes of their conversation, which Nicholas says he doesn’t remember but is sorry for if he did (I like Nicholas).

At this point, Nicholas has remained polite and practiced active listening despite being smeared, mocked, and lied to. Add all of this to what I interpret to be standing up to the bullying Crowder on MG’s behalf, and it seems that Crowder should be taking notes from Nicholas, not the other way around.

Adding Insults to Injury

Crowder is both a political commentator and humorist with roots in stand up. While I love both and am a sycophant for political satire, the blending of politics and comedy can have mixed results. A benefit of political comedy is that satire and ridicule can be used to show people that they may need to reconsider their views. Another benefit is the inherent value of making people laugh, regardless of whether or not it’s constructive. Jokes are great in and of themselves.

One downside of political comedy is that people like Crowder, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert can hide behind their comic identity to avoid taking responsibility for flubs and mistakes while continuing to pose as legitimate voices when convenient. Another downside is that laughs, which should be elicited by a joke’s cleverness, timing, or absurdity, can also be generated via hate and confirmation bias. This has been on full display since Trump became a contender for president as jokes about him tend to forgo wit and instead capitalize on telling people what they want to hear. We the Internet has satirized this phenomenon as well as anyone.

Throughout the video, Crowder sinks to the comedic depths of Colbert and the rest of the late night clones with hackneyed and insulting quips about the oft-ridiculed terminology used by Social Justice Warriors. He refers to a reasonable and well-spoken argument made by Nicholas an “emotional reaction.” When Nicholas tries to defend himself from Crowder’s blatant misrepresentation of his arguments, Crowder sarcastically accuses him of “mansplaining.” After an exchange with BG, Crowder asks for a “bro-hug” then amends it to a “gender-neutral bro-hug.” When prodding Nicholas to tell him what an acceptable argument from a supporter of Trump’s wall would sound like, he asks “what, to you, would be the acceptable way for someone who disagrees with you to express himself, or herself… or xeself.”

Forget how disrespectful it is to presume that the people Crowder is speaking to actually abide by these concepts, and forget how dishonest it is to mock them without first knowing what their views are.

The real offense is his assault on the institution of comedy. By throwing these catchphrases in at such inopportune times, Crowder is playing to the lowest comedic common denominator. These jokes are about as original and as funny as calling Trump Orange.

Steven Crowder is not actually in the business of promoting civil discussion. He is in the businesses of promoting his own views and making his opponents seem worse than they actually are. While there are many on the left who are deserving of harsh criticism and denunciation, the students he bullied in his video did not appear to be the right targets at all. The students did not deserve to be treated the way they were by Crowder, and Crowder did not deserve the time of day from them.

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The American First Amendment: A Poem

Nate Galt | United States

Many misguided young boys think they fight for freedom

But when barked commands to kill people, they heed them

When in the fields, men back home for little money toil

Believing that their liberties are defended, not America’s interests in oil

If bombing those an ocean away brings peace

That is an oxymoron, to say the least

But back home, those liberties for which soldiers believe they fight

Are being stripped by people who don’t care for rights

Only for their fragile sense of self

They wish to ban everything that they can’t help

They want their free-of-judgement safe spaces

By banning unpopular opinions from those same places

When real progressives would die for your right to speech

For whatever one wished to say or preach

Meanwhile, these supposed freedom fighters demand

That those who they disagree with get off their land

But the very law of the land, the Constitution,

Is being up-heaved in a revolution

To stop any speech or proselytization 

Which they deem a danger to this nation

But what is a danger? A mere opinion or thought?

Censorship is an insult to those that fought

Not in Vietnam or Iraq, but to those who said that they see

A possibility for a new country with free speech and liberty.


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Expression Isn’t Difficult, But It Can Be Awfully Hard To Tolerate

By Craig Axford | United States

Following the January 7, 2015 attacks on the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis addressed the media regarding the deadly assault. “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the pontiff said, obviously referring to the history of irreverence Charlie Hebdo was famous for. Comparing past insults delivered by the magazine to directing a vulgarity toward his mother, the pope concluded by stating that those engaging in such behavior “can expect a punch” as a consequence.

