When my good friend a newspaper publisher sent me the full-blown article, she encouraged me to “exhale” – meaning to hold my breath in response to shock – before reading it. Truthfully, I was not shocked by what I was about to read, not in the least bit. Years of observing lapses in ignorance have a way of immunizing us from steady acts of insensitivities.
Briefly summarized, the article read,” A Tennessee lawmaker has apologized for what he claims was an “exaggeration” while trying to convey support for a colleague looking to add death by firing squad as an execution method for death row inmates”.
Okay, if that was not “exhale worthy,” what was that the lawmaker got caught with his “racial pants down” by suggesting that lynching be added to execution methods.
Now are we talking about a local issue, a simple one off here?
We can look no further than Dilbert cartoon founder Scott Adams who encountered fierce backlash and cancelations of his strip after describing Black people as a “hate group” on YouTube. He repeatedly referred to people who are Black as members of a “hate group” and said he would no longer “help Black Americans.” And guess this, he actually urged white people to “get the hell away from Black people.”
We can look no further than Texas Tech’s basketball coach suspended for encouraging student-athletes to be more receptive to coaching and referenced the Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters.”
We can look no further than what Steve Bannon exhorted during a recent gathering of the French National Front Party. “Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.” Bannon told the crowd that he had learned from traveling the world that “history is on our side” and that “the globalists have no answers to freedom.”
So, are we talking about “hate speech” here? Not sure that I can go quite that far. But not to let anyone off the hook, maybe I’d describe it as revealing “slips of tongue” that exposes deeply-held stereotypes and biases. Arguably, among notable exceptions are any references to slavery, “lynching” in particular.
To be clear, the term “hate speech” is generally agreed to mean abusive language specifically attacking a person or persons because of their race, color, religion, ethnic group, gender, or sexual orientation. Although the First Amendment still protects much hate speech, there has been substantial debate on the subject in the past two decades among lawmakers, jurists, and legal scholars. To me, the line between freedom of speech and hate speech that can encourage acts of violence has become increasingly blurred these days.
Now if someone asked me – well, actually they did – were there events in recent history, a seismic moment perhaps, when insensitive, racist, hate and other language spilled out of the floodgates, my answer is there were two; the first, the 2008 election of the first Black president of the United States; the second when the succeeding president unleashed vitriol and bashed Mexicans to launch his run for office, who coined the term “China Virus” and casually mentioned “s-hole” countries. We can look no further than organizations that track domestic violence and acts of hate, the Southern Christian Center, the Department of Justice, etc., to see disturbing upticks when he took office.
“A one-off!” … “Exaggeration”…. “Hyperbole”!. “Slip of tongue”! Damn, if it’s not one lamebrained, flimsy excuse followed by a hallow apology, it’s another.
There’s little doubt that all this negative publicity will serve notice that inappropriate speech won’t be swept under the rug or downplayed as “just an exaggeration.” Will people become a lot more careful and scripted in what they say? Will folks on the receiving end of insensitive comments remain tolerant?
The answer to first question is probably so; the answer to the second question is an emphatic NO!
In the end, if one does not have the financial clout – a boycott for example – to send these people a powerful message and make them pay dearly with their pocketbooks for their behavior, alternative solutions are not that easy to come by.
However, there are things that we all do have at our disposal, social media and cellphones, tools for public embarrassment and potential suspensions.
Our silence is simply not an option.© Terry Howard is an award-winning speaker, writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Waynesboro News Virginian, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.