Watch Ya’ Mouth: Is Freedom of Speech Really Free?

May 10, 2014  |  

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Unless you don’t own a TV, read a newspaper or receive your news via the Internet like most of us, I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the racists remarks made by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. I’m also pretty sure you’ve learned of his punishment for those remarks, which include being banned from the NBA for life, being given a $2.5 million dollar fine and being “encouraged” to sell his team. It didn’t take long for the public outcry to force some sort of action against him because of what could be considered his own personal beliefs when it comes to African-Americans and other minorities. The hammer came down hard, and swift.

And then there’s actor/comedian D.L. Hughley, who made some inflammatory comments on his radio show in regard to Scandal star Columbus Short’s estranged wife and her allegations of domestic violence against her husband. The comedian called her a “thirsty hoe” who should “shut the f*ck” up rather than report the alleged violence. Not surprisingly, women (especially African-American women), are enraged that he would disrespect a woman who claims to have been abused after he pretty much accused her of lying. They see it as blaming and shaming the victim, and are calling for a petition to have him removed from the air.

While I’ve heard no one say that what Donald Sterling or D.L. Hughley said is considered “nice,” one argument that I have heard over and over again is that both men are entitled to their opinions and should be allowed to express themselves as they see fit – whether it’s in a private phone conversation or on his own radio show. Some feel that neither Sterling nor Hughley should have to apologize or be punished for anything they say because of their 1st Amendment right which states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”. Yeah, that all sounds nice, but what most people fail to realize is that “freedom of speech” isn’t really “free.” That very freedom ends when you libel or slander someone. That freedom ends when you threaten or provoke someone. That freedom ends at commercial speech or intellectual property. And try yelling fire in a crowded theater and see how fast that azz gets locked up for inciting a riot. The point is, yes, feel free to say what you want…but also be ready to face whatever consequences come with that.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re absolved from responsibility, it means speak at your own risk. If you are a racist and proud of it, then by all means, spew all the hate you want. But don’t be surprised when people don’t want to support your businesses anymore or end their relationship with you. If you’re a sexist, misogynistic pig, then call women all the “hoes” and “b’s” you want. Let’s just hope that these same women aren’t the ones bank rolling your career.

Freedom of speech is really just a myth that we all happily subscribe to. It allows us to think that our water-cooler conversations, Twitter rants and email chats are nothing more than talk since we’re free to express ourselves as we see fit. And for the most part, this is true. But if you rant about shooting up a school on Facebook, or start popping off with someone about having a bomb in an airport, see how fast you get a visit from a friendly police officer asking you what the hell you were talking about. All of a sudden you don’t feel so “free” to express yourself anymore do you?

So for all those folks who say that Sterling had a right to say he doesn’t want black folks to come to his games – you’re right. He absolutely has a right to say it…but it might come with a price. And if D.L. Hughley thinks women are “nappy headed hoes”- he can think that as well, so long as he doesn’t mind the backlash that comes with it. At the end of the day, you can speak up against the President, you can vent all day on social media and you can say what you want about whoever, whatever, whenever. Just make sure you do a legal check of the laws abridging freedom of speech so that you don’t find yourself in hot water. Otherwise, watch your mouth – or just keep it shut.

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