In 1967, millions of American women of all races cheered when the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, told the men of America what many female co-horts of her generation were looking for. The trait that Franklin and her outspoken feminists demanded from their boyfriends, husbands, fathers, uncles and all men in general was R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The song became a smash hit, reaching number one on both the R&B and billboard 100 charts. It was adopted by many women as a feminist national anthem and was a favorite among many Black Americans and politically progressive people at the time due to the song’s civil rights overtones and humanistic message. The song became one of Franklin’s signature hits and was ranked number five (5) on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time.
While Franklin’s song was designed to (and in fact did) inspire pride and confidence in many marginalized groups in America society at the time, today almost a half century later, another more radical, less inspirational, semi-Orwellian, hostile, dismissive movement has continued to plague our society. These are the people who have decided to engage in a “we do not like what you are saying, your politics and other positions, therefore we are going to do everything we can to prevent you from having a voice” policy. These people come from all walks of life and in various shapes and forms ― tall, short, fat, thin, straight, gay, wealthy, poor, disabled, able bodied, all races and ethnicities, etc. Their goal is to denigrate, discredit, denounce and, if possible, prohibit anything they find offensive or not to their satisfaction. Their favorite word is I-N-T-O-L-E-R-A-N-C-E, and it is their rallying cry.
One recent example of this sort of behavior took place at Brown University. Last month in mid-October, Ray Kelly, New York City police commissioner, was invited to speak at the ivy-league institution. Kelly is the prime proponent of the city’s controversial “stop and frisk” law. A policy that many people of all races believe is racist due to the law’s disproportionate targeting and profiling of young Black and Hispanic men. Kelly showed up and attempted to speak, but he was interrupted and faced such blatant acts of obstruction that he was unable to do so and the event was cancelled.
For the record, I want to make it clear that I, like many people, am troubled by such “stop and frisk” laws and oppose them on the grounds that they are indeed invasive, discriminatory, rob people of their civil liberties and are dehumanizing in general. That being said, I still believe that Kelly had every right to speak and present his argument without being verbally attacked and shouted down by intolerant dissenters who disagreed with his position. The fact is that the protestors who decided to censor Kelly demonstrated their intolerance as well. Their behavior was disgraceful.
There were many other positive approaches that these students could have taken that would have been far more effective in accomplishing their goals. The fact is that, from a public relations standpoint, their strategy was a disaster. Such behavior made them look like a bunch of overgrown, unhinged, mentally unbalanced human beings with severe personality disorders. Moreover, to a degree, their actions possibly bolstered support for Kelly and his supporters. There was nothing gained by such a juvenile display of intolerance.
I will be the first to admit that our society has become increasingly abrasive, callous, and self-centered as time has progressed. Such behavior does not bode well for our nation. The fact is that all of us are offended by something a person or people have said at one time or another. As human beings this would only be natural. What do we do when a person takes a position we are offended by? We certainly do not react with intolerance. Rather, we should respond in a proactive manner. The most effective way to counter negative behavior is with more positive behavior.
Intolerance, no matter how benign, is like a potentially debilitating disease. Its symptoms must be detected and dealt with early. The longer the contaminated cells are allowed to fester, the more danger the prognosis. The cold hard truth is that, when a person or group of individuals attempts to deny another person or organization their right to free speech, it is only a matter of time before they themselves can be denied a platform to express their ideas. Those of us who are committed to the rational examination and exchange of ideas must work to preserve free speech, combat censorship and intolerance in the name of F-R-E-E-D-O-M!