I was going to wrap up my highly-sensitive person bit tonight. Well, I was going to on Saturday, but I spent the evening at a bar on the water instead. Thought about writing on Sunday instead, because I’ve done that before, but then I didn’t. Honestly don’t remember why. Might have been tired. Anyway, that was the plan. I even have a draft post written up, nearly finished. Now that I think about it, it was because I was tired. I was rambling more incoherently than usual, and I wasn’t in any condition to go through and make sense of it. So I thought I’d leave it for today.
Then something hit the news.
Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, was recorded in a candid moment saying something he wouldn’t necessarily want made public. He had no reason to assume he was being recorded, so it is a bit unfair. Still, the recording was released, and we heard his words.
A small segment of the conversation released by TMZ:
DS: You can’t be flexible. You can’t.
GF: I am flexible. I understand that that’s the way you were raised, and that’s your culture. And I’m respectful and…
DS: Well why do you have to disrespect them? Those are…
GF: Who am I disrespecting?
DS: The world before you
GF: Why am I disrespecting them?
DS: By walking, and you’re perceived as either a Latina or a white girl. Why can’t you be walking publicly with black people? Why? Is there a benefit to you?
GF: Is it a benefit to me? Does it matter if they’re white or blue or yellow?
DS: I guess that you don’t know that. Maybe you’re stupid. Maybe you don’t know what people think of you. It DOES matter, yeah! It matters!
We heard the thoughts and beliefs of a man who is afraid, who sees his world crumbling, who understands a world where he is automatically on top by virtue of his race, and of his wealth, for whom the rules don’t quite apply. He has the mentality of an owner, perhaps even can be loosely compared to a slave owner. I say ‘loosely’ because the people in his employ are 1) getting paid and 2) free to leave. There might be a financial penalty, but they are free to leave. In his mind, though, based on this recording, and another of the next fifteen minutes or so, this is a man who believes he owns these people to an extent – his team, his girlfriend, probably his wife. Things go his way because that’s how his world works.
At the end of last year, we had a similar ‘scandal,’ comments by a reality star, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Got him in a bit of trouble with his employer, A&E. He had all sorts of things to say about homosexuals and black, all of it ignorant, some of it hateful. He was suspended for a little while, then reinstated. The reasons for the actions are known only to his employer; we can only speculate. I take a cynical view – follow the money.
Both of these men have become the cause celeb for those who are convince the right to freedom of speech is being challenged, since Donald Sterling has been banned from basketball, and faces censure from the other owners, and Phil Robertson was suspended for his comments. What those who argue for their rights fail to recognize is what, exactly, the freedom of speech we hold so dear really means.
In short, it means that as long as your comments cannot be construed as intentionally harmful (such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, with intent to cause a riot, or a challenge to the life of the president – any living president), the government will not, CAN not, break down your door and incarcerate you for it. What it doesn’t mean is that you are free from censure from your employer if you should do something that besmirches their image, or violates the terms of employment. A person cannot be fired because of their religion or color of their skin or gender, and in a few places, because of their sexual orientation or gender identification, provided none of those things cause harm to others in the workplace. That’s the key, right there. A practicing Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist does not hurt me in any way. A couple of the same gender in a committed relationship has no effect whatsoever on any relationship I’ve had or will have, has caused no damage in my life.
Even when the KKK won their case to erect a cross on Fountain Square every Christmastime, it did not take away any of my rights as a citizen of the world. The cross did not carry any racial epithets, it wasn’t a charred representation of hatred, it was not a blatant attempt at inciting a riot; it was two planks of wood erected in a familiar form. The source was disturbing, yes; they filled out the proper paperwork and met the needed requirements to be permitted their display on a public space. Had that cross included a KKK member in their whites standing beside it, or represented in some way, then that would be an intent to intimidate, and is something that cannot be permitted. That goes for any group. Not allowing them to place what was, without the history, without the source, an innocuous religious display presented by a private group, when they were within the rules set by the laws of the city, that would have been a violation of their freedom of speech. The rules were eventually changed; so that no one could put up a display like that again, if I understand correctly.
Donald Sterling being banned from basketball is not a violation of his freedom of speech. If he is forced somehow to sell his team, that also will not be a violation of his freedom of speech. Neither action is being carried out by any local, state, or federal government. Phil Robertson being suspended by A&E is not a violation of his freedom of speech, because A&E is not an arm of the US government, or the state of California, et cetera. Do I think their punishments are appropriate? Well that’s not up to me. My reputation hasn’t been damaged by an employee or member, I don’t need to do damage control. My only concern is whether their right to freedom of speech was violated as a result of their words.