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On Free Speech

jkang's picture

Last semester, I was abroad, so I felt a bit disconnected from the Bi-co.  I would occasionally get the bi-co news over facebook and through my friends, but I was generally unaware of the daily happenings of the bi-co.  A couple weeks into the semester, I received some news that I found distressing.  I heard from a friend that some students decided to put up a Confederate Flag and a Mason-Dixon line.  Since I was abroad, I don't know what the full story and I'm not really sure what people's reactions were, although I can guess that many people were angered.  I too, was angered, first by the fact that students in the bi-co put up a symbol of such hate and bigotry and second because I was told that the students were defending their actions because it was "free speech."  Now, I don't really know if that is what they said because I never talked to these students in person and any news I received was mostly relayed through facebook messenger, but their response does raise an important question on free speech and multiculturalism.

The question is this: Should hateful or otherwise offensive speech or actions, particularly those that are conceivably targeted towards one group of people, be protected as part of free speech?   This question I think is particularly pertinent at this time because of the recent incident at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.  I'm still working through this question, and I'm not entirely sure what the answer is.  I don't even think there is one specific answer because it is filled with such complexities and nuances.  But I think its an important question to consider as we work through topics in multicultural education and consider our roles as multicultural educators. 


jccohen's picture


I agree that this is a crucial question in multicultural ed, and in fact I think we might have to break out 'speech' from 'actions' and also to raise questions about intent and context.  The Charlie Hebdo situation seems to me a case in point, and a very difficult one, especially as it's now layered in the ensuing violence.  And in that sense, of course, and because we're a small community, the Bi-Co confederate flag is an easier case to begin to parse.  Can you imagine a scenario whereby the flag incident could lead to significant dialogue between differently positioned folks?  It seems to me that this kind of scenario might make the legalistic protection of free speech into a more educational opportunity for learning...  And yet, as you say, this may raise different questions depending on the circumstances; for example, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, how is the possibility of learning configured, and for whom?