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The problem is that people will inevitably differ about which speech qualifies as racist. The term has become our own scarlet letter, an all-purpose way to prohibit ideas you dislike. So we need to defend the free-speech rights of everyone, even avowed racists. The best response to hateful speech is to raise your own voice against it, not ban it.
–Jonathan Zimmerman, in the WSJ
Clearly Jonathan Zimmerman, as a liberal, does not fall into the rank-and-file of academia in terms of his views about free speech. But he is a clear-thinking man who sees the detriments to labeling everything racist except the kitchen sink. Although I don’t think he has many followers, he at least advocates for the honest approach to free speech: instead of calling everything racist that you dislike, defend your position and do it honorably.
At a time when our commitments to courage, truth, and honor have fallen by the wayside or been misrepresented as Rightist rantings, it’s even a little encouraging to see a man who speaks genuinely for free speech. At some level, he may realize that his fellow liberals may also be victim to the next attack on free speech if the rules shift.
It might be tempting to brush off these few comments we’ve been seeing from the Left as useless, but I believe we do so to our own detriment in a number of ways. We need to thank them for speaking up and let others know they are doing so. We need to thank them for supporting a tenet of this great country. We benefit from not seeing this act like a pebble thrown into the ocean of hate, but a sword offered up in the heat of battle. Every statement can be a chink in the Left’s armor; every call-out gouges a weakness in their wall. Every. Single. One. Counts.
The original piece in the WSJ.Published in