On Wednesday, liberal news website, Vox.com published an opinion article entitled: “A woman who called Michelle Obama an ape has her job back. This is part of a pattern.’’
Written by Jenée Desmond-Harris, the article concerns Pamela Taylor. Last month, Ms. Taylor was suspended by her employer for a Facebook post which described the First Lady as an “ape in heels.” It was a disgusting embrace of overt racism.
Ms. Desmond-Harris, however, believes Taylor’s suspension is insufficient. And now that Taylor is being allowed to return to work, Desmond-Harris is furious. Taylor, she says, is just one in a “growing list of recent examples in which explicit racism appears to be getting a pass, a platform, or even a reward in contexts where it once seemed safe to assume that this would be out of the question.’’
Desmond-Harris’s examples are less than impressive. First off, she points to a study that claims 4 out of 10 teachers have overheard bigoted remarks from students. We are supposed to be outraged by this anecdotal data. But I am not. It is inevitable that children sometimes make inappropriate comments. A school is not a monastery.
Desmond-Harris then attacks the Los Angeles Times (LA Times) for publishing two letters defending Japanese-American internment during the Second World War. According to Desmond-Harris, the LA Times was legitimizing fringe views. I disagree. I believe internment was a very negative development in U.S. history. But I also believe that history is the best teacher when all sides of an issue are offered. That is why we allow Holocaust deniers to speak. By doing so, we gain insight into the myths sustaining their beliefs, and we challenge ourselves to perfect our responses.
Finally, Desmond-Harris laments Comedy Central’s decision to have The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, debate conservative news anchor, Tomi Lahren. Ms. Lahren, we are told by Desmond-Harris, should not have had a platform because she has… criticized Colin Kaepernick. It is both funny and stupid. A caveat here: I know Lahren. She is not a racist.
Nevertheless, Desmond-Harris’s argument is not funny in its totality. It is concerning.
Desmond-Harris believes a legitimation of racism is underway in America. Where racists were once ignored, she says, they are finding new platforms. “Ideas too backward to seriously engage with and too atrocious to express in public without serious consequences.”
In turn, Desmond-Harris says, public prejudice feeds challenges faced by minorities. She notes three: “radicalized police violence, housing discrimination, and life-ruining discriminatory discipline by teachers.’’ But by that limited definition of issues, Desmond-Harris proves the intellectual fallacy of her argument.
Namely, its hypocrisy. Desmond-Harris wants Ms. Taylor fired for her Facebook post, but she apparently believes she has a natural right to describe police officers as terrorists. I know a number of police officers and their families who would take great offense – and hurt – by those words. But I don’t know any who would call on Vox.com to fire her.
That speaks to something.
While racist views like Taylor’s may be repellant, we live in a free society. And the success of our community is our trust in maximal debate. The alternative of censorship would only make extremists even more extreme. History shows us that where social concerns are censored and allowed to fester, the censored retreat into narratives of their own oppression. And in that crucible, their extremism only expands. Ostracizing racists won’t make them go away. Only good arguments can drain the swamp in which they reside.