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Free speech, hate speech clash in recent UC San Diego speaking cancellation

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JUNE 05, 2017

Threatening a Princeton professor on social media for valid political critique isn’t the best use of anybody’s time.

And yet, that’s how a whole host of internet trolls chose to react to a recent Fox News segment about Princeton professor of African American Studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s much-applauded commencement address at Hampton College. In response to a cascade of violent and bigoted threats, the professor recently announced on Facebook that she has canceled lectures at the University of California, San Diego, among other schools.

This is yet another unequivocal nail in the coffin to the argument that speech in and of itself can’t be a form of violence.

And where’s the outrage? When Milo Yiannopoulos’ paid speaking gig was canceled because of local protest, which also was speech to be protected, conservatives were furious. When Ann Coulter backed the UC Berkeley campus into a corner by announcing her visit with a fraction of the standard warning and then backed out, the world erupted in free speech outrage.

Those fearless free speech advocates seem far less interested in rushing to Taylor’s defense at this neighboring UC campus. Demands for upholding the values of free speech seem suspiciously selective in this country.

It’s interesting, also, who has more clout in the arena of recent free speech discourse. Taylor is a Princeton professor. Yiannopoulos and Coulter are just cults of personality with bad hair.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Taylor has made a career of uplifting and supporting marginalized communities, while Milo and Ann have only furthered injustice.

Professor Taylor was threatened with being lynched, among other heinous violent acts. There’s a whole history of violent silencing of Black people who are trying to speak out about Black marginalization and uplift. The threat of this violence, in comparison to that of Yiannopoulos and Coulter, is far more startling and inherently dangerous.

Back in the days of the Black Power movement, Angela Davis, Malcolm X and even Martin Luther King Jr. were targeted by the COINTELPRO program. The federal government was trying to put them all in jail, and it sometimes succeeded. Angela Davis was No. 3 on the FBI Most Wanted list. The government actively dismantled the Black Panthers out of fear of Black Power.

The parallels here are unmistakable.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

JUNE 06, 2017