Skip to main content

Let's be clear about freedom of speech

Despite what many people are saying about student protests at universities across the nation, as Kat Blaque points out below: "freedom of speech is not freedom from the repercussions of your speech...Unless the government is knocking on your door, dragging you from your computer, and tossing you into a prison cell, your freedom of speech is not being violated." 

Nicholas Christakis being held accountable by Yale students.
So when Erica Christakis inserted herself into a campus-wide conversation about whether students should wear black/red face as Halloween costumes—subject matter that she admitted and demonstrated that she was ignorant about—she was illustrating how free speech works: she was free to make her ignorant, ungraceful comments. When she received pushback and criticism for making said comments, her freedom to say offensive stuff was still not in jeopardy. Hell, she was free to set up a blog and call it "In defense of blackface" if she wanted to. However, if people subsequently questioned her ability to do her job as someone securing the wellbeing of Yale students, that is not a violation of her rights. It's simply valid, logical criticism.


Block'd! No explanation required. No
rights infringed upon.
After all, a Yale house "master" "is responsible for the physical well being and safety of students in the residential college, as well as for fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational life and character of the college." Acting as an apologist for students promoting white supremacy through their Halloween costumes does not seem to mesh well with this job description, especially given that some of her students are not white. Demonstrating ignorance about the historical context of black/red face cannot be helpful in shaping social, cultural and education life in her house. Would an American Indian student feel comfortable about bringing her/his concerns about racism to someone who wrote what she wrote? /rhetorical

If you'd like to ally-as-a-verb, please point this out to your fellow white person the next time they complain about the student protests infringing on rights (as my razor-sharp wife did at the Harvard Faculty Club the other night!); or pull a soccer flop about being blocked on Twitter, or otherwise forget that just because they have something to say, doesn't mean that people have to listen to it or accept it without criticism. This is (should be) especially clear for academics, who (supposedly) hold themselves to a higher standard of logic and discourse than the average person on social media.

Here's a brief history of the freedom of speech in the US, along with a ton of insightful commentary by Kat Blaque, via Everyday Feminism:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The Bright Line is not Monotonic

The anthology of myths commonly known as America rests upon the notion that history is linear. In the past people in this country ignorantly did bad things to other people. But thanks to the passage of time, we can now "let the past to be the past," because today we live in a time when things have gotten much better. Furthermore, any problem that our society faces in the present will inevitably be solved as "the old guard" dies off and a new generation of better people takes their place. 
Of course this story isn't told so simply or explicitly. But the assumption lurks beneath the other stories we, as Americans, tell ourselves and each other. The myth certainly undergirds the notion that racism is a thing of the past, and that today we inhabit a "post-racial" world in which all people, regardless of race have equal access to betterment, dignity and happiness. We are lulled into beliving that at some point in the mid to late 1960's, a wise reveren…