There’s a common theme in those that argue for the ‘protection of free speech’. They tend to be people in a position of privilege. Someone whose unlikely to be the target of the abuse, and certainly unshaken by it. They will have almost certainly told you that they detest, and denounce the said individual. However, you’ll find them retweeting said bigots when they happen to say something that they agree with that backs up their point. It’s nothing short of selfish to acknowledge that someone’s behaviour compromises other people’s safety and on the other hand argue that it’s somehow of value.
In the past, the issue has been centred around university campuses and the speakers that have been invited. I would argue that universities have a duty of care to their students, and inviting a speaker who is actively sexist, racist, and homophobic would be negating that duty. “They don’t have to attend the event” I hear you yell. So you’re saying it’s ok for a university or student union to actively seek out a speaker who is likely to not only make them feel uncomfortable but also puts their safety at risk.
Of course, the issue isn’t exclusive to universities, but you can apply the same standards to other places of significance. It’s the exact reason I’m entirely behind John Bercow’s recent rejection of Donald Trump even if you want to argue it’s hypocritical because of the previous leaders he has welcomed to the Parliamentary estate. We’ll worry about your ‘whataboutery’ after Donald Trump’s state visit. I couple those people who think refusing Donald Trump the honour of addressing Parliament is a bad idea with the same people who will sit down and tell you if Marie Le Pen wins the French elections in May all will be fine because at least she’s pro-Brexit.
It’s beyond a joke to pretend there isn’t a direct link between bigots being given a platform and the negative experiences of people of colour. Extraordinary levels of hate crime have been observed since the EU Referendum. If that isn’t a wake-up call I don’t know what is. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the findings suggested some used the Brexit vote “to legitimise inexcusable racism and prejudice”. I’ve argued that many times before but when people like Nigel Farage can openly exaggerate the threat of migrant sex attacks on women it’s no wonder people felt the EU Referendum vote legitimised their bigoted views.
We can’t go on giving these people a platform when they openly state malicious inaccurate opinions as fact with absolutely no sign of any source. How can we honestly say someone like Jack Buckby, a former member of BNP, who felt it was ok to say “take in a Syrian refugee, I hope you don’t get raped” to a young black woman live on Channel 4 News is adding to the debate? I’m quite happy to see discussions of opposing views but let’s not make an attempt to normalise irrational thought, particularly when there’s not a shred of real evidence to back up their so-called opinions.
Last week, Paul Nuttall, leader of Ukip, claimed hate crimes reports since the Brexit vote have been fabricated. We already know hate crimes are under-reported, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when some people are so ready to vilify the victim and not the horrible bigots who commit these crimes. There’s no evidence to suggest the government, police forces and members of Parliament have “overblown” the spike in hate crime and I think many of the victims would be sickened to find out their experiences have been erased by someone with little understanding of what is happening on the ground.
The latest scandal has seen alt-right professional troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, immersed in criticism for his latest statement on “cross-generational” sexual relationships between boys and older men. For some people, this has been the last straw, but many people are pointing out that the last straw should have been issued a long time ago. Yiannopoulos has a history of well documented bigoted behaviour that many have chosen to ignore.
To be clear no one is actively arguing for the silencing of bigots, but can we please stop pretending we owe them opportunities to amplify their voice. That includes the onus on journalists to offer a more than lukewarm critic whenever bigots speak out. Just because they wear a suit, went to university and appear to speak eloquently doesn’t mean they’ve earned the right to repeatedly make claims that are completely unfounded.
Author: Rhammel Afflick