Not All Opinions Are Created Equal
There's been a lot of talk lately about what our responsibilities to ensure someone else's free speech rights are and what we're supposed to protect. In the wake of accusations of being stuck in a "liberal bubble," many of us have been accused of being intolerant of other opinions and shutting down debate before it even starts.
And you know what? It's true, and I'm proud of it.
Not every opinion or point of view is valid and acceptable.
There was a time when we all agreed with that â€” really, we did. Not long ago the majority of people in America believed overt racism was unacceptable in our society and we shunned those who put forth such opinions. We relegated them to the outskirts of society because we were willing to speak out and say that we do not accept such bigotry here.
(That's not to say racism was gone, becuase we know it wasn't. It's just that we were willing to say we refused to tolerate obvious racism in the public square.)
But now there are white supremacists (back) in the White House and across the administration, and most of the Republican candidates ran on platforms that focused on abandoning the idea of "political correctness" â€” the idea that there are just certain things you shouldn't say in public, because they're gross and offensive. They ran on a platform of bringing back public bigotry, and they won.
I've seen people I've formerly thought to be considerate moderates suddenly sharing articles on social media that have some of the most vile thoughts I've seen in print lately. These folks defend the both the opinions and their authors, in what they assume to be their responsibility to free speech and the need to "hear both sides."
I'm not sure what they're hoping to learn, but I don't need to hear from a Klansman why ethno-nationalism and white supremacy are beneficial (because they're not). I don't need to hear from a radical Christian who says that transgender people are (a) not real or (b) only here to attack you while you use the bathroom (again, because they're not). I don't need to listen to that guy from high school who swears that the Muslims are going to take over our country and force all of our women to wear burqas as they impose Sharia law (once more, they're not).
I don't need to read those articles or listen to those opinions because I don't need to engage with racism and bigotry to know it's bad. That's not a lesson that takes much to learn. I can even teach someone else to "treat everyone equally" without ever having to give them a counter argument.
But even more than that, I don't need to defend those people and what they write, because nothing they say has a basis in reality. People who share and say such sentiments should absolutely be silenced because they are objectively wrong. We can prove that.
Holding ourselves to the highest standard of free speech doesn't mean accepting arguments that aren't factully correct â€” and it doesn't mean that every individual citizen has to listen to and validate every opinion that exists simply because someone holds it.
The First Amendment only prohibits the government from restricting a citizen's free speech rights. It says nothing about what private citizens can and cannot do when it comes to giving others a platform.
I absolutely believe and support the idea that the government should protect any and all forms of speech. No one should be jailed for sharing their opinions, no matter how disgusting they may be. And I absolutely defend everyone's rights to speak out in safety.
But beyond that? I owe them nothing. I don't have to invite everyone to speak at my debate, I don't have to share their articles on my social media, and I don't have to engage in conversation with them just because they think they have an opinion.
There are plenty of times I'll welcome challenging debate and engage with those whose opinions are the opposite of mine. The best way to provide healthcare? Filled with a thousand possibilities. How to increase gun control and what that might look like? Of course, because we can find common ground on how best to approach communal safety. Whether or not transgender people are real and should be allowed to exist in public spaces? Absolutely not.
There is no gray area when it comes to discussing someone's humanity. There is no, "Well, let's look at it this way." I'm not willing to tolerate "just a little" racism or bigotry or transphobia or Islamophobia and, to be sure, I'm proud of that.
Somehow "Make America Great Again" has turned into "I get to say all the disgusting stuff I want and you can't stop me." I refuse to live in a world where that's the standard.
So, go ahead and call me intolerant. You can even make up new fancy-sounding terms like "reverse bigotry" if it makes you feel good.
If the worst thing you can say about me is that I live in a bubble becuase I refuse to tolerate racism and bigotry? Great. Bring it. I'll take it as a compliment.
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based LGBTQ activist and writer and proudly lives in a bubble where racism and bigotry aren't allowed. Follow him on Twitter: @rjmedwed
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