Opinion: Call it what it is — ‘Hate Speech Week’

Calling the Milo Yiannopoulos show “Free Speech Week” is language appropriation. Repeating that lie works against us.

The haters are coming to Berkeley next week. (Maybe – how this shakes out remains to be seen.) Like a panel of Deatheaters and Slytherins from Harry Potter, they are bringing their bile, their invective, and reframing this into something they want to call “Free-Speech Week.” Don’t let them. It’s up to us to resist that term. It’s Hate Speech Week, and everybody knows it.

With all the recent talk about cultural appropriation, we should know and recognize language appropriation when we see it. But what can you do about it? Just say no.

With a tip of the hat to Cal Professor George Lakoff, we all need to remember that repeating lies works against us. For instance, when we talk about how terrible it was when Trump alleged that Obama was not born in the United States, that statement leaves people who don’t know any better with a single thought: Obama was not born in the United States. So it’s important that whenever we hear a lie, we avoid repeating it even as we talk about it.

A statement released this week from the ACLU of Northern California hammered this home.

“ACLU of Northern CA Corrects the Record on Berkeley Patriot Statement as Reported on KQED’s The California Report

September 19, 2017

Media Contact: (415) 621-2493 (press@aclunc.org)

San Francisco – The ACLU of Northern California is not currently representing the Berkeley Patriot in any way, contrary to Pranav Jandhyala’s statement on KQED’s The California Report that “We have the ACLU on our side; we have a really good legal team that’s ready to go to court…”

Although it is correct that the ACLU is a staunch advocate against government control of speech, we pick and choose our cases carefully to ensure that they are high impact and have legal merit. As a general matter, a failure to comply with reasonable time, place, manner restrictions for events is not protected by the First Amendment.

Moreover, we remain troubled by the Berkeley Patriot’s misappropriation of the term “Free Speech” in describing their event. Make no mistake – the views expressed by Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter, and Milo Yiannopoulos are about bigotry and racism. While the Constitution protects the expression of those views, let’s be clear that this event is about spreading hate and intolerance, not “free speech.” We are not on their side.”

In 1978, ACLU attorneys, many of them Jewish, defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie IL. Today that same group is stating, “Let’s be clear that this event is about spreading hate and intolerance, not ‘free speech.’ “

Since this gathering of scoundrels is about hate speech let’s call it what it is. And let’s start right now. It was tempting to call this piece “Don’t Call it Free Speech Week,” but that’s the whole point – don’t let your lips or your fingers repeat the lie. When you talk about it, use its truthful name, and insist that everyone else do so as well. Letters to the editor, calls to a TV station’s news desk, whatever it takes, remind them that it is Hate Speech Week that is coming to Berkeley and please don’t call it anything else.

This is also a call to the media: Don’t repeat the lie. Don’t call it “Free-Speech Week,” even with those quotation marks. They don’t make any difference. Call it #HateSpeechWeek simply because that’s what it is. Media – you know who you are, starting right here with our beloved Berkeleyside,  and moving out it eever-widening circles: East Bay Times, San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Chronicle, Marin Independent Journal, Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post. And all the broadcasters: KPIX, KNTV, NBC bay area, KRON, KGO, KQED, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, MSNBC.

And while we’re at it, Daily Beast, Daily Kos, Vox, Huffington Post, Newsweek Magazine, Time Magazine and whoever else will be covering this evil circus.

The fact that this event may be happening at all is bad enough. Don’t put lipstick on the pig. Call it a pig. And as we hear the oinks of vitriol, don’t mistake freedom for hatred. Those two things should never be confused. It’s one thing to compare apples and oranges. It’s quite another to confuse pigs with the American eagle.

Peggy Lee Scott has lived in Berkeley since 1979 but hails originally from Philadelphia, home of (among other things) the U.S. Constitution, of which she is very fond. Her free time is devoted to working against sexual harassment and bullying in the schools and resisting the current administration via Indivisible.