I was laying in bed last night thinking about the last few weeks and all of the drama that has engulfed the US surrounding the ideas of white supremacy and freedom of speech.
As I lay there thinking about it, I began to realize that the problem is not the fact that the racist, white supremacist crowd has the freedom to promote their hate filled agenda. The problem is that the rest of us have forgotten that we also have freedom of speech, and that honestly we have been scared to exercise that freedom in a personal setting with people like this for a long time.
We’ve all been at a friends house, a party, an event where someone begins promoting ideas that are pure garbage, whether it be random conspiracy theories, racist jokes, or even white supremacist ideology. We’ve all heard it and if we are honest with ourselves I would guess your reaction has been similar to mine. How fast can I get out of here? How can I find a good excuse to leave this conversation?
The unfortunate hard truth about freedom of speech is this, each of us is the first line of defense in preventing hateful ideas from taking root in our communities. It is our responsibility to be the stronger, louder voice of reason. Our opposition to crazy ideologies and hate needs to be so strong and so instant that those promoting the ideas feel uncomfortable for have brought them out into the light of reality.
These ideas of conspiracy, supremacy, racism and hate are ideas that form and solidify in the shadows and corners of our society. Our right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to shine the light of equality and truth on these horrible ideas on a small scale as they try to climb out of the cracks and corners they are hiding in. We need to endure the uncomfortableness of conflict in order to do the work of changing perspectives.
It is this discomfort with interpersonal conflict that has eroded and reduced our willingness to use our own freedom of speech. We are creatures drawn to comfort. Conflict is something to be avoided. It is easier to hope that the President, Senators and Congressmen will speak out and that their words will make the problem go away.
Unfortunately the battle with these ideas and ideologies must be fought on a personal level first. We must endure that uncomfortable conflict with acquaintances, friends and even family if we want to see these ideas slowly erased from our communities and our country. It is not a short fight, a single argument, it is a long uncomfortable process. It requires us to listen to what is being said and work to understand the circumstances that caused these cancerous ideas to grow. Only when we understand why these ideas have taken root can we be effective in opposing them.
It involves asking more questions than repeating talking points. As uncomfortable as it might be, we need to be ok with being in the presence of these ideas as a way of understanding the reasons for their formation. Once we understand why these ideas took hold for an individual person, then we can begin the work of changing their perspective.