Summary “On Racist Speech”
In his essay, “On Racist Speech,” Charles Lawrence discusses the happenings of racial violence in colleges and universities. He speaks of university and college officials that are doing nothing to stop the racial violence against minorities. Lawrence's essay is focused on the idea that racist speech should be regulated if it hinders a student's ability to learn. He references the case of
Brown v. Board of Education
, where he states that the "message" of segregation and the message that it sends to black students is "in essence" offensive speech.
Lawrence also states how how he is troubled by the reappearance of racial harassment on college campuses. Lawrence asserts that racist speech should not be protected by the First
Amendment. This is because some racist speech is used to harm and/or hurt people, not to express one's opinion or start conversation. He speaks of how the courts claim that offensive speech may not be regulated in public spaces. Although Lawrence, himself, feels that minority students should not have to stay in their rooms to avoid racial harassment.
Lawrence also goes on to speak of how some university officials, who are trying to follow their policies and protect students, are being given the bad name “thought police.” He feels that there is nothing wrong with doing one’s job to protect the rights of others. Even though these policies only help with regulating facetoface insults.
Lawrence talks about “fighting words,” words that by their very assertion impose injury or intend to violate peace. According to Lawrence and the Supreme Court, these types of words are not protected by the First Amendment. He also says that with most cases, members of these
Word Count 643
minority groups come to the realization that they will not win if they respond to any of the racist remarks so they are then forced to remain silent and obedient.
He argues that universities should ensure that minority students are safe in all common areas. Lawrence expresses some of the opposing views as :
"We recognize that minority groups suffer pain and injury as a result of racist speech, but we must allow this hate mongering speech for the benefit of society as a whole. Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of our democratic system. It is especially important for minorities because often it is their only vehicle for rallying support for the redress of their grievances. It will be impossible to formulate a prohibition so precise that it…