The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Z_CNHI News Service

May 9, 2014

Sterling wasn't right - but has every right to free speech

Editor's note: CNHI newspapers that are not weekly subscribers to Taylor Armerding's column may publish this one if they notify him at t.armerding@verizon.net.

It certainly has been a cathartic couple of weeks on the racial front.

Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from any participation in the NBA, hit with a $2.5 million fine and may be forced to sell the team for his derogatory statements regarding blacks.

So now all the rest of us – Caucasian, Latino, African American, Asian – can feel better about ourselves. We have purged a racist from our midst and put everybody else on notice: Watch what you say lest you be excommunicated from legitimate society.

But I’m not feeling so good. I thought America was the land where you weren’t supposed to have to watch what you say, unless it was “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

I thought the whole notion of free speech means defending the right to say things that most people find loathsome. That the answer to ignorant, bigoted or racist speech was more speech - not crushing the speaker.

And that the principle of “defending to the death” another’s right to say things that may be stupid, disagreeable or outright nasty has been at the core of our understanding of the First Amendment for generations.

Is it really progress to junk all that over the inane, private pronouncements of a sick, rich, old, white guy?

I carry no brief for Sterling. This is not a defense of what he said – only his right to say it without sanctions from an organization that, if the private utterances of all its participants were made public, would have a lot more ostracizing to do.

And that is the first, big problem with the orgy of punishment issued to Sterling - privacy.

This was not a radio and TV host like Don Imus making a racist, sexist comment on air to a national audience. This was a guy having what he thought was a private conversation with his black, Hispanic mistress (confidante?) in which he demanded that she not promote her relationship with other blacks or to “bring them to my games.”

Yes, it was ignorant, bigoted and pathetic - but also private. If law enforcement had come up with that recording without a warrant, it would have been laughed out of any court in the land.

Are the rest of us ready to turn over transcripts of everything we’ve said in private? I doubt it.

Then there is the double-standard problem regarding bigoted speech.

Jamie Foxx, the actor, hosted “Saturday Night Live” not long ago and promoted his latest movie, “Django Unchained,” by remarking, “I kill all the white people. How great is that?” His comment wasn't, “Don’t bring white people to my movies,” but instead how great it is that his character kills all the white people.

He was just being funny, he said later. Sure. Try flipping that, where a white actor celebrates his character “killing all the black people.”

Of course, there was no self-righteous huffing from Hollywood. No big fine levied against Foxx. No ban, or even suspension, on appearing in Hollywood films.

Which is fine, but that is the way it ought to be for Sterling, too.

I have a problem with what Foxx said, but I defend his right to say it, and I don’t think he should get banned from his profession for saying something pathetic and bigoted. If I have enough of a problem with him, I can refuse to see any of his movies and change the channel when he comes on TV. I can encourage others to do the same. But I shouldn’t be demanding that he be banned from the movie industry.

Foxx is not the only example of the double-standard on racist speech. Jesse Jackson, self-appointed “civil rights leader,” famously referred to New York City as “Hymietown" - an overt, hateful slur of Jews. Al Sharpton, one of the nation’s most persistent race hustlers, has a history of anti-Semitism and has also referred to whites as “crackers.”

I despise what they say - hey, I despise most of what hustlers like them say – but they have every right to say it without being fined $1 million or more.

It’s a mystery to me why people like Sharpton and Jackson end up on television so often as “spokesmen” for African Americans. I would think the black community would be embarrassed – as embarrassed as I would be if Sterling claimed to be a spokesman for whites.

The bottom line is that Sterling has plenty of company when it comes to racism, and not just from other whites.

Free speech is based on tolerance. I hear endlessly from those demanding Sterling’s scalp that they are tolerant, and they want him ostracized because he is not.

They don’t understand the word. Tolerance means putting up with what you find dumb, distasteful or even dead wrong. It doesn’t mean celebrating or endorsing what Sterling said. You can criticize it and show solidarity with those he demeaned; those displays of solidarity at Clippers games were among the few excellent and appropriate responses to what Sterling said.

But they also ought to defend his right to say what he did. Freedom of speech does not exist to protect what is popular; that needs no protection. It is in place to protect the unpopular, and yes, the politically incorrect

That principle is far more important than anything Donald Sterling said.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net

1
Text Only
Z_CNHI News Service
  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 25, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

E-edition
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years
Must Read