I recently read an interesting article about how free speech is anti-freedom, and how it is used to oppress the downtrodden in society, link here. While some of what was said in the article I could agree with, I thought it to be biased and doesn’t address the proper issues. One of the key arguments proposed in the article is that Free speech is often a tool for white people to punch down the battling hordes of the oppressed masses with something called “white speech”, the idea that nobody can speak out against the white establishment. What to me appears somewhat frustrating in the article is that it seems to overlook all the great work free speech continues to achieve and has achieved for years and avoids the greater issue in society of racial bias.

Ideas in and of themselves do not necessarily offend people But it is the perception of the idea that can be deemed offensive. people often assume that a sentence is intended to be discriminatory even when it isn’t. The assumption is most often on the person interpreting, like when somebody says “we need tighter border controls” it very well may be that one person that has said this is racist, but this doesn’t mean all people proposing tighter borders share the same views. What needs to be ascertained is the intent behind the words.

My first issue to tackle will be the focus on the negatives of free speech in the article. If someone is to say “black people are inferior to white people” One of the great tools of freedom of expression is that having heard an external opinion, this opinion can be analysed and poked. This wouldn’t happen in a society where nobody could voice how they thought (just peek at any authoritarian government). Free speech doesn’t just allow Donald Trump to say “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it,” it also allows civil rights supporters to question the rhetoric of white supremacists. When people are forced to be quiet, their opinions don’t disappear, they are simply not heard. When we say, people shouldn’t be allowed to say things in certain contexts this shouldn’t apply to the public forum, one thing I could say in public may not be acceptable in private. However, saying that we should ban people from being allowed to voice certain issues in the public forum or indeed places of learning, is avoiding greater issues in society. Yes certain groups do face oppression but free speech has been the champion of civil rights movements for ages. social status doesn’t dictate the ability to disagree, but what it may affect is your ability to act, and this is what free speech and peaceful protesting are all about, fighting the social status restrictions, not implementing new ones.

So what about racial bias? The article in question gave an example of the oppressed being smacked in the face with “white speech” when Fred Hampton and his early meeting with death in the 1960s was mentioned as a license to say that White people oppress minorities in the current day. Whereas I have more recent evidence which may shed some light on what in fact is going on with racial bias. A study was carried out a while ago that suggested that BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups are more likely to convict a white defendant when seated on a jury, and I think it is connected to the idea that we are all wired to trust people who look like the people we grew up with, our family and early friends. These preferences can become racial bias if you are only surrounded by people of the same colour skin as you, and racism if you grow up around people who hold racist views. This can lead to a racial bias in society if people cluster in racial groups, or political bias if people cluster in political groups. you can actually see these leanings and how they affect decisions made in wider society and I do believe that we can unlearn this inherent bias and move forward. However, we must acknowledge that any race or group has the potential to hold discriminative views. If you wanted to explore this issue further you could look into how identity exclusive groups view outsiders in comparison with identity inclusive groups, link here. The key difference being that the open groups that accept any identity are way more tolerant of outsiders in the long run than closed groups. Not exactly the biggest revelation I know but key nonetheless.

On top of this, there is another study I would like to address, one that suggests that white jurors living in diverse communities are not racially biased against BME groups. It further backs up my theory and shows that white people living in ethnically diverse areas, surrounded by differing opinions and cultures are way less likely to convict people simply down to race. To me, these studies tell the opposite story of “white speech” if we truly lived in a society where these values were held, you’d expect BME groups to let white people get off scot free every time, and for minorities to be locked up by their own peers. however, that’s not what we see in these studies, quite the contrary. 

The main point of my argument can be boiled down to the idea that silencing opposing views and cultures only leads to bottled and misplaced anger, something that free speech helps to counter. Funnily enough, If you only listen to one point of view, that’s the only view you are ever likely to have. Exposing people to outside opinions and cultures actually, has the effect of depolarization and leads to more tolerant and reasonable thinking, but I guess they just have to be willing to listen.