Pro-Academic Freedom OR Anti-Racism (2)

April 21, 2011

A few days ago I wrote a post about “Pro-Academic Freedom OR Anti-Racism.”  Since then, I’ve been doing some reading of thoughtful pieces others have written about possible tensions between academic freedom (or free speech) on the one hand and efforts to eliminate racism on the other.  Most of these readings date from the 1990s when there was a substantial argument in the United States (also in Canada and the U.K.) about the wisdom of adopting hate speech codes on college campuses.

A key protagonist in initiating that debate was Charles Lawrence III (a 1965 graduate of Haverford College then a law professor at Stanford, now at University of Hawai’i/Manoa.) in an essay “If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech on Campus,” Duke Law Journal 431 (1990), pp 431-483: well worth reading but not easily available online.

In my reading, I encountered this passage from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Critical Race Theory and the First Amendment,” in an edited volume entitled Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (New York University Press, 1994):

I cannot put it better than Charles Lawrence himself, who writes, “I fear that by framing the debate as we have — as one in which the liberty of free speech is in conflict with the elimination of racism — we have advanced the cause of racial oppression and placed the bigot on the high moral ground, fanning the flames of racism.”  Though he does not intend it as such, I can only read this as a harsh rebuke to the hate-speech movement itself.  As the critical race theory manifesto acknowledges, “this is a debate that has deeply divided the liberal civil rights/civil liberties community”; and so it has.  It has created hostility between old and fast allies and fissured longtime coalitions.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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