Friday, September 18, 2015

Why we should defend racist speech

The aftermath of the 2015 General election has produced many fascinating talking points. Firstly, there was the less than gracious way Mrs. Persad-Bissessar reacted to the results, failing to properly congratulate Dr. Rowley on the night. Though I suppose she was still reeling from the shock of defeat. After all, her entire re-election strategy centered on desperately trying to paint Dr. Rowley as an angry, obeah-worshiping rapist.And how could that idea possibly have failed? 

 Secondly the day after the election, the UNC filed a bizarre petition to declare the results ‘null and void’ on the account of the extra hour of voting the Elections and Boundary Commission allowed due to heavy rain. Evidently, the UNC actually believes their petition can trigger another General Election. And presumably that Santa Claus is real.  

But by far the most fascinating thing has been the issue of racism on social media. Apparently lots of sore losers took to social media to vent their frustration the way small-minded simpletons do; by posting racist and offensive comments. In fact the issue of racism appeared to be the only thing people were talking about days after the election. Newspaper columnists, radio DJs and everyone else on social media, shockingly informed us that our politics might actually be divided along nasty racial lines. Who knew?  

Amidst all of this deep introspection and self-loathing about what a horrible racist society we are, no one seemed perturbed that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service actually issued a warning that people posting racist comments online could be arrested. According to a statement by Deputy Commissioner of Police Harold Phillip, those guilty of racist posts could be charged under the Sedition Act. The penalty being a $3000 fine and two years in prison.  

The term sedition as outlined by the English language means ‘conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state’.  Charging people with sedition seems more appropriate for, you know, people who overthrow parliament, rather than the ramblings of racist morons on Facebook. Of course, as we all know, the police struggle with their use of English, so perhaps it’s an innocent misunderstanding.  

A dimwit who holds racist views and feels the need to share them online is certainly a cretin sensible people want to avoid, but it is also certainly true that a dimwit racist has the right to be a dimwit racist. Barring directly inciting violence or harassing and threatening someone else, a dimwit should be able to freely express his dim-witted racist views on his Facebook page or anywhere else.  

Most Trinbagonains appear to believe that freedom of speech is simply about only allowing people you agree with the freedom to express their views. In fact it’s just the opposite; a free society allows people with fundamentally different ideas the freedom to express themselves. This doesn’t just include people who hold opposing political views, opposing religious views, or opposing views on who should be captain of the West Indies cricket team. It also includes racist morons who have nothing meaningful to say.  

What was truly disturbing was not the dumb racists posts by idiots that were on Facebook last week. It was the way in which so many people online were quick to deputize themselves as members of the thought police, eager to track down those committing the heinous crime of thinking and saying idiotic things. One post that went viral advised Facebook users to take screen shots of racist offenders, get their names, contact information and email it to the police cybercrimes unit. Because simply ignoring racist idiots on Facebook apparently wasn’t an option.  

I have no idea how many people actually did this, or if the fact that it was shared so many times was just part of the theatrics common on social media. But it should be disturbing that so many people feel that the way to challenge bad ideas and arguments is not by crafting better ones, but rather by trying to scrub out the people holding them.  

The idea that we have a right to stifle any speech that offends us might not seem like a big deal when it comes to the rants of idiotic racists. But do you know why Trinidad and Tobago is a place where religious leaders can safely call for the death of homosexuals, or where prayer can replace sex education in schools, or where abortion rights are continually denied? It’s because it’s a place where voices of dissent can be easily stifled.  

Allowing racists the freedom to say racist things is also about allowing the freedom of all dissenting voices in our society to say what they want as well. Especially those voices without Facebook

1 comment:

Dave said...

If only racism was purely a question/issue of free speech, or words or talking or posts.