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Words from Winterbilt

Free speech and racism…

Shannon Bohrer

(3/2018) Early this year, the president was discussing immigration issues and he was accused of using language that would indicate that he is a racist. He implied that we should not be in favor of allowing individuals from countries that are predominately minority (black) countries to immigrate into the United States. The words and context of his language was reported on news networks, and I found it interesting to watch the different networks and their reporting. The pro-president network avoided the specific words and spoke of the president’s accomplishments and his desire to create a comprehensive immigration policy. The networks on the other end of the political spectrum used the president’s offensive language in the news reports and repeatedly asked, "Is the president a racist?"

Both sides had a lot to say about the incident but were not in agreement about the words the president actually used, or the meaning of the words he did use. A few of the individuals who were in the room with the president during the speech sometimes reported they did not remember the words the president used, but later denied that the president used the offensive terms at all. Following this, both sides accused the other of reporting false information. Even the Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Neilson, who was in the meeting when the president used the offensive language, testified under oath that she did not hear the words. While the exact words may be in dispute (s*** house or s*** hole) the language along with the context imply racism. When questioned, the White House did not refute the language.

Is the president a racist? His language and actions are and have been consistent with racism. The president called out minorities during his campaign, he criticized a judge just for his heritage and he failed to disavow the Ku Klux Klan following the Charlottesville protest. Being a racist, however, is not illegal in the United States. This is a free country and we have the right to our beliefs and the right to express them, even when the beliefs are distasteful and disgusting. What we don’t have a right to do is to discriminate because of our beliefs. In the government or positions of commerce, such as renting housing, serving meals, or selling products, no one can legally deny service to someone of a different race. Despite this, it is not illegal to be a racist.

"Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong." - Muhammad Ali

Americans have a right to free speech and a right to their own beliefs, even if those beliefs cause controversy or offense. Defenders of the president have said that the president is not a racist. These individuals also have a right to their own beliefs – again, even if others disagree with them.

An argument in defense of the words spoken by the president is that he does not attempt to be "politically correct;" he speaks his mind directly. Being direct and speaking one’s mind could reflect a lack of political correctness (in a pejorative sense indicating dishonesty), but it can also reflect intolerance and bigotry.

"Political correctness’ is a label the privileged often use to distract from their privilege and hate." - DaShanne Stokes

Even the most conservative media outlets did not want to let go of this incident and without questioning the president’s racial prejudice, or lack thereof. The president answered that he was the "…most non-racist person they will ever know." We know the president does not acknowledge that he is a racist, or perhaps he does not believe he is a racist.

I think most people, if they were honest, would admit that they know some bigoted people. Many people have racist friends, associates, co-workers, and even family members. Knowing or associating with a racist does not make one a racist. When racist language is used, however, and the non-racist persons say nothing, are there consequences? Is silence in the face of racist ideals a form of inadvertent support of the racism itself?

Racism is not illegal, but that does not mean it is an acceptable personal belief. How do people react when racist language is used? What would you do if a friend or family member used racial slurs around you? Does it depend on how offensive, or how racist the comment was? Would your response vary if the racist person was your boss, your sibling, or your friend? Disagreeing with someone over racist behavior or language does not have to be argumentative or confrontational. Disagreeing with someone does not require you to be disagreeable – well, most of the time.

Many people that were present when the president used the offensive language deny that he said those words at all. One member of the Republican party that was in the room, however, denounced the words and context in which the president spoke them. How can people in the same room hear different words, or fail to remember the words at all? Are some of these people lying?

Is it possible that some of the people that refute the president’s use of offensive language have ulterior motives to hide the truth? Contradictory facts seem to be normal in political circles today. If you repeat a lie often enough, people begin to believe it. Is it worse to deny that the president said anything offensive at all, or to lie about the words he did use?

"When lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good road map in front of us…Yes, follow the money, but follow also the lies." Carl Bernstein

The party in charge of the government tells us not to trust the government and that the government lies. The conspiracy theorists that are in charge are correct – they do lie.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer