The Miseducation of Jemele Hill
Freedom of speech in the United States has always been a misnomer. You’re afforded freedom of speech if you’re a rich white cisgender male who wants to castigate his enemies and/or assert his claims to racial, sexual or economic dominance. But minority and marginalized peoples in this country have long known the score: you have the freedom to say what you want, but not freely. Speech will always come with a price.
To wit: this recent tweet from ESPN personality Jemele Hill:
In subsequent tweets, Hill referred to Trump as “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” and said “his rise is the direct result of white supremacy. Period.”
There can be no reasonable doubt left in any reasonable minds that Trump is an endorser of white supremacy. Indeed, many white liberal celebrities have said far worse, up to and including the fact that he should be assassinated. Yet while those celebrities caught flack for their comments, it’s Hill who’s been singled out for rebuke by the White House.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hill’s tweets were “one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense.” There are two possible ways Sanders could claim that this was “one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make”: either she woke up yesterday from an extended nap in a cryogenic chamber and hadn’t heard the comments her boss has made in the past several months, or — and I’m thinking this is the more likely scenario — she’s being disingenuous as hell.
The more chilling aspect of Sanders’s comments is her declaration that Hill’s tweets about Trump warrant her firing. Such a stance is in direct violation of the First Amendment, which ostensibly gives one the right to articulate his or her opinions and ideas without fear of government reprisal or censorship. Of course, we know full well how little Sanders’s boss respects free speech, unless it concerns his personal inalienable right to say whatever pops into his diseased brain.
And here’s what defines white privilege in a nutshell: a white male anchor like Sean Hannity can make patently false claims and propagate unfounded conspiracy theories that go unchallenged by his network. Jemele Hill tweets a few bold truths about the sitting president that force her network to issue a mealy mouthed mea culpa.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Hill has courted controversy for racially tinged remarks. You may find her use of Godwin’s law to be in poor taste, but since when has that been a disqualification in this tacky-ass society? Hell, ESPN employed ex-jock Curt Schilling, a man who infamously compared Muslims to Nazis. And while those hot takes ultimately got Schilling canned by the network, never you fear about his media job prospects: he’s currently hosting a daily online radio show for Breitbart.
Some have argued that Hill’s Trump tweets were in violation of company policy that forbids ESPN employees from commenting on political issues unless it was “related to a current issue impacting sports.” As if people are automatons with the ability to cleanly bifurcate their opinions in such a manner. This is especially true of writers and commentators like Hill, who after all were hired by ESPN for their opinions, not because they used to shoot a wicked J. Not to mention the fact that this supposed divorce between politics from sports hasn’t stopped a range of white commentators from discussing, say, Colin Kaepernick while throwing their racially and politically tinged biases into the mix.
A common refrain among the unwashed masses is that people like Hill and Kaepernick should just “stick to sports!” Curiously, this refrain isn’t employed when the athlete in question prosthelytizes on behalf of his faith (usually Christianity) or expresses pro-war or pro-military views that are in accordance with mainstream America. But many white Americans simply have no tolerance for athletes, particularly black ones, who express their political opinions, especially when those opinions run counter to their own.
On a pure talent basis, there isn’t a justifiable reason why Kaepernick isn’t on an NFL roster, given the dreck that passes for starting QB’s on many teams. And yet Kaepernick isn’t in the NFL because, by nearly everyone’s admission, he’s been blackballed for his refusal to stand for the national anthem.
Will Hill suffer a similar fate? I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she were. Already she’s faced disproportionate abuse from individuals who, with zero irony, refer to their political enemies as “snowflakes.”
When it comes to free speech in America, the standard is always double. If you’re a Donald Trump or a Sean Hannity, you can lie without consequence and slander without shame. If you’re a Jemele Hill, you will be forced to retract your words and hope that will be enough to satisfy your employer and quiet down the mob.
Free speech isn’t free. We only pretend it to be.