Thursday, September 16, 2010

155. Free speech has consequences

Most people have heard by now about Dr. Laura Schlessinger's recent use of the "n-word" on her radio show. Dr. Laura had been talking to a black female caller who asked about the racial problems she had experienced in being married to a white man when she used the n-word several times to explain the "hypersensitivity" of blacks in regards to that word and racial stereotypes.

From a social perspective, the exchange was very embarrassing. In essence, Dr. Laura ran out every cliché argument against the hypersensitivity of racism. She explained, in her first use of the word, that "black guys (and comedians) use it all the time." Then she admits, "I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing."

What Dr. Laura apparently doesn't get is two-fold. First, comedians say lots and lots of things that are not socially acceptable in any context other than their performance of a comedy act. Secondly, and much more importantly, the word represents among the worst atrocities that one race has ever afflicted upon another. It's their word, for now and forever, to be used as they wish-- and inappropriate for whites to use. From my perceptive, at least, it's simply a matter or respect.

Dr. Laura then starts with the "we elected a black president so racism is over" argument, shortly before defending the conversation by saying, "Don't double N -- NAACP me." The only argument that Dr. Laura forgot was the, "I have a black friend" argument. Oh, wait . . . she went there too, saying, "My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man." All in all, it was a shallow exchange-- even if some of it was taken out of context.

However, what was interesting is what happened after the show. At first, Dr. Laura apologized, saying, ". . . after the call, I was terribly upset about it and after that hour of the program concluded, I pulled myself off the air for the rest of the show." She admitted it was a hurtful word and that she should not have used it even if she was trying to make a point.

Fair enough, and had the story ended there, I probably wouldn't be writing about it.

However, at this point, Sarah Palin decides that she has an opinion on the situation-advising that Dr. Laura, "don't retreat . . .reload!" Palin then suggests that her First Amendment rights have been taken from her by activists. Of course, Palin has more to say-this time incorporating a slave reference-tweeting, "Dr. Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionist. And b thankful 4 her voice, America."

Later, Dr. Laura, apparently rejuvenated from the support decided she was leaving the show so that her "First Amendment rights would be restored."

Dr. Laura and Sarah Palin might to do well to understand that the freedom of speech does not mean that one has the right to speak without consequence. While the legal concept is complicated and has its interpretations and limitations, the freedom of speech as an ideology evolved as a fundamental right to the exchange of ideas-particularly political speech without the fear of government censorship or imprisonment. In other words, it evolved to permit criticism of the government-- to permit dissension and, in essence, democracy.

The freedom of speech did not evolve and does not permit people to say whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. In addition to slander, some forms of pornography and restrictions on time, place and manner, the freedom of speech does not protect against the natural consequences of one's non-governmental speech. Thus, while you can offer an offensive verbal attack on your boss without the fear of the government sending you to jail, the freedom of speech would not protect you from an impending termination. And like Don Imus, who was forced off of the air temporarily for offensive speech made on his radio show, a socially (or business) consciousness media corporation may terminate those that speak inappropriately according to the station's standards. Finally, one's speech may be offensive to listeners, who could also impose consequences by simply changing the station.

The controversy for Dr. Laura and Sarah Palin is neither their first nor likely their last. The former has said she will retire from her show, but still remain publically active. The latter, unfortunately, will not be leaving us anytime soon-- she has been leading and misleading millions of Americans ever since she was undeservingly thrust onto the public stage. Either way, let's hope that in the future they not only choose their words more carefully, but also take time to really understand the First Amendment that protects those words.

No comments:

Post a Comment