BHAVNA MAMNANI ’22
The right to freedom of speech is not equivalent to the right to impunity. Acting, talking, and publishing without thinking can place anyone in a vulnerable state of scrutiny. Recently, an Australian artist responded to the Serena Williams controversy with the publication of a political cartoon that is reminiscent of the 19th and 20th century Jim Crow caricatures of black women; the cartoonist took it a step further with the addition of a pacifier to imply that Williams resembled a baby.
While freedom of speech is the clear argument of racists and misogynists alike, that is not a valid excuse to perpetrate wildly ahistorical perspectives. The suffering and degradation Black people faced in the Jim Crow era should serve as a lesson to the public on the disgusting human atrocities Americans once condoned, not as inspiration to attack an accomplished Black woman. If the roles were reversed, would the general American public be as quick to defend a Black woman pictorially attacking a white man? We all know the answer to this question, but that doesn’t stop closeted racists from stepping out of their shell to endorse any intolerant white man in the name of the Constitution.
The massive backlash the artist has received on this cartoon has been categorized as an attack on freedom of speech, but can we really believe that the artist didn’t expect the educated public to recognize the blatant racism presented in the picture? The underlying mystery here is the context of this situation; why is it that people who are rightly angered over racist portrayals of their kind face backlash and are deemed to argue against freedom of speech, but those who made the conscious decision to denounce an entire race are defended with the American flag? In any circumstance, online publications are subject to critical analysis, but with a casual nod to the most racist period in American history, the artist should have at least anticipated talk about his insensitivity towards one of the most oppressed populations in the world.
Freedom of speech is not an invitation to mindlessly criticize, but without such instances, we would never be aware of the omnipresent racism in today’s world; it’s easy to believe that with knowledge and information, we are more inclined to act justly and respect those of other backgrounds, but with confident radicals showcasing their racist mindsets, America is in fact, as racist as it has always been. The first amendment has allowed us to expose the underground racists and give them a safe place to publicize their thoughts and in turn, reveal the penetrating racism in a country known as “the melting pot.” From political cartoons such as this, to our own president donning condemnations to any person of color, it is obvious that our society has made no progress in accepting people of different upbringings, but has instead, made it easier for those with horrible intentions to flaunt their thoughts and in turn, create a society in which those who aren’t born with privilege to constantly be the subject of hate.