Freedom of expression is hard. Not because it’s so difficult to practice — in a functioning democratic society expression should be almost as comfortable to a citizen as breathing. Freedom of expression is hard because it’s frequently very difficult to tolerate.

Even the staunchest libertarians and most ardent liberals will have days when they find themselves staring at the TV, listening to the radio, or scrolling through a social media feed while asking themselves whether anything is sacred. Be it pornography, images of a crucifix drowning in a glass of urine, cartoons mocking your prophet, or attacks on well established scientific theories, democracy’s highest and absolutely essential principle can be awfully hard to endure.

That some cherished view or another has earned the privilege of existing free of criticism is a temptation we all flirt with now and then. But it’s a temptation we must resist. Even facts as basic as heliocentrism and the roundness of our planet cannot be segregated by censors for protection from challenges, however ill informed. Removing such ideas from the mainstream must remain a personal and cultural endeavor based upon well reasoned arguments rather than an official state one.

That nothing beyond freedom of expression itself is ultimately sacred is the source of democracy’s strength. Paradoxically, it is also its greatest vulnerability. Radical official neutrality is something institutions like the Vatican are still adjusting to, as the pope’s comments following the Paris terrorist attacks make clear. Fundamentalists and ideologues far more doctrinaire than Pope Frances reject it outright.

If we’re being honest, none of us is completely at ease with the idea of freedom of expression as a universal right. We all have Pope Francis moments when we think someone’s words or images have crossed a line. We may not always be wrong.

The political philosopher Karl Popper described what he called “the paradox of tolerance.” The one thing democracy cannot abide, Popper argued, was intolerance. In tolerating intolerance a society opens the door for intolerance to walk through and put an end to free speech and other liberties.

Some version of this Popperian argument is being employed increasingly today, particularly on the left. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came in for considerable criticism, including from many of its members, following the Neo-Nazi Rally in Charlottesville that ended with one of the participants driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Heather Heyer, one of those demonstrating against the white supremacists that had gathered in her city, died as a result.

The ACLU had gone to court defending the right of the white nationalists planning the Charlottesville rally to receive a permit for their march. One ACLU of Virginia board member resigned following the event stating, “I won’t be a fig leaf for Nazis.” Hundreds, if not thousands of others, cancelled their monthly contribution to the organization, expressing similar sentiments on social media as they did so.

I suspect Karl Popper would have agreed with the ACLU’s critics in this instance. Defenders of freedom of expression need to pick their battles. While white supremacists do have a right to protest, provided they remain peaceful, if they want to challenge a community’s denial of their permit application for their gathering, they can hire their own attorney. They don’t need the ACLU fighting for their rights pro-bono, especially given they are marching to undermine those rights in the first place. Perhaps if they had to cough up a few dollars to defend freedom of expression now and then they would develop a greater appreciation for it.

Terrorist attacks on provocative magazines and court battles regarding protest permits for extremist groups define the edges of the free speech canvas. Though these fringes attract the most attention, they are far from the whole picture. These days that picture is becoming increasingly muddled.

Karl Popper assumed the citizens living in the democratic societies he passionately defended would share a more or less common understanding of what qualified as intolerance worthy of their resistance. His entire argument rested upon this assumption. His definition of intolerance did not include reasonable day-to-day differences of opinion, to say nothing of personal slights. Words like microaggression and trigger warning were not only not on Karl Popper’s radar screen, but may very well have been seen by him as the emergence of an unanticipated form of intolerance that a democratic society cannot tolerate.

In a November 17, 2010 post in the publication Psychology Today, Columbia University Professor Derald Wing Sue defined “microaggressions” as follows:

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

The purpose of this essay is not to defend rude behavior. My intent is to defend free speech, which annoyingly includes impoliteness.

