In August, we saw racists protest for their right to openly discriminate against people of color, specifically blacks and Jews. With their tiki torches and unmasked voices, they made the case that in America, you should not be discriminated against because you want to discriminate. At that demonstration, a white nationalist slammed his car into a group of counter protesters (those who disagreed with the white nationalists´ views), killing one woman.
Free speech, in the white nationalists’ eyes, is under attack by the removal of confederate statues, the banning of internet users who have advocated for hate and violence, and the retaliation of people who disagree with their views- like the counter protesters present at the rally.
And so we are put at a standstill, carefully stepping around the tricky world of censorship.
People have compared the rally in Charlottesville to anti-Trump protests simply because they were united in that they both hate something. Those that tiptoe in the middle argue that this was tolerable because the racists were merely exercising their first amendment rights. And until there was a body count, there was no way to disagree.
How do we draw the line between censorship and protecting uncontrolled, hateful language? Our laws are not partisan, but around ideas such as censorship, it is impossible not to take a stance. Racism, homophobia, sexism and the like are never acceptable.
When a someone is offended by racist, sexist, homophobic content it is usually not taken as seriously. Censorship isn’t needed because it is not as shocking, and compared in the wake of Charlottesville, it is not as harmful or as forceful. Everyone has laughed at a joke that they shouldn’t, including myself. Every day we see individuals who are comfortable in their hate and are wildly successful, and we still support their work because it is so good and we choose to give them a free pass. The joke, song, or movie didn’t quite cross the invisible line of what is acceptable to joke about. As Roxane Gay says in “Bad Feminist,” “We are constantly faced by this uncomfortable balance between brilliance and bad behavior […] I still hate rape jokes, but I hate censorship more. I hate that I have to choose.” Defenders of Charlottesville attempt to make the connection that you can say whatever you please because we live in America, the land of free speech.
We choose every day what is too offensive and what isn’t. We are, whether we realize it or not, constantly facilitating how much ¨free speech¨ is acceptable. So how do we draw the imaginary line of when humor and acts are acceptable and when they are not? This line is ever-changing, and yet all of our reputations cling onto it. We are, like most things in our lives, at the mercy of others.