To borrow some phrasing from Salt-N-Pepa, let’s talk about speech, ba-by. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.
Maybe you read that lede and thought it was clever. Good, keep reading.
Perhaps you read it and thought, unoriginal cornball. OK, stop reading.
See that choice you made? That’s you, responding to me exercising my right to free speech.
So you, scrolling to the next thing, is not compromising my right to express myself. I expressed. You reacted.
Now let’s suppose you read this because you follow me on social media and you put it in the context of what you know about my beliefs and writing style. You’ve seen my multitude of posts about wresting our democracy from the Trump crowd or leading a book group on The 1619 Project or enjoying the recent Janet Jackson documentary or what it’s like to grieve a parent who died of COVID.
Next let’s say you want to hire a life coach. After careful consideration, you decide to hire someone other than me because you don’t like what I have to say on any or one of the above. That’s certainly within your rights, isn’t it?
I am acutely aware that every single thing I write, on my blog or on social media, can cost me a potential job or client. Those are the consequences of putting myself out there in an authentic way. I express public opinions almost daily. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube, as they say. I don’t think some Trump supporter is going to green light me for employment anytime soon. And that is just fine by me. A chance I take for my own sanity and well-being. I am happiest when I am me.
Do you see where I’m going here? Not deeper into the history of me and my writing decisions, but pulling out the lens and widening it to the myriad of ways this comes up in the news cycle every day. My burning question: How do so many people still not get how the First Amendment applies and how it doesn’t?
If someone doesn’t hire me based on what they read, you could see that as a consequence of my choice. I lost business. I go in knowing that could happen. It’s how the world works.
Now let’s take those despicable humans carrying anti-Semitic signs along a highway in Central Florida last weekend. Do they have a right to hoist swastikas into the air as traffic drives by? Sure. Might there be consequences? I would hope so. The woman giving the Nazi salute to passing cars — does she work in HR somewhere? Is she in any position where her judgment could affect someone else’s job? Does she work with the public? Why would I trust her to treat Jewish people with respect or equity? Ciao, Hitler lady. You’re fired. I don’t care if it was your day off.
Let’s review. She has a right to express. She is not jailed for the expression. But she is not absolved of consequences for that expression.
Then we get to Joe Rogan. Who’s trying to shut down his free speech? Is he an exception to all this somehow? He can share medical advice that kills people with no consequences? If I have cultivated your trust and I told you in this column the cure for your migraine was to let someone hit you over the head with a shovel and you were put in a coma because you listened, would that be OK? I’ll let lawyers parse that one, but it’s something to think about.
If musicians and podcasters like Brene Brown and Roxane Gay want to part ways with a company that chooses to stick with the misinformation guy, what’s wrong with that? The platform is a place for them to express. They certainly wouldn’t want to be censored and aren’t carrying a banner for censorship. They’re rightly concerned about who they’re sharing a platform with.
So far Rogan gets to keep doing his show and raking in the bucks for Spotify. What has he lost? And news flash, with those numbers he’s amassed, his show will always be available somewhere. Relax, bros, he won’t be stifled.
If your take is petulance about these awful people and their “rights” being taken away, you’ve completely missed the point.
Another less amplified example that is worth examining has come up in New Jersey. A police chief has been called out by some residents for wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” sweater with a picture of former president Trump on it to a private gathering. Yes, he is allowed to express himself when he’s not on duty. No, he didn’t violate a law or even company policy.
But here’s what people keep missing about these situations. Again, there are always potential consequences for exercising your rights to free speech. If I was an employee in his charge and I was anything but white and male, I’d be on instant alert. I’d also ask myself how my supervisor can support a man who instigated violence against the Capitol police on Jan. 6, 2021. Why are there exceptions to the blue line and what are his parameters?
Also, any cases that fall under his command? I’d now be suspect if they involved people of color. The chief has put himself in a position to be questioned with his choice to wear what he wore. No laws broken, but he can’t expect his co-workers or people in his charge to un-see the message on that shirt.
Yes, Americans, exercise your right to free speech. But know what’s on the line, for God’s sake.
I know I do.