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Friday, May 24, 2024

Freedom of speech ain’t so free

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I apologize for the commonness of the headline, but sometimes, the King’s Speech is not … raw enough to convey the honesty and frankness of our thoughts. There are moments where only basic language will do.

I’ll begin by sharing one of my favorite quotes ever from James Baldwin. In an interview for The New Negro in 1961, Baldwin famously said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

Each time I read that, I am frustrated at my inability to express how much I identify with what he must’ve been feeling when he said it.

Indulge me, if you will, in a bit of creative liberty.

If he were around today, Baldwin, who is now regarded as one of the most prolific thinkers of the 20th century, would most likely use some form of technology to share his thoughts with the world. Though he is infamously remembered for his lack of care in preserving manuscripts, I’d like to think that he’d have an iPhone and perhaps a profile on Medium … or even Tumblr. Maybe he’d use Facebook statuses to get things out of his head and into the stratosphere. I’m certain that in addition to lots of likes, shares and replies, he’d also have a fair amount of trolls. Those people with egg avatars in lieu of actual headshots on Twitter. Those human beings who spend countless hours online spewing vile rants from their keyboards, often chockfull of racist, homophobic, bigoted epithets. I would even go so far as to say he’d have a few “friends” who would slide into his DMs every once and again to warn him against speaking out against injustices so openly on social media.

Living in a time when queerness was not affirmed, Baldwin, an openly gay Black man, dared to push the proverbial envelope even further by being vocally critical of the United States — not unlike the countless people across the country who have decided to kneel or not stand and salute the stars and stripes during the national anthem — and was lambasted as a result of doing so. He adored his nation of origin but pulled no punches.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually,” he said.

It is a fact that in America we have the freedom to believe, speak and live (to an extent) the way we choose. That goes for those who use their voices and platforms to uplift humankind and those who have opposing viewpoints, as well.

I would like to encourage each person, who is doing what they can in their own sphere of influence, to speak truth to power to continue doing so. The sacrifice is undoubtedly momentous. You may lose friends, endorsements, positions and other tangibles, but what is to be gained by doing so is multitudinous in value.

So, yes … freedom of speech ain’t so free, but it is worth everything.

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