I was called a n***er nearly every weekday of my life from my first day of school until my last.
This might seem hard to believe in this day and age, but it is true. I grew up on a tiny rural island in eastern Canada. Prince Edward Island has always been known for its beautiful beaches, Anne of Green Gables and potatoes.
But before the internet made the world much smaller, before mass immigration to North America from many regions across the world, before anyone had even heard of the term ‘hate speech’ – before all these things PEI was isolated and white. In the ‘70s and ‘80s most Islanders had never seen a black person in real life, and their entertainment certainly contained very few black faces. I was an anomaly. I was odd and too many people felt too free to let me know on a regular basis.
It wasn’t the n-word that was even the worst of it. The worst was when people would make up derogatory terms. When I would forget my sneakers for gym class and have to go bare foot they’d call me “Blackie toes!”. When The Terminator was breaking box office records I was “Ahhhhnold Swartzani**er”. There were endless “jokes” about shiny black people, sticky black people, black black people. It was the “creativity” that stung the most.
I left PEI just as soon as I was legally able and emigrated to the United States for good.
I’m a writer and it is my job to share personal stories to illustrate larger points, but I have to admit that even as a woman in my 40s it brings me inexplicable embarrassment to share this portion of my life. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the same kind of shame victims of terrible crimes feel…like somehow some choice they made led such treatment. I loathe the thought of anyone pitying me. That would be embarrassing too. I don’t want to be anyone’s symbol and I don’t want to denigrate the good and kind people who live in my birthplace either.
I’m telling you this story because today the Supreme Court ruled that the 1st Amendment contains no exceptions for hate speech.
As someone who has regularly been called one of the most horrible things one person can call another human being, I whole-heartedly support this decision and I couldn’t agree more.
The crux of our constitution is that no human rights come from man. If man can grant rights then man can take rights away. Our Founding Fathers were deliberate in asserting that rights come only from God. No man may tear them asunder.
Of course growing up I often wished for a “Superman” to come to my rescue and punch out the bullies. Of course my feelings were hurt often and deeply. Of course I wish someone could have just shut up all those a-holes.
But I could never and would never support the deliberate suppression of their right to speak hateful things. In fact, it could be said that “hate speech” is free speech, since no one would ever seek to ban speech that they agree with. If we want the right to speak our mind when it counts, then we must tolerate it when others speak their own feeble minds. Free speech is dead the second we start deciding that some of us are more free than others.
Justice Kennedy summed up the decision thusly…
A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
The irony of my experiences with hate and racism is that they have served to solidify my belief that it is our absolute God-given right to speak freely, even if those words are hurtful. As Justice Kennedy pointed out, there is no guarantee that the tables of censorship won’t be turned on me or others who think like me one day. Our only protection is to protect those we are disgusted by.
Someday I’ll write a book about what it was like to experience what I did. It is only recently that I’ve come to realize how unique my life experience has been. When it’s your everyday reality it doesn’t seem that weird. It just…is. For now, dear reader please know two things:
I harbor no hate, for just as Christ has forgiven me so do I extend that same grace to others who are no less the recipients of His grace than I am. God is so much bigger than our pain.
If we are not free to hate then we can never really be free to love, for it is only when we get to choose between the two that Love can be fully realized.