Let them talk

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  June 20, 2012

I have often joked as a Black woman that I kind of like white racists. Well, perhaps it's more that I appreciate white people who are open and honest about racist views they harbor. I don't want to hang out with them, but I want to know about them. When someone is openly racist and drops racist epithets, it saves me the time of wondering what is really on their mind when they deal with me.

So my attention was caught when I read a Portland Press Herald article on June 15 about Bridgton resident David Houston, who apparently is no fan of President Obama — at least judging from a sign in his yard that, among other things as reported by the PPH, includes a racial slur, an accusation that the President is a pedophile, and apparently an appeal to folks that they join the Bridgton version of the Ku Klux Klan.

To Houston's neighbors, looking at this sign was more than just your basic eyesore of the lazy neighbor who rarely cuts his grass. It was truly shocking. However shocking, though, the truth is that it's not illegal to spout one's views, no matter how distasteful. Even the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office determined that the sign was legal.

There are plenty of Houstons living among us, and I for one want them to have big signs on their lawns loudly proclaiming their hateful and out-of-touch views. As I wrote last month in this very space, the demographics in this country may be changing, but we still have plenty of work to do, even if we seem pretty far beyond the era of Jim Crow laws.

When we know who the outright racists are living in our midst, we can simply treat them as the senseless relics they really are and choose not waste to valuable time on them. When our children ask us what the words on signs such as Houston's means, we can explain — as I often do to my 6-year-old — that not all people are nice; some are simply irretrievably mean. While such rancor and venom is uncomfortable, a free society means we must be ready to encounter a range of views that won't all align with ours. In fact, to be truly free we need a range of views so that we don't simply linger in an ideological echo chamber.

If we silence people like Houston, we leave them to simmer in silence until they boil over, while we think they've been cowed.

We also set a dangerous precedent when we wish to suppress words and views that are not agreeable to us; after all, what if our words were to be suppressed because they were distasteful to others?

Oh, yes, I know what happens. You then find yourself in a world where using a perfectly correct and clinical word to describe part of a woman's anatomy suddenly gets you kicked off the House floor, as was the case for Michigan state representative Lisa Brown. She dared utter the word "vagina" in a discussion on abortion and that was deemed offensive.

From liberals to conservatives and every shade in between, we must stop trying to suppress words simply because they bother us, when there is no other harm (as might be the case if someone were trying to incite a riot, for example).

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , Politics, racism, Portland Press Herald,  More more >
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