Right now at Ole Miss, a production of The Laramie Project is underway. As someone who went to high school in Mississippi, I found the idea of a play about homophobia to be a big step forward for the university and for the state that follows the lead of it’s flagship school. However, some of the members of the football team proved why talking about homophobia in Mississippi is so important as they shouted homophobic slurs such as “fag” at the cast as they performed.
This is horrific, and I commended the young people of The Laramie Project cast for continuing to perform. The athletic department made their players apologize to the cast for their slurs, however, many people are demanding that they be removed from the team; their behavior does not hold up the standards of the athletic department. While I will not personally comment on whether these young men should still be allowed to play football, I will point out a great example from Ole Miss history of how to handle so-called “hate speech.”
After the reelection of President Obama, students at Ole Miss rioted. The crowd swelled to a couple hundred people and racial hate speech and epithets ensued. In response, the university condemned the racism (though did not punish those who expressed it), and a crowd many times the size of the original protest marched the next night in opposition to the existence of hatred on campus.
Hate speech, speech that negatively targets a group of people or a person because of the actual or perceived characteristics of that group, does have real life effects and consequences. However, stifling hate speech, stamping it out of existence, does nothing to stop the dangerous proliferation of its ideals.
Forcing something underground does nothing to change its existence; it only gives it something to rally against. A perceived “do gooder” that stifles hatred enough only to provoke it to fester further. Hate speech should be met with more speech, enlightened speech drags hatred out into the open and beats it in the court of public opinion.
When Ole Miss students organized an even larger protest, dedicated to the principles of safety for all students, equality, and tolerance of that which is different, they sent a loud message to the world that those 400 or so students did not speak for all of Ole Miss. They sent an even louder message to the original protesters: your views of racism and hatred are not welcome here. That is how you defeat hate speech, you speak so loudly that hatred is dwarfed in comparison.