In his writing titled ‘on racist speech’, Charles. R. Lawrence III clearly portrays himself as a dissenter probably setting the tone for his argument. It is indeed clear that Lawrence’s opening remarks already indicate the contentious issue at hand. As a renowned scholar, Lawrence addresses racist speech especially within the university and campus environment. There is no doubt that racism is the catalyst for racist speech that is; a conspicuous but silent issue as Lawrence puts it on college and university campus.
Racist speech on campus
There is another angle to which Lawrence connotes racist speech. In introducing the rights as enshrined in the constitution, Lawrence’s intention is an attempt to qualify racist speech as a tenet within the constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. In his opening remarks, Lawrence proudly describes himself as a dissenter yet a consumer of the first amendment which also legally qualifies and legalizes his argument.
However, as Lawrence advances in his argument “the problem has been framed as one in which the liberty of free speech is in conflict with the elimination of racist speech” (61). It is indeed evident as the writing advances on that, the law and scholar contributions have so far been ineffective in providing protection to blacks and other minorities; as guaranteed in the constitution.
A case of segregated education system is the point of reference by Lawrence and the Brown versus Board of education case is used by Lawrence to amplify the conflict that exists between the first amendment and the racist speech. Lawrence’s opinion is that, the constitution remains lenient in as far as racist speech is concerned.
The contention as Lawrence asserts is that on one hand “we understand the necessity of eliminating the system of signs and symbols that signal inferiority of blacks … proclaiming that all racist speech that stops short of physical violence must be defended”(62). The tug of war in Lawrence’s mind is even clearer in his assertion that, “the Supreme court has held that words which ‘by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace’ are not prohibited by the first amendment” (62).
However, on the other hand the first amendment gives leeway to colossal amount of speech which includes racist speech. While the case of Brown versus Board of Education on segregated system of education is worth revisiting. Lawrence points out that, “courts have held that offensive speech may not be regulated in public forums” (62).
Ironically the effect this has for example on the university campus is that minorities or blacks will confine themselves to common rooms or locations where they do not encounter racist speech. However, this silently promotes segregation on ground of race where one will now go to common rooms with people of the same race or minorities on campus.
Lawrence’s dilemma advances is based on “commonly advanced argument against the regulation of racist speech…we recognize that minority groups suffer pain and injury as a result of racist speech but we must allow this hate mongering for the benefit of the society as a whole” (63).
In his strongest assertion yet in this argument, Lawrence concurs that “there can be no meaningful discussion of how we should reconcile our commitment of equality and our commitment to free speech until it is acknowledged that there is a real harm inflicted by racist speech” (64).
As far as it goes, there is a delicate balance between first amendment and racist speech as Lawrence puts it. On the surface racist speech has far reaching detriment to the society and its promotion in the name of upholding the first amendment is a great irony.
Albeit freedom of speech is upheld constitutionally, tenets within the same law appear conflicting and therefore the racist speech issue remains far from over.
It is without a doubt that policy makers at the university level continue to grumble with this issue. However, the skew that results from the interpretation of the law invokes in Lawrence’s mind the need to “strike a balance against the regulation of racist speech” (64). The understanding here is that, the cost of this balance should not be borne by a few as it presently is the case.
The argument that racist speech should be handled in light with the first amendment leaves a lot at stake. Charles Lawrence has ingeniously considered this issue at the university and campus level though it generally covers the whole fabric of the society.
The initial conclusion to draw from this argument is that; racist speech will remain an emotive issue until a critical analysis of the present law is undertaken and amendments made. Lawrence proposes a dissenting stand to start with. This will be achieved through resistance of government regulation on speech.
As a reader I am fully persuaded that Lawrence’s argument was correct. This argument provokes a clear conclusion and also encourages everybody to re-think how democratic space has been used to ironically advance inequality.
Lawrence, Charles. “The debate over placing limits on racist speech must ignore the damage it does to victims.” Chronicles of Higher Education. Chroninicles, 1989. Web. 1 Jul. 2011.