Ten years ago, many of the languages public figures bandy about these days would be unthinkable.
Kanye West and Kyrie Irving have recently made headlines for dangerous antisemitic sentiments (and then have been punished for it).
But the problem goes well beyond Irving and West.
There’s an urgent danger in mainstreaming antisemitism and hate, and we’re on the verge of it happening.
Because a lot of the conversation about what Irving and West did isn’t focused on the harm, they’ve caused. It’s on the punishments they’ve received from corporate sponsors and business partners who don’t want to be associated with hate speech.
Instead of talking about what can be done to repair harm to the Jewish community, many public figures are harping about the danger of infringing on their free (hate) speech and wondering who will be “canceled” next.
The situation is complicated, of course, because both Irving and West are Black and have defended their right to antisemitism by saying they can’t be prejudiced, being oppressed minorities themselves.
It doesn’t track, though, and it derails the conversation from the most crucial part: the US has to grapple with the difference between free speech and the kind of speech that causes actionable harm to others.
Language in and of itself isn’t harmful, but what people might do because they’re told to (hello, January 6) is where the problem comes in.
Whenever someone spouts hate speech like Irving and West, the dialogue focuses on their punishment, not the harm they’ve caused. The country slips further into a void where vulnerable people are being harmed, and everyone’s too busy arguing about the details to care.