If you need a good primer on what's been happening at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and why, this piece by Nicole Garner is pretty good. It is not comprehensive, because the scope and duration of events leading up to this moment is vast, but it provides a more than decent snapshot.
And if you haven't yet read the piece by Terrell Jermaine Starr I linked yesterday, that's important background, too.
Important background before you read this garbage by New York Times Self-Appointed White Male Liberal Auditor of Women of All Colors and Men of Color, Nicholas Kristof.
Kristof is, naturally, Very Concerned about free speech and liberal intolerance, because of course he is. "Moral voices," he says, "can also become sanctimonious bullies." And the actions born of defending inclusion and safety of marginalized people, he warns, "is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left."
He details (and misrepresents) student action at Mizzou and Yale, arguing that the photographer, Tim Tai, who was disallowed into the safe space created by black Mizzou students, "represented the other noble force in these upheavals—free expression." As though insisting on accessing a space created by people who do not consent to your documenting their lives is the same as "free expression." As though one is entitled to access, and to draw a boundary is limiting expression. Bullshit.
For the record, no one is stopping me from writing these words, even if black students at Mizzou might quite reasonably have told me, had I inquired, that I was not allowed to insert myself into a safe space they created for themselves. I have free expression. What I don't have is the right to own the space, time, lives, experiences of other people.
Kristof filters all of this through his Validity Prism and declares: "I suggest we all take a deep breath."
Oh okay. I will take you up on that suggestion, sir. I will take a deep breath to fill my lungs with all the air I will need to shout the following: To argue that "both sides" of every issue are owed equal respect and tolerance of their positions is abject trash.
It flattens the power imbalance between racists and people of color, misogynists and women, anti-choicers and pro-choicers, MRAs and feminists, homophobes and transphobes and the LGBTQIA community, disablists and people with disabilities, anti-immigrationists and immigrants/refugees, etc., and further renders those power imbalances invisible when one makes the contemptible argument that "both sides" need to be heard to protect free expression, and that people who are defending themselves against grave harm are the real intolerant ones.
In a decent country, in which marginalized people's safety was prioritized over privileged people's "free speech," and in which incitement weren't a concern generally until after someone is already fucking dead, no one would be making this despicably hostile and implicitly privilege-upholding argument.
But in this country, with our reflexive reverence for a policy of "free expression," as if speech exists in a void, we're more worried about the supposed "intolerance" expressed by marginalized people who draw boundaries in defense of their own safety, because a minor restriction on a privileged person's unfettered right to engage in hate speech, or assert their "right" to access to marginalized people's spaces and lives, is considered a more burdensome encroachment on freedom than the right of people at whom hate speech is directed to live a life free of rhetorical terror.
And actual terror, given the preponderance of evidence across cultures that violent hate speech in the public square begets actual violence within the square.
Anyone who understands my oft-cited turns of phrase "This Shit Doesn't Happen in a Void" and "My Rights End Where Yours Begin" ought to be able to understand why protecting speech that attacks marginalized people is in practice a wildly irresponsible policy, particularly in a culture with deep institutional biases that confer more weight upon privileged voices and the messages they carry.
The US's "absolutist" free speech laws are routinely defended on the basis that if some speech is limited, it's a slippery slope until your speech is limited—but that's demonstrably manifest horseshit. There are other countries which don't have absolutist free speech laws—they have mature free speech policies in which mature people acknowledge the fundamental difference between "unpopular speech with a purpose" and "wanton hate speech with no purpose except hate," even if that hate speech is dressed up in a tuxedo to masquerade as Thoughtful Dissenting Dialogue. And there's no slippery slope, because the difference is easily discernible.
The irony, of course, is that the US already doesn't have absolutist free speech laws, anyway—which is why we're not allowed to yell "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded movie theater. (Or at a crowded book-burning, ahem.) The damnable lie that makes restrictions on hate speech so difficult to find support for even among US progressives is that we have absolutist free speech. We don't.
We're just eminently more willing, in continuation of our grand history of giving the finger to marginalized people, to turn an indifferent eye to the patently fucking obvious relationship between uncensored hate speech and hate crimes. And we're dishonest enough to slap a "free speech" sticker on it.
This, too, is part of the culture of violent entitlement. It isn't just men who feel entitled to women's bodies; it's privileged people of all classes feeling entitled to say whatever they want to say, irrespective of the harm it may cause, and feeling entitled to inhabit every space created by marginalized people, irrespective of how that may violate marginalized people's right of consent.
And when I say "harm," I do not mean, as Kristof and so many others have mischaracterized the harm being experienced by black students on campuses across the US, "hurt fee-fees." I mean the incessant drumbeat of reminders that one is less than, that one's safety and esteem is valued less than the right of a privileged person to demean you, that you don't have the right to draw boundaries and protest and expect more, that your citizenship is second-class, that your life doesn't matter, that your voice doesn't matter, that you don't matter.
#BlackLivesMatter cannot be and is not just about ending police killings. It's also about making black lives matter in every aspect across our culture. That necessarily includes treating with the undiluted contempt it deserves anyone in a position of power on university campuses who would engage in or tolerate racism.
And anyone who uses his platform at the paper of record to argue that black students fighting for air need to "take a breath."
Without a trace of fucking irony.