Sticks, stones and free speech

10 Feb

Hateful or merely unfunny?

I’ve noticed that more and more celebrities, politicians, broadcasters and sports figures are saying things that offend people. Reporting gaffs, if they are indeed that, has become its own news genre.

What people say rarely offends me. I’m an advocate of free speech. And I like to hear what people really think. Don’t others feel this way? It is difficult for me to believe that, say, a Jew, would prefer an anti-Semitic congressman keep quiet and never be found out, rather than speak honestly and reveal himself.

Do those who complain about people like Roland Martin think Roland Martin would be a different person if he didn’t say what he said?

I once found myself among a large group of traveling North Koreans. They didn’t say a word, didn’t crack a facial expression, didn’t show they were human. Fear encapsulated them. I’d much rather be around a bigot than an automaton. I’m hoping the current tendency to castigate offensive utterances doesn’t turn Americans into North Koreans.

Can’t we just ignore celebrity offenders? That’s severe punishment, since these are people who can’t seem to live without attention.

There once was a politician in my town who probably was a good fellow at heart. He liked to make jokes and never worried about offending people. He thought himself a scream. He held a high county office and once had to deal with a small riot in a Hispanic neighborhood.

He was unable to play it straight.

During a public meting he said this: “We could have avoided the problem if someone had just put up a taco stand.”

He was roundly criticized.

At the next meeting, he took the podium to apologize, even though he was not the kind of man to do so.

“I was completely wrong,” he told his audience. “It’s the Mexicans who like tacos. The people who rioted were Puerto Ricans.”

And he belly laughed.

Was this man a racist or simply a failed comedian?

To me he was someone who refused to hide himself. If I chose to, I could have run from him, knowing more about him than I knew about most people.

He lost the next election, retired and died. Roland Martin, on the other hand, probably has followers on social media than ever before.

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