By Phoenix Calida
Becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the framing of these “free speech” arguments. Free speech doesn’t include hate speech, and it doesn’t mean no consequences for words we choose to use.
I don’t want to crack down and ban everything, but I do think people need to be more responsible for what they say. Words are more than just sounds. Words influence ideas, create dialogues, and depending what you say, they can reinforce oppressive power systems. we need to be honest about this and start critiquing how free speech is being used. There’s a reason we reference works of literature, repeat famous speeches, read poetry, post memes of inspirational quotes, and write eulogies for loved ones. Words matter. Words have power. Words make us feel happy, loved, alone, sad, angry, or optimistic. Words inspire us and Influence the world around us.
We can’t ignore this influence when we talk about free speech and the right to say anything at any time.
So yeah, we *can* claim we have the right be offensive and make “dead hooker” jokes. But when serial killers tend to target sex workers, most of society slut shames sex workers, and police say sex worker deaths are irrelevant because “no humans are involved”, the words aren’t funny because they add to a culture that ignores the body count of murdered sex workers.
Words have been used to perpetuate negative stereotypes of non white people for centuries. Words have led to fear mongering about illegal immigrants and resulted in armed citizens meeting buses full of (presumed to be undocumented) children.
Words that make people think anyone who looks middle eastern is a terrorist, ensuring certain people tend be stopped and “randomly” searched at airports.
Anti blackness has been put into words that have convinced many white people that black folks are inherently violent, thuggish, deceitful, or inferior. Sure I have hurt feelings when someone calls me a nigger or asks if I have a prison record. But that hurt turns into legitimate fear when I see cops. If cops believe those racist words, they might try to kill me based on the presumption I’m violent because of the color of my skin. Judges like Louie Gohmert openly admit they believe the racist rhetoric that black people are inferior and violent. A man that was a judge was paid to sentence black people to prison believes anti black rhetoric. How did that affect black people he sentenced? Words matter.
Men trade jokes about women being bitches and hoes. They feel entitled to women’s bodies, and sometimes become violent if women have the audacity to say no. And they’re encouraged to be violent by the words of men with similar mindsets (Elliot Rodger + aftermath)
We believe poor people are lazy mooches. Politicians believe those lies, and as a result are intent on cutting social services because words have convinced them poor people are dishonest and gaming the system.
Words designed to hurt the lgtbqia community cause pain. This is not just hurt feelings in being called a fag or a dyke, but real consequences. Corrective rape exists because someone used their words to convince others what cis lesbians need is forced intercourse. Jokes about trans women are part of the reason why our culture won’t even call attacks on trans folks hate crimes.
So I’d encourage people to think about what free speech means. You should be accountable for your words. And remember that not only do you have to bear the consequences of your words, other people have to bear the consequences as well. People have to bear the burden of sexism, racism, anti lgtbqia sentiment, etc.and if your words perpetuate those stigmas, you’re adding to the burden.
There’s a reason you can’t yell “Fire!” In a crowded movie theater. But if you’re using your words to mimic oppressive language or ideals, you’re still yelling “fire!”, You’re just not yelling it in a movie theater *you’re* currently occupying. You’re yelling it in a movie theater full of muslims. Or black people. Or gay people. Or women. And you can sit back and be smug and insist it’s “your right” to be an ass. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Unless you think contributing to oppressive and dangerous cultures that hurt and sometimes kill people is a worthy endeavor.