There is a fine line between hate speech and offensive speech. There is no question about that. Hate speech is something that we, as a civil society, should not allow in any circumstance. Offensive speech, on the other hand, is protected by the Constitution even if it is vile and driven by hate.
What is unprotected hate speech and protected offensive speech? Well, that is a question that the courts have debated for decades. These definitions are so murky that when social media platforms trying to enforce rules against hate speech, it seems arbitrary and inconsistent (whether or not they are being impartial is another topic).
In my opinion, the definition needs clarity which is something that neither the courts or our government are capable of giving us. So, I am going to take a crack at making a definition. I am going to use the term “hateful” as to not confuse it with legal definitions.
Hateful speech is speech that calls for the violation of a group’s inalienable rights. Hateful speech includes threats against a group as well as speech that incites violence (commonly known as fighting words). Offensive speech, on the other hand, is speech that, while socially unacceptable, is not threatening or inciteful. Bigoted statements are an example of offensive speech.
Unfortunately, even this definition has its flaws. Some hateful speech can be disguised as offensive speech, a form of messaging commonly called dog-whistling. Additionally, the context (and even historical context) in which speech is made is important.
As the ranks of college administrators have swelled in higher education, one task they’ve undertaken is more aggressively training students—and at times, faculty members— in what is variously called “cultural competence” or “diversity and inclusion.”
In my opinion, the idea of microaggressions is one borne out of the need for some people to feel offended. It is an idea derived from political correctness which is a philosophy designed to stifle free speech.
When Laura Moriarty decided she wanted to write a dystopian novel about a future America in which Muslims are forcefully corralled into detention centers, she was aware that she should tread carefully. Her protagonist is a white teenager, but one of her main characters, Sadaf, is a Muslim American immigrant from Iran, so Moriarty began by diving into Iranian books and films. Moriarty explained via email that she asked two Iranian immigrant friends to read an early draft and see if Sadaf seemed authentic to them, and whether the language and accent fit with their memories and experiences. A friend of Pakistani and American descent who is a practicing Muslim gave additional feedback. Moriarty asked a senior colleague at the University of Kansas, Giselle Anatol, who writes about Young Adult fiction and has been critical of racist narratives in literature, to read the book with a particular eye toward avoiding another narrative about a “white savior.” And after American Heart was purchased by Harper, the publisher provided several formal “sensitivity reads,” in which a member of a minority group is charged with spotting potentially problematic depictions in a manuscript.
I have to say the novel being pulled is one of those rare cases of irony.
Today I saw “taking a knee in the culture wars” and I didn’t click-because I am so darn tired of it all. I realized I am walking around in a bad mood all the time and that’s a sin.
Certain things used to be more, well, self-evident. A great many of us didn’t necessarily like that the First Amendment protected speech we disagreed with, or that even made us afraid, but we accepted it. An agreed-upon duty to protect the right to expression irrespective of its content existed, and we knew ensuring that liberty was not the same as endorsing what might be said with it. We understood that if we allowed government and other institutions to block one person’s speech they would block others’—right up until they came for us.