On Wednesday, the “Students for Free Thought” group held a showing of “Can We Take a Joke?”, a documentary featuring various comedians discussing the supposed dangers of political correctness and what they refer to as the “outrage mob.”
I was one of many students who filled Wriston Auditorium in protest of the event, which had to be halted halfway through due to negative reactions voiced by audience members.
Just before I had arrived at the event, junior Sabrina Conteh was actually kicked out by Campus Safety for objecting to the content of the film and voicing why it was wrong—an extremely ironic circumstance considering the organization’s alleged goal of “free speech.” Conteh reported to have been told “shut the f*** up” by a member of the group before being kicked out of the event.Apparently free speech doesn’t apply to people who don’t like to insult minorities and shamelessly bask in the benefits of their privilege.
Throughout the film, comedians discuss topics like not being able to tell racist jokes and the backlash faced by the ones who do so. With our current social and political climate, hearing a white man complain about his voice not being heard feels almost cruel.
Although free speech as a concept is generally a positive thing, it became abundantly clear during the post-film discussion moderated by Dean Barrett that the group’s idea of “free speech” did not match up with many others’ and mine.
As reflected in the documentary, the concern of the group is not with free speech in general, but with the ability to express speech that specifically targets marginalized people, including people of color, the queer community, religious groups and so on, without repercussions.
By fighting for the right to tear down groups of people that already occupy lower tiers in society, the leaders of the “Students for Free Thought” are completely ignoring their wealth of privilege as white men and adding insult to injury when it comes to the lives and experiences of minorities. Their privilege, contrary to their assertions, provides them with more of a voice; a voice that is systemically denied to minority groups.
There are people who face discrimination every day because of the color of their skin, their religion, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, etc. Hearing from people with such a degree of privilege that their rights are being violated completely undermines and ignores the pervasive reality of discrimination against minorities in our society.
Although this may seem obvious to many of us, some people are apparently so completely oblivious that it actually needs to be spelled out for them.
Several students made an effort to explain to the group leaders that there are power differentials between different identities and that differences in privilege are a reality. Unfortunately, these appeals were met with complete incomprehension and lack of sensitivity.
If I wasn’t already convinced that the group and its supporters were advocating hate speech, the fact that some of the people in support of the group laughed at disturbing depictions of Westboro Baptist Church protesters and racist jokes during the documentary took care of any illusions I had of sympathy on their part. If these reactions are any indication, the lack of respect is very clear.
With groups like this surfacing on campus, it is very important that we all become more involved in discussions organized by groups like CODA that are designed to voice our opinions and show support for others. As senior Deepankar Tripurana asked the vast audience at the showing, “Where are all of you during CODA conversations?” There was much higher attendance at this event than what is typical at CODA conversations. If we are going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.