Freedom of Speech, Yes, But at Whose Expense?

safes-spaces-on-campusOur campus newspaper; the UB Spectrum wrote a recent article saying that “Although First Amendment rights come first,” still, “trigger warnings serve a purpose on campus.” In case you were wondering, trigger warnings and safe spaces are a phenomenon of our millennial generation—which aims to protect verbal or psychological assault on the psyches of young people from some individuals whose rhetoric might be problematic. Such a phenomenon may be trivial or even comical to Generation X and even amongst the Baby Boomers—because they were known for having a tougher skin, but it is important to us because it signifies how empathetic and respectful we are to other people’s emotional triggers.

Having said that, the entire premise of the UB Spectrum’s article was that safe spaces and trigger warnings are not only a vital part of their entire enterprise but is also a part of the United States Constitution and thus needed to be protected. “It’s vital to our reporting and we regularly use it as a defense against those who might want to muffle us,” the article mentioned. “And, we defiantly defend the right for students, professors and visiting lecturers to come and explore provocative and disturbing topics on our campus.”

All of that was fine, but here is where the article lost me; when it mentioned Milo Yiannopoulos, a Gay British, conservative writer for Breitbart News, and who was slated to speak at UB back in May but for whatever reason never did. Although “Some students felt threatened by his often racist, sexist, and inappropriate remarks,” the article highlighted, “We at the Spectrum supported his right to speak, although we find his rhetoric appalling.”

Two things; first, using someone like Milo, the epitome of a real-life troll, who once called the actress Leslie Jones from the GhostBuster film a man and an Ape, is not only problematic but blurs the line between free speech and cruelty. His inappropriate remarks and race-coded language is in clear violation of our generation’s moral covenant for creating safe spaces and trigger warnings. And Secondly, it’s one thing to approve of someone as problematic as Milo Yiannopoulos to speak but it’s another thing when the university was slated to actually pay him for it—especially when that money was coming out of our tuition or state taxes. Fund him out of your own pockets, not OURS!

I am not against free speech, in fact, if there were demonstrations going on—where people were decrying the infringement of their sacred rights to speak their minds, I would not only be there championing their cause but I would probably be one of the guys holding and shouting through the Microphone. However, the intentionally hurtful, ignorant, cruel, and miseducated phenomenon of people like Milo Yiannopoulos, crosses the line for me. His type of “free speech” is way over the top, unconstitutional, and should be equally detested.

Furthermore, freedom of speech in this country is not reserved for all Americans. It might exist in the theoretical sense but not in the practical one. For example, the phenomenon of Trumpism; off-the-cuff rhetoric, racial and sexist-coded languages, anti-immigrant, segregationist and dog-whistle politics, are not the type of micro and macro social discourses that a lot of us can “afford” to have.

If you are not a moneyed white male with prestige you do not get to engage in identity or dog-whistle politics with zero consequences. If our president Barrack Obama tried to engage in identity or dog-whistle politics he would be catalogued as Ant-American and an angry black man. If Hillary Clinton even remotely intended to engage in identity or dog-whistle politics she would be viewed as a feminist. And if a poor person was advocating for economic equality or engaging in identity politics they would be labeled as lazy, freeloaders, and people who just want the government to do everything for them.  So you see, people like Milo or Donald Trump even, are using their moneyed-white-male privilege to abuse not only our Constitutional ideals but the minds of our younger, empathic, and more respectful generation.

Be sure to click the following link to read the original UB Spectrum’s article; “Although First Amendment rights come first, trigger warnings serve a purpose on campus.”

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