When It Comes To Free Speech, The ‘Whites Only’ Is Silent

A Princeton Professor’s cancellation of two speaking events says a lot about the state of free speech and race in America.

There’s a reason why the authors of the Declaration of Independence could write “all men are created equal” while owning Black people and silencing women. It’s the same reason why, yesterday, a Black woman professor from Princeton University, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, decided to cancel talks in Seattle and San Diego, after receiving death threats for giving a commencement speech calling he-who-shall-not-be-named a “racist, sexist megalomaniac” who “has fulfilled the campaign promises of a campaign organized and built upon racism, corporatism, and militarism.”

American society is so racist and misogynistic that it has convinced itself that attacking and threatening a Black woman for criticizing the words and actions of an abuser is the moral high ground. That silencing the voices of those who can see that the Emperor has no clothes is the proper thing to do. And that free speech should protect those who seek to hurt the marginalized, but not the marginalized themselves.

American society has convinced itself that attacking and threatening a Black woman for criticizing an abuser is the moral high ground.

And here’s the thing: What Professor Taylor faced is considered the norm in this country, and has been since the U.S. was first colonized. In the Gamergate and sexist-white-straight-man-bullshit online communities, these kinds of threats are standard. Online advocates and activists face them all the time for discussing history. For acknowledging demographics. For discussing shitty-ass cultural norms. The brotherhood of white maleness and its disciples firmly embrace violence against anyone who speaks against them.

And the really scary part? Their disciples are everywhere. They are in the schools, teaching our children. They are in the hospitals refusing Black people care. They are in the police forces, criminalizing Blackness. In the restaurants, demanding the right to refuse to serve Black people and other people of color (POCs). They are the lawyers claiming to defend us while quietly encouraging us to plea bargain behind closed doors. They are the judges handing down extreme sentences at will and the politicians deciding which people deserve clean water and housing.

The brotherhood of white maleness and its disciples firmly embrace violence against anyone who speaks against them.

They are the white women who protect patriarchy through supporting dangerous leaders and inciting brutal violence over their assumed “purity.” They are the non-Black POCs who think aligning with whiteness will protect them. They are the Black people who think the same ill-informed nonsense.

We are past the time of sirens and warning bells. We are fully in the fuckshit of the downward spiral. Now it’s just a matter of when and how it all falls apart. If the argument is whether I’m human and deserve human rights — and it is — then this is the only way things can go.

Professor Taylor canceling her talks is all the more troubling when you consider the state of free speech in this country. Leaders in the progressive community have devoted themselves to defending those who openly disparage and threaten the marginalized. According to the ACLU, white nationalists like Richard Spencer and anti-trans incendiaries like Milo Yiannopoulos can openly spew hate because of free speech protections under the First Amendment. Even when this speech could very likely lead to violence against Black people or trans people or other groups that have been historically oppressed, it is apparently worth vigorously protecting.

But a Black woman criticizing the leader of the free world? We aren’t meant to be heard, and to insist upon it can literally lead to our death. (Some of the 50 e-mails Taylor received in the wake of her commencement speech threatened murder.)

I would have canceled if I were Professor Taylor, too.

Right now in this country, we have white people fighting for the right to refuse to deal with Black people and POCs. We have people whose paid responsibility is to protect, serve, heal, and provide, fighting to exclude people they think don’t deserve the same amenities as them. We have an Attorney General, appointed by the man Professor Taylor cannot speak out against, turning his back on police brutality, and launching a crusade against Black people and POCs.

I’ve always worried about my safety but this environment helps me realize how much of my safety has been an illusion. It has reinforced every negative thing I’d been taught to think about white people when it comes to my well-being. And on top of all that, I worry that if I’m physically assaulted by some white person and the police are called, that officer may choose not to get involved, or may side with my assailant.

White people don’t value Black lives. We know this. And this country is filled with white people who I’m forced to give the benefit of the doubt to on a daily basis. But guess what? I have enough of a survival instinct to say “fuck it” when I need to. And I commend Professor Taylor for exercising that right. In a statement after canceling her talks, she said:

“I will not be silent. We have to change this dynamic and begin to build a massive movement against racism, sexism, and bigotry in this country. I remain undaunted in my commitment to that project.”

Did the haters win? Nope. Because she is still alive and has the ability to speak her truth. That is not something that can be said for a lot of Black people.

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