Campus Reform | Media studies prof argues that free speech is 'weaponized' against anti-racism

Media studies prof argues that free speech is 'weaponized' against anti-racism

The professor, who wrote the op-ed in the 'Los Angeles Times,' also published the book 'Is Free Speech Racist?'

He alleges that campaigns to fight censorship close off 'any discussion of the structural and institutional racism in society that the wave of BLM-inspired movements seek to confront.'

A professor penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times alleging that free speech is “weaponized to fight antiracism.”

Gavan Titley — who teaches media studies at Maynooth University — wrote that the “tactic” of framing antiracism as a threat to free speech is “not new.” 

Titley compared the modern movement against social justice to a 1965 article by William F. Buckley Jr., which argued that the word “racism” was being used “indiscriminately” in a manner that “risked preventing a focus on real racism, such as that perpetrated by Hitler... and also led to innocent people being denounced merely for expressing ‘controversial’ opinions.”

“Sound familiar? Buckley’s warning about the censoriousness of antiracist politics was issued the same year as the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march,” wrote Titley. “More than 50 years later, the same tactic is being deployed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Across different contexts, the democratic importance of free speech is being misappropriated to advance reactionary politics.”

Titley also cited the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party initiating a campaign against censorship on campus which, like Buckley’s approach, “closes off any discussion of the structural and institutional racism in society that the wave of BLM-inspired movements seek to confront.”

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“It is also designed to put people subject to racism on the defensive,” continued Titley. “Unless they can definitively prove intentional racism as the cause of a behavior, they are said to be acting undemocratically — and shutting down open debate by indiscriminately accusing others of racism.”

Titley wrote that “free speech” can therefore be used for “authoritarian ends.”

“A vague rhetoric of ‘free speech’ sounds perfectly democratic, but it is drawn on to suppress specific kinds of political expression,” he claimed. “In milking a supposed free speech ‘crisis,’ elected politicians in London, Paris and Idaho enacted measures that flagrantly restrict forms of democratic speech, in these cases the right to protest and academic freedom.”

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Titley is the author of a book entitled Is Free Speech Racist? — which argues that free speech “has been adopted as a primary mechanism for amplifying and re-animating racist ideas and racializing claims” on the political right.

Cherise Trump, the executive director of Speech First, told Campus Reform that unlike Ireland’s constitution, which states that speech is “subject to public order and morality,” the United States Constitution is “unique in its commitment to the freedom of expression.”

“The First Amendment fully protects free speech, even if that speech offends a person, a group, or an institution,” she explained. “This dedication to free speech is vital to the American idea that it is only through the expression of our ideas and conscience that we can seek truth. And where students who are involved with political or ideological movements want to engage with those who disagree with them in a mature manner, I have only seen cooperation.”

“However, there are many times when those who disagree with these movements are shouted down and called 'racists,’” she continued. “It is one thing to call someone a name if they disagree with your movement, but it is another level entirely, when that person is labeled as something that is directly attached to disciplinary action by the school.”

In the same vein as Titley’s op-ed, a recent NBC News article claimed that parents “inundate districts with time-consuming public records requests and file lawsuits and federal complaints alleging discrimination against white students” as they oppose critical race theory. 

The article also claimed that parents’ efforts against school boards are “mobilized by a new, increasingly coordinated movement with the backing of major conservative organizations and media outlets.”

Campus Reform reached out to Titley for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft