English Professor Claims Right To Use Racial Slurs In the Name of Racial Justice

There is an interesting case out of the United Kingdom on academic freedom versus anti-discrimination policies. Aysha Khanom was fired as an academic adviser with Leeds Beckett University after making racist comments about black conservative commentator Calvin Robinson. Khanom is making an equally controversial claim in court: her racist language is protected speech as an advocate for critical race theory. It is another distasteful but important case over the protections afforded academics in their communications outside of universities or colleges.

Khanom worked for Leeds Beckett University in its “Center for Race, Education and Decoloniality.”

That came to an end when she was found to have used “racist language” in denouncing Robinson. According to The Guardian, the Twitter account associated with the Khanom’s Race Trust asked Robinson if he felt any shame due to the fact that “most people” view him as a “house negro.” While Khanom’s name is not on the tweet, she reportedly accepted responsibility for it and referred to a later commenter who responded to the tweet as a “coconut.”

Her claim is supported by other figures like Professor Kehinde Andrews, who has denounced Churchill as “white supremacist.” Andrews insists that the term is not a “racial slur” but rather a “concept that come out of struggles for racial justice.”

The suggestion is that a term that might be considered a racial slur from others is not a racial slur when used by advocates of racial justice. As Khanom told The Guardian 

[The remarks] were offensive – they’re meant to be offensive because they’re antiracist terms. You’re highlighting a problem, so how can someone be racist by calling someone out for going against their own kind? It’s almost upholding white supremacy. It’s so contradictory it’s unreal, racists have taken these terms and defined them for us. There is no way they are racist. They are meant to make someone feel uncomfortable but just because something’s offensive doesn’t mean you can’t say it.”

As will come as little surprise to many on this blog, my default is in favor of free speech outside of the university setting. This was a comment made on social media on a site not connected to the university. It was a deeply insulting and unjustified attack against anyone. It is unfortunately indicative of the irresponsible and over-heated rhetoric of our times. Nevertheless, my preference is for good speech to answer bad speech, not to have universities (or, worse yet, the state) regulated or censor speech.

Khanom has denounced her position as the result of a campaign by a “network of alt-Right activists” and that the university is forcing academics to

“look[] over their shoulder before they make statements about Israel and Palestine, or about critical race theory. That is why this case and LBU’s role in it is not just about me and my reputation as an anti-racist. Fundamentally, this is an important issue of freedom of speech.”

We have previously discussed the concern that academics are allowed (correctly) to voice extreme views on social justice and police misconduct, but that there is less tolerance for the voicing of opposing views on such subjects.  There were analogous controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There was also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.  There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives.  Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.

Nevertheless, In the past, I have defended extremist views on academic freedom grounds lie those of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis, who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence. (Loomis also writes for the site “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”) I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments “detonating white people,” denouncing policecalling for Republicans to suffer,  strangling police officerscelebrating the death of conservativescalling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements.

The concern is that universities are not only displaying bias in some actions but generally fail to offer a bright line rule for proscribing speech. These public debates can be raw and social media often brings out the worst in individuals like Khanom.  Many sites (like this blog) will remove racial insults or personal threats. However, we try to minimize such removals in favor of encouraging people to interact like responsible adults.  This case concerns whether universities or the state should be punishing those who cross the line in social media or personal statements.

We have been discussing the continuing erosion of free speech protections in the United Kingdom (here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech or “malicious communications” remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures. Even having “toxic ideologies” is now a crime. As noted in a prior column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws.

Faculty members should exercise greater restraint and serve as an example for their students. However, Khanom wants to be an example of a different kind: an insulting and confrontational advocate who labels opponents as racists or racial traitors. Like many, she is the price we pay for free speech. While many of these advocates do not support the free speech of others and support efforts to fire those with opposing views, it is not so easy for those who value true free speech values.

13 thoughts on “English Professor Claims Right To Use Racial Slurs In the Name of Racial Justice”

  1. You go Aysha Khanom! The protected ones use “hate speech” often and without penalty. Why isn’t “I sentence you to five years in jail” not hate speech? Surely it hurts.

  2. “…how can someone be racist by calling someone out for going against their own kind?”

    How can someone say that and not realize they are (really freaking) racist?

  3. Dennis McIntyre had this to say to Turley’s article in 2020:

    “And your entry in the controversy at Dartmouth has added to the “overheated rhetoric”. By defending the “conservative” student writers at the “Dartmouth Review” you are actually promoting their racist views. If, as you say, they are making a contribution “to a passionate dialogue on these issues” then Hitler was also simply expressing his own “passionate” views about the Jews. We know how that ended!”

    https://jonathanturley.org/2020/08/12/incubator-of-racist-hate-and-white-supremacy-dartmouth-faculty-and-student-demand-action-against-conservative-newspaper-and-columnists/

    Since I can no longer add a comment to that thread, I wanted to reply to Dennis’ comment on this related article. As it happens, I was a classmate of Dinesh D’Souza, and I can tell you from personal experience that he was not an honest reporter then for the “Dartmouth Review.” He fabricated a report of an innocent group meeting into a lurid account of latent lesbianism among the attendees. It was a juvenile cheap shot.

    Dennis makes a good point about Turley’s hypothetical reaction had he been a law professor during the rise of Hitlerism. At what point, if at all, would he concede that good speech is proving ineffective against Hitler’s – dare I say it- “hate speech?” Would Turley advocate marginalizing Goebbels and shaming the Brown Shirts parading signs down the streets demonizing Jews? When is it permissible for citizens to boycott shops emblazoned with the Swastika? Why can’t citizens treat Brown Shirts as persona non grata for their anti-Semitic opinions?

    For Turley it seems, there can be no non-governmental social or economic repercussions for odious speech- just polite rebuttals- though they are drowned out by Hitler’s rage…

    1. Totally agreed, Jeff. Seems a glaring logical fallacy emerges when focusing entirely on just one aspect of a a multi pronged issue. I’d further say it’s both the strength of isolation as a tactic. Divide and conquer!!! I remember the first time running across the Descartes thinking therefore I am logic and, to me, it begged the question that thinking furthered more thinking, not automatically shifting over the realm of the existential.

      Of course, then I shift to what might drive Turley’s ‘more speech’ as a panacea position that he often takes. Hard not to separate from, say, his friendship with someone like Barr…, how does that happen. Barr, the most K Street of K Street lawyers. How does one get close to that? Well, my money is on being in the K Street lawyer club yourself, which I fully consider Turley to be. In fact, looking back on Turley’s past positions and what he’s been called in to defend and prosecute, I find it impossible to think otherwise….

      Somewhere along the line, as the R’s got more and more extreme in their positions, it became harder to mouthpiece for them to the public. Free speech! More speech! is the most logical way to go about it, for sure. Don’t like what I’m saying? >>> Free speech!!! Even when it clearly crosses into yelling fire in a crowded theater.

      But that then leaves you with the results of a rabid base needing progressively more animated, hateful and divisive speech to remain viable. Hence, treasonous chuckleheads attacking the Capitol, or one parking a pickup on the sidewalk, saying he has a bomb and going on facebook live and demanding the president resign because, well, he wanted him to.

      Turley’s caught in a vice. And yes, he would’ve been on the wrong side in the rising tide of Nazism as the rhetoric got more destructively solid. I tended to think of Turley as more Greek tragedy in the beginning, but now I think it’s a stubborn refusal to take the off ramp for whatever reason. At some point words and actions align into something definable even if it still aligns with the ‘tragic’ route.

      eb

      1. Eb,

        Turley says:

        “The concern is that universities are not only displaying bias in some actions but generally fail to offer a bright line rule for proscribing speech.”

        When has it even been possible to draw a bright line on speech? It’s an impossible expectation which serves to erase any line at all.

        Turley says:

        “Many sites (like this blog) will remove racial insults or personal threats. However, we try to minimize such removals in favor of encouraging people to interact like responsible adults.”

        Is there a bright line delineating a personal threat vs harmless repartee? And why should a racial slur be removed? Shouldn’t we be apprised of the racists among us? Where does Turley get off with his elitist Nanny-state demeanor regarding us as children needing to be taught to act like adults?

        Turley concludes:

        “Faculty members should exercise greater restraint and serve as an example for their students. However, Khanom wants to be an example of a different kind: an insulting and confrontational advocate who labels opponents as racists or racial traitors. Like many, she is the price we pay for free speech. While many of these advocates do not support the free speech of others and support efforts to fire those with opposing views, it is not so easy for those who value true free speech values.”

        Turley is correct that there is a price for free speech, but the listeners are the only ones paying it! If there are no repercussions for a teacher not serving as a good example for students, there will be no deterrence for not doing so! In Turley’s view of free speech, the bad actors need not pay any price.

  4. Free speech for all. If you make an a$$ out of yourself with your mouth, in front of everyone just remember, the courtroom of public opinion is always in session.

  5. People of Color (i.e. color bloc, racist designation), certainly. Also, the N-word: nerd. And, of course, the B-word: baby, which complicates social distancing when planning for social and medical progress. That said, diversity [dogma] (i.e. color judgment) breeds adversity.

  6. I don’t agree with the offensive statements but I absolutely agree with the right to make them.

    I have had quite enough of speech police.

  7. THE ENGLISH ENJOY THE UNIVERSAL FREEDOMS OF THE ENGLISH AMERICAN FOUNDERS

    The American Founders understood that rights and freedoms were natural and God-given.

    That which is God-given is universal.

    All citizens in the universe and in all nations enjoy the rights and freedoms enumerated by the American Founders.

    Some countries have not got the memo yet.

    Americans enjoy the freedom of discrimination.

    If Americans cannot discriminate, Americans cannot be free and suffer under mandate and dictatorship.

    Americans enjoy the freedom of religion; Americans enjoy the freedom of belief.

    The freedom of speech, by definition, provides freedom of thought.

    The freedom of assembly, by definition, provides freedom of segregation.

    The right to private property, by definition, provides the right to exclude, prohibit and reject – to preclude trespass.

    It is disingenuous to insidiously conflate violence with opinion and belief – racism, by definition, does not include or promote violence.

    The Constitution does not provide any right to or guarantee of social acceptance or success in any endeavor.

    At some point, people must adapt to the outcomes of freedom

    Freedom does not adapt to people, dictatorship does.

  8. My preference would be like yours, Prof. Turley: free speech for all, and let the better ideas advance.

    But having one side able to silence the other with impunity, is not acceptable, because (a) the consequences of one side dominating and suppressing the other will be distorted outcomes, (b) it will lead to burning resentment on the part of the suppressed, which will eventually take us all to a very bad place, and (c) it may well be that the only hope to restore free expression for all is for the censors to suffer censorship, themselves, and value their own right to speak more than they value their ability to censor others.

    As the odds of restoring a robust free-speech culture in my lifetime (I am 71) seem remote, I therefore opt for even-handed application of censorship, and the person in question should lose her job. I would be ecstatic if such treatment might get some on the Censorious Left (from which easily 90% of the censorship comes, and which has all the cultural and legal power at this time) to seek to de-escalate. But I see no hope of that happening unless they feel some pain.

    Oh, and Delenda est Twitter. Social media is a big part of the problem, it magnifies the voice and influence of the worst people in the world. Even Facebook serves some valid social purpose of helping people connect with other people–family, friends, co-workers, affinity groups. Twitter serves no real social purpose, it just encourages people to let out their worst instincts and magnifies them.

    1. Interesting how the left applauds when someone who disagrees with their views and agenda are fired. However, those on the right and in the middle, are not pleased, even when someone who has a radical CRT view of race and racial comments.

      Who will win this war is the question? Will free speech prevali? Or, will the left’s verson of free speech so long as it agrees with them prevail?

  9. Khanom is just another example of the juvenile nature of CRT and its advocates: It’s OK for me, but not ok for you. This self-centered, narcissistic ideology appeals to today’s mediocre academics, who somehow have fooled themselves into thinking that the ends justify the means, and that they’re doing “god’s work.” Let’s hope they never get any real power, because their intolerance will translate into bloodshed. Some have compared them to communism, but I think their actions more likely resemble the intimidation and crusading intolerance of the Inquisition. One might argue that murdering the opposition for the slightest verbal infraction, which was subjectively determined by inquisitors desperately needing public executions to keep their intimidation tactics alive, was a Dark Ages phenomenon that could never repeat itself in the 21st century. But we are heading for another Dark Ages once CRT, with its anti-Enlightenment, anti-science, anti-free speech agenda, becomes embedded in our educational institutions. Academic departments like gender studies, race studies, and the “Center for Race, Education and Decoloniality,” exist for one reason only: to serve up a continual supply of “victims” who will then turn into inquisitors and do the dirty work of the current political party in power.

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