Rethinking free speech

in Columns/Opinion by

Shortly after the Charlottesville, Va. riots, an eerily familiar picture made the rounds on Twitter: black and white, a group of 13 men and women squished side-by-side laughing, posing, one is even holding an accordion. It is a picture of youth. Innocent camaraderie. A grunge Instagram aesthetic of your weekend out with friends. If it weren’t for the men’s uniforms you would never know they were Auschwitz staff members having fun between mass murder. Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism isn’t always obvious.

The truth is that right-wing extremism has become increasingly inconspicuous – making it all the more dangerous.

Not all white supremacists sport swastikas, but most share racist and anti-semitic memes in group chats and online forums while assuring everyone “it’s just a joke.” Not all conservatives support the actions of the terrorist who drove his car into a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters, but many blamed leftist violence before the growing population of alt-Right extremists who incite such violence.

Most frightening of all, white supremacists, Nazis and members of the alt-Right are everyday people just following an ideology they believe in. They are the people who argue for freedom of speech, then turn a blind eye when that speech becomes hate-filled. They are enemies of equality.

Providing a platform to elevate the voices of those who advance the Republican Party’s vile and fear-mongering rhetoric only pushes this country further into into the flaming heap of ignorance and intolerance that facilitated the rise of the Trump administration.

Free speech is an important staple of democracy. However, the concept of free speech cannot be entertained until this nation overcomes its history of discrimination to form a true democracy, one in which all people exist on a level playing field. Considering that Americans have never been on equal grounds – not racially, politically, or even monetarily – completely free speech is not truly possible.

Double-check that Instagram aesthetic. Be critical of the “jokes” your friends make. Look more closely at who you choose to surround yourself with.

There is no place in this nation for the protection of bigoted ideologies on any front. It is past time we make this truth become self-evident, by any means necessary.

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