Not only is Ethics Alarms adamantly opposed to the current effort by the rising totalitarian Left to ban words on the grounds that they might be “hurtful,” I have taken a vow on the issue. I artculated it here, concluding,
“My pledge: I will regard all words in the English language as among the tools I have to speak with, write with, argue with, joke with, and most importantly, think with. I will gladly be accountable when I use any words irresponsibly, but I will not submit to efforts to drag me and my society into the world of Big Brother, by accepting efforts to literally eliminate any of my tools, or attempts to decree that some Americans can use certain words, and others cannot. Fuck that.“
That was in November of 2019. The post covered several unethical examples of employees, writers and teachers being punished, even dismissed, for quoting the word “nigger” in circumstances where no one could possibly conclude that the word was being used by the speaker to denigrate anyone. This incidents seemed so self-evidently ridiculous and such obvious incursions on the principle of free speech and expression that I, naive Pollyanna that I am, assumed that they were outliers and aberrations. Instead, such episodes have become more common in the year and a half since, and are given increasing validity as the shadow of The Great Stupid covers the fruited plain.
One can track many of the recent examples using the Ethics Alarms tag, “nigger.” And if you think you are “harmed” by a blog tag, I have some psychiatric facilities I can refer you to.
The latest of these has occurred at Rutgers, already a long-standing nest of woke insanity. A white first-year law student student at Rutgers Law School quoted a line from a 1993 U.S.Supreme Court decision, State v. Bridges, 133 N.J. 447. when discussing a case during a professor’s virtual office hours. The student was recorded, while discussing the circumstances under which a criminal defendant could be held liable for crimes committed by his co-conspirators, reading a quote from a defendant that first appeared in an opinion written by a former State Supreme Court judge, Alan B. Handler. “He said, um — and I’ll use a racial word, but it’s a quote,” the student said, “He says, ‘I’m going to go to Trenton and come back with my niggers.’”
In early April, in response to the incident, a group of Black first-year students at Rutgers Law began circulating a petition calling for the creation of a policy on racial slurs and formal, public apologies from the student and the professor, Vera Bergelson. “At the height of a ‘racial reckoning,’ a responsible adult should know not to use a racial slur regardless of its use in a 1993 opinion,” states the petition, which has been signed by law school students and campus organizations across the country. “We vehemently condemn the use of the N-word by the student and the acquiescence of its usage,” the petition says.
Naturally, the Professor immediately fell into full grovel mode, swearing that she didn’t hear the quote when it was uttered, and would have corrected the student if she had. She’s a disgrace to her profession. It is cringing professors like this who place our freedoms and ability to think at risk by their eagerness to submit to the censorship mobs. On the more hopeful side,
Several Rutgers law professors signed a statement defending Bergelson and the student—not their compelled apologies, but their original conduct. Among them areJohn Farmer Jr., a former New Jersey attorney general, and Ronald K. Chen, the state’s onetime public advocate, bothe former deans of Rutgers Law School.
“Although we all deplore the use of racist epithets,” said Gary L. Francione, another a law professor who signed the statement, “the idea that a faculty member or law student cannot quote a published court decision that itself quotes a racial or other otherwise objectionable word as part of the record of the case is problematic and implicates matters of academic freedom and free speech.”
Ah, “problematic”—the law professor’s favorite weasel word. (I’m looking at you, Prof. Turley!) Still, a weasel word in support of free speech is better than no words at all.
“I don’t think the Law School should have rules that are stricter than the Constitution of the United States,” said Dennis M. Patterson, yet another member of the law faculty. Gee, ya think? I know many readers think I am too certain on some issues, but there should be no wiggle room on this one. No one, regardless of color, context or role in life, should be criticized for quoting a passage from literature, a film, a play, and certainly not judicial opinion or a court transcript, that includes a racial epithet, including “nigger.” I see no legitimate argument to the contrary. The co-deans of the school,
David Lopez and his co-dean, Kimberly Mutcherson, issued a deceitful statement that the discussion underway had nothing to do with “stifling academic freedom, ignoring the First Amendment, or banning words, but was about “how best to create classroom environments in which all of our students feel seen, heard, valued and respected.” Right. ‘We’re not in favor of banning words, just making sure that certain words that might interfere with some students feeling seen, heard, valued and respected never get uttered on campus or in classrooms no matter what the context, and that any students of professors that do utter them are shamed, threatened, shunned and punished.”
The petition circulated by the black students reveals its real purpose up front. Who says there is a “racial reckoning”? That’s Black Lives Matter rhetoric, though many in the media have joind in the propaganda. The scheme to allow a group of activists to dictate what words can be used according to the color of the speaker regardless of context and intent is a political power play, not an expression of a genuine or defensible objection. When I directed a production of the original antislavery “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” stage adaptation a decade ago, the play was attended by many African American families, students and groups. The word “nigger” was spoken in the play many times (my board was terrified). How many complaints did the theater get? None. Zero. One black student I asked directly about whether she felt the word should have been omitted laughed at me. “How could we get a sense of how we were regarded and treated before the Civil War without hearing that word?” she replied.
Were black Americans so much more rational and resilient just a decade ago? Of course not. But many learned the power of contrived offense, and the willingness of guilt-ridden, easily intimidated whites to capitulate to it in order to signal their virtue.
Banning a single word, whatever it is, constitutes the unraveling of freedom of expression, argument and thought. Where and when that unraveling will stop, nobody can tell. Every civil libertarian and all who support democracy have an obligation to fearlessly oppose the censors. By fearlessly, I mean not like the editorial board of the New Jersey Law Journal, which while writing that “Bowdlerized classroom discussion will not properly prepare law students for the world as it is, however much they hope to make it a better place,” also blinked by writing this,
“The decision quoted the murder defendant as declaring, “I’m going back to Trenton to get my [gang].” He did not use the word “gang” but instead, the familiar racial epithet, which was spelled out in full in the opinion. We do not include the epithet here because it is well understood, and an exact quote would add nothing to the discussion.”
What terrified, hypocritical weenies. “Gang” was not the word used, so it is obviously misleading to use it in a quote. If it was spelled out in the opinion, then the word “niggers” should have been included in the quote. It would be funny if it weren’t so ominous: in the same editorial condemning “bowdlerizing” language, the authors of the editorial supporting uncensored speech bowdlerizes language.
This isn’t helping. It signals weakness to the rising totalitarians, and that’s what they crave.