The University of Miami Law School is facing a controversy over how to handle racist comments directed against white students — with objections over a double standard at the university. It is increasingly common to read anti-white commentary in the media, including a column recently from Elie Mystal writer for Above the Law and The Nation’s justice correspondent who lashed out at “white society” and how he strived to maintain a “whiteness free” life in the pandemic. Miami Law School has been silent in the face of complaints filed against student Jordan Gary after she posted her comments publicly on Instagram.
Gary publicly declared that she “hate[s] white people,” and noted that “People always tell me like ‘hate is such a strong word. And yes it is, but these are some strong ass stories I heard. And until I can figure out how to reconcile that in my head, and in my heart, I hate white people.” According to her LinkedIn page, Gary is the president of the Black Law Students Association and also the writing editor for the Race & Social Justice Law Review at the university.
Conservative sites asked Miami’s Dean for a comment but there has been no public statement even after the filing of complaints.
The issue of anti-white commentary raises a subject so sensitive that few universities are willing to openly discuss it. As will come as little surprise to many on this blog, my default remains with free speech, particularly for comments made outside of a school on social media. That does not mean that schools should not denounce intolerant or racist speech. However, these comments are bound up with an array of personal, social, and political issues for students like Gary. I would rather discuss these views than seek to punish their expression.
The free speech community is always concerned with not just the punishment of viewpoints but any differential or biased punishment. There is little question that a white student at Miami saying that “I hate [black] people” would be immediately and publicly denounced — and likely would be immediately suspended. If there is a difference between anti-white and anti-black commentary, it should be made clear and debated.
In posting the comments, Gary was clearly inviting a public debate — a debate that might have some positive elements in getting different groups and races to think about racist assumptions as well as free speech protections.
Gary is not alone obviously in voicing such views. Mystal’s column shows the same sweeping characterization of white people. He writes:
“Over the past year, I have, of course, still had to interact with white people on Zoom or watch them on television or worry about whether they would succeed in reelecting a white-supremacist president….Their cops aren’t hunting me when I drive through my neighborhood; their hang-ups aren’t bothering me (or threatening me) when I’m just trying to do some shopping.
…White people haven’t improved; I’ve just been able to limit my exposure to them.”
Notably, Mystal was one of the most vocal voices denouncing Nicholas Sandmann and continued to slam the wrongly accused student even after the reports of a racist incident were debunked. In the coverage of the initial coverage, Mystal’s denounced Sandmann for wearing his “racist [MAGA] hat” and objected to Sandmann doing interviews trying to defend himself. Mystal derided how this “17-year-old kid makes the George Zimmerman defense for why he was allowed to deny access to a person of color.” Putting aside the fact that Sandmann was not denying “access to a person of color,” Mystal and Patrice were comparing this high school student to a man who was accused of murdering an unarmed African American kid and even assailing his effort to clear his name as the media continued to label him a racist.
Again, Sandmann was entirely innocent of the racism allegations and the Washington Post reached a settlement with him.
Mystal’s latest tirade however still shows that racist statements can reflect social, political, and other experiences. Mystal does concede that “not that most or even many of my interactions with white people are ‘bad.'” However, he has deep-seated feelings about how whites interact with minorities or what he views as a common sense of white privilege. Many of these speakers are saying that their hostility is derived from experiences with racism from whites.
This brings us back to the Miami controversy and how schools should handle such disputes. One answer is that the approach should be the same regardless of whether the statements target one race or another. If there is going to be a zero tolerance for racist statements, it must be applied consistently. If not, these schools owe their students and faculty members clarity on where the line is drawn and why some racist comments are treated differently. Silence does not shoulder that burden. We need to discuss if otherwise racist statements can be differentiated and if such differentiation constitutes tolerance for criticisms based on the race of others at a school. Likewise, there is the question of how such sweeping generalities apply to other races or other categories like gender or sexual orientation. It even ask such questions today is to risk being labeled racist or intolerant. As a result, thee is just silence and the free speech concerns go unaddressed.
Once again, I tend to oppose the regulation of speech outside of schools on free speech grounds. More importantly, I would prefer to speak freely and collectively about such deep-seated views held by students. I recognize that I hold a traditional (and perhaps dated) view of free speech. However, I still believe that the solution of bad speech is more speech, not speech regulation.