I have little doubt that Dr. Sue meant well, but the bottom line is that by labelling “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional” a form of aggression, he’s essentially arguing that anyone who has ever had a bad day has been a victim. Ironically, by these standards anyone who has ever had a bad day has also likely been an aggressor, whether intentionally or not.

The word aggression is loaded. Like any weapon, it should be used sparingly and only under certain conditions. When confronted with overly broad concepts that essentially classify everyone as being in a marginalized group on some level, and which further define both “intentional” and “unintentional” snubs as “aggression,” even if only of the “micro” variety, I’ve always found the dictionary a useful means of getting back to reality. Merriam-Webster defines aggression thusly:

Definition of aggression

1: a forceful action or procedure (such as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master

2: the practice of making attacks or encroachments; especially : unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another ~ warned that any act of aggression could start a war

3: hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration

Aggression is often the expression of pent-up rage.

There’s nothing “forceful” about a snub, insult, or slight. Certainly not in any physical sense. Nor do these forms of impolite behavior constitute an “attack.” If you’re hurt by a snub or insult, it’s because you allowed yourself to be hurt by it. You can’t say the same about a punch, being denied a job because of your race or gender, or being born into poverty.

But what does all this have to do with free speech? When we see university students increasingly demanding “safe spaces” where they can enjoy their identity without having to fear “microaggressions,” or we have professors beginning to insert “trigger warnings” into the syllabus about course content that might upset a student for one reason or another, it begins to have a great deal to do with it.

Certainly professors should be sensitive. There are times a little advance warning about alarming topics may be warranted. But teachers can’t anticipate every trauma their students have faced, and they certainly can’t be in the business of eliminating all controversy or discomfort from the classroom. Ultimately, students should leave their university not just with a degree, but with a somewhat thicker skin and the courage to approach those in positions of authority if something bothers them.

Professors are people too. They won’t always see things a student’s way, and some may be downright insensitive to a student’s genuine pain. Sadly, bosses and other people out in the “real world” will sometimes exhibit a similar callousness. But even if we don’t get our way, each time we stand up for ourselves and communicate our thoughts and feelings we learn something. Over time the experience of engaging with others with whom we have a disagreement hones our skills as thinkers, listeners, and communicators. Democratic societies need a deep bench of players with those skills.

Universities training citizens to feel life owes them “safe spaces” where they will be protected from “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights,” reshapes public attitudes toward speech in a direction that reduces tolerance, to say nothing of personal resilience in the face of a challenge. We need citizens whose instinct is to confront controversy intelligently rather than reacting by simply attempting to silence it through loud assertions of hurt feelings.

The recent uproar at Evergreen State College is an example of the concept of “microaggression” taken to its logical conclusion. The refusal by some students in the video to even enter into dialogue with those with whom they disagreed says it all.

It’s worth noting at this point that Dr. Sue’s definition of microaggression is completely subjective. To be a victim of a “nonverbal” snub or “environmental slight,” one need only perceive they were a victim of one. That the victim may have misinterpreted the motives of the other person is not the least bit relevant. Being on the receiving end of either aggression or an accusation of aggression, whether real or perceived, necessarily puts people on the defensive. Defensiveness renders dialogue that may lead toward the resolution of any racism, sexism, or homophobia that may genuinely exist virtually impossible.

Tolerance requires citizens to foster a posture in which giving our fellow country men and women the benefit of the doubt is our default position. If we’re constantly looking for examples of “micro” intolerance in other’s speech or actions, we’re going to find it. If we proceed to blow these “everyday” occurrences into examples of racism that are morally equivalent to a white supremacist rally, or nearly so, then we’ve degraded ourselves as much as President Trump did when he stated “there were good people on both sides” marching in Charlottesville.

As both individuals and as a culture, we must be seeking opportunities to open up debate and dialogue, not shut it down. Overt racism is easy to identify. White supremacists literally advertise their hatred. Their attitudes have no place in the 21st century and should be opposed. The person at the grocery store that looked at you funny or the professor that challenged your worldview do not fall in the same category.

