I just finished reading this fascinating paper by Genevieve Lakier (U. Chicago Bigelow), which reveals that the concept of low-value speech (which receives only weak First Amendment protection) and high-value speech (which receives full First Amendment protection) is a historically-created myth. The reality is that, at the founding and through the nineteenth century, both categories were viewed as entitled to some protection and subject to some regulation. Continue reading →
I recently finished reading “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace,” an important new book by Danielle Keats Citron. I hope to write up some thoughts here in the coming weeks. For now, I simply want to recommend that everyone read the book. It’s compelling, thoughtful, and timely. And in the meantime, the Guardian has an excellent review by Katharine Quarmby. Here’s an excerpt:
In Sartre’s play his three unhappy characters are trapped, without an exit. But we have one. The law, Citron writes, has what she calls an “expressive value” – it helps us distinguish between right and wrong, and it can result in offenders being put behind bars. Site operators can remove the anonymity of trolls and delete abusive speech. But the heavy lifting comes down to us, trapped in the virtual room with one another.
For several reasons, I do not think this is a helpful question.
One reason is that — in at least one sense of the term — pretty much everyone is a racist. By this I mean that, inadvertently or otherwise, people often treat other people differently because of race. Consider a few examples of research from the past few months. One study found that law firm partners who were asked to evaluate a writing sample gave it significantly higher ratings when they thought the author was white than when they thought the author was black, even though the resume attached to the writing sample was identical in both instances. Another study of 6500 professors at 259 different colleges and universities found that professors respond more frequently and more positively to requests for mentorship from male students with white-sounding names than they do to identically-phrased requests from female students and students with non-white-identified names. Still another study found that twice as many drivers failed to yield for black pedestrians at crosswalks versus white pedestrians, and that black pedestrians waited on average 1/3 longer to cross the street at crosswalks.
Again, these are just a few examples from the past few months. I could list literally thousands more, but I won’t because this is a blog post. And while some people might devote effort to poking holes in any individual study, at some point the most straightforward explanation — Occam’s razor, if you will — is simply that implicit racial bias exists and that it affects most, and perhaps all, people in at least some situations. Continue reading →
A complex and important dialogue has emerged in the wake of the UCSB shootings, including the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. I have many thoughts on the hashtag and the issues to which it gives voice. Today I wanted to focus briefly on a narrow issue: why I think that men who speak out against sexism and misogyny are valuable and important allies, and why men who sit silent are part of the problem.
Men who speak out on these issues deserve credit for their willingness to stand up for something that they haven’t directly experienced and that doesn’t directly benefit them. (I say not directly because I believe that a society in which men and women are equal is a better society for everyone, but that benefit is not an immediate one.) My point isn’t that men deserve special praise for vocally supporting gender equality. Everyone should support gender equality as a matter of principle. My point is a somewhat different one: that empathy is difficult no matter who you are and with whom you’re empathizing. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be a woman if you’re not a woman. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be gay if you’re not gay. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to have a particular disability if you don’t have that disability. Empathy is hard work, and men who undertake that work — and then undertake the further work of speaking out against sexism and misogyny — should be commended. Continue reading →