Monday, March 16, 2015

Responsible Speech

I've never heard a news story discussed so often as I have this weekend. Surely you've heard of the OU/SAE racism scandal that happened just a week or so ago in Oklahoma. I heard groups of people discussing the story everywhere I went—at a restaurant for dinner, at the basketball game, at the grocery store.

Opinions are mixed. Currently, the two students identified withdrew from school before the university president expelled them. The fraternity's doors were closed and it is no longer welcome on the campus.

Some are crying "Justice," happy to see this firm stance taken by the university president in this modern day where racial tension still, ridiculously, exists.

Others are crying "Unfair punishment," pointing out other students who behaved badly, broke laws and were not booted out without a second thought.

I can't speak for anyone involved in this situation. I saw the video (you kind of couldn't escape it), and I don't know why these kids men behaved the way they did. They said hateful things seemingly without a second thought. Were they raised to act this way? Is this an acceptable behavior in their fraternity? Was it mob mentality at its worst? I have no idea. I won't pretend to. What I do know is that these men said horrible things, in public, and it was recorded.

Freedom of speech has been used as a sword against the university's quick action, that these students should be able to say whatever they want because it's their constitutional right.

But is it? Freedom isn't free. Haven't we all heard that before? Freedom is bought by the men and women who fight for it, however you define that. And freedom of speech isn't free either—words have consequences. Hate speech has consequences.

Words can hurt. Words can heal. We ban words from our vocabulary because of the connotation they have, and I believe this is one word our vocabulary can do without.

I have to put this news story in context for my kids. I want my kids to be socially aware. What I'm hoping to teach them with this news story is that their words have so much power. I'm teaching them to seriously consider how their actions could create an impact so much larger than they may have anticipated.

They are compassionate—I think it's their age, they don't understand social injustice, why adults make poor choices when they could make good choices. They are naive to the world that lay at their feet. I am charged with showing them how to navigate it. But I don't know how to explain racism to them. I don't know how to explain something that I just don't understand myself.

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