Concepts like microaggression advance racism and division rather than countering it. By insisting everyone adopt the stance of a victim and react accordingly, it shuts down dialogue between individuals and groups while allowing demagogues like Donald Trump to seize public office by, at least in part, railing against a PC culture that has lost all sense of proportion.

Critical thinking, tolerance, dialogue… These things are hard. Playing the victim card every time we hear something that makes us uncomfortable is easy. Though their arguments and methods differ, those advancing concepts like microaggression and ideological safe spaces are just as committed to silence and conformity as any fundamentalist or dictator. Their attitude has no place within a mature democratic society.

Follow me on Twitter @CraigAxford

Other stories by Craig Axford include: Who are the undeserving poor? When I meet one I’ll let you know and The Canadian Healthcare System from an American Perspective.

Banning Discomfort in the Classroom Advances Racism in the Culture

Craig Axford | United States

Educators in Duluth, Minnesota recently decided to remove two American classics from the curriculum. At some point, of course, every great book will be replaced by a more recent work of equal or greater stature. There’s only so much time in a school year and students can’t be expected to read every book worthy of their attention before leaving high school.

But the reasons given in this case have nothing to do with a particular teacher’s literary preferences or the fact that other pieces of literature tackle the touchy topic of racism better. It’s the same reason we read every year or so when some misguided educational institution decides its students’ feelings are more important than their education: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird use “racial slurs.”

Whenever I read some school district or another has decided that Mark Twain, Harper Lee, or another author of their caliber is no longer going to be read and discussed in the classroom because students risk being “humiliated or marginalized,” I feel like the works of these literary giants are being placed in the same category as Hitler’s Mein Kampf or William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries. Regardless, the only message young students unfamiliar with either Twain or Lee are likely to hear in these instances is that they were racists when in fact their message was anything but.

The United States is never going to put racism in the rearview mirror by removing every piece of literature from the curriculum that frankly addresses racism or realistically depicts bigots, misleading students about the reason these works contain some of the language they do in the process. Neither Mark Twain or Harper Lee used racial slurs to describe anyone, but some of their characters did. These fictional personas were using language that accurately reflected the place, time, and personal beliefs of real people. By putting the real words people used into the mouths of their characters Twain and Lee were holding a mirror up to every reader, softening the hearts of millions of people raised within a culture of systemic racism in the process.

Those behind the decision in Duluth, and in other school districts where similar decisions have been made for similar reasons, need to explain how artists are supposed to depict bigotry without disturbing their supposedly fragile and apparently emotionally stunted students. What do these “educators” think the consequences might be for an author who refuses to confront frankly the vulgar words and deeds of Nazi concentration camp guards marching Jews into the gas chamber or that casts a southern lynch mob in the gentlest possible light to spare his or her readers’ feelings? What, pray tell, will the NAACP have to say about such an author’s work? What will the consequences be for a society that raises their youth on such pablum?

Bigotry is vile. Any writer of either fiction or non-fiction offering up visions of slave owners, death camp commandants, or white nationalists marching through contemporary city streets speaking respectfully about the targets of their hatred for any reason, other than perhaps to lull people into a false sense of complacency, is lying to us. Twain and Lee were not liars.

Racism is supposed to upset us. The words coming out of the mouths of bigots should disturb us. We want our children coming home from school unsettled after they learn about it. Those attempting to hide them from ugly truths about our racist past (and present) may sometimes have good intentions, but the effect of their actions will only be an even worse case of historical amnesia than we’re already suffering from. With so much ignorance of our past actively being promoted by ideologues and well meaning “educators” alike, we shouldn’t be surprised when false equivalencies like “[there are] some very fine people on both sides” are embraced by so many of our fellow citizens. If Duluth is any indication, we can expect even more future voters to embrace that kind of thinking.

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

Other recent articles by Craig Axford: This Darwin Day Let’s Remember Evolution is About Kinship Too & Curiosity: without it we’re nowhere

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