Different political beliefs are extremely common. We are taught (or at least should be taught) to respect people, even when their beliefs differ from ours. We are taught that freedom of speech is our right and we are allowed to voice our opinions, but when do these teachings begin to harm us? At what point is the misbelief created that spewing hate or invalidating and dehumanizing others is the same as just having an opinion or practicing freedom of speech?
Freedom of speech is defined as, “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint,” which keeps individuals opinions out of government jurisdiction. Freedom of speech is not defined as spewing hate that targets a person or a group of people without having to deal with the consequences of that action.
Similarly, an opinion is usually a harmless thought that can’t be proven as right or wrong. It can be surface level, such as having a favorite fruit, or it can be more complex and go into your beliefs on what’s right or wrong, but it is not the same as saying an entire group of people don’t deserve rights.
Where do we draw the line for what an opinion is? To put it simply, an opinion stops being just an opinion when it perpetuates hate, supports harmful and negative stereotypes, or dehumanizes and invalidates someone’s identity. If someone says a statement that does any of these things and we brush it off as an “opinion” we are normalizing the hate towards the person or people they were speaking about.
This kind of hate is normalized a lot in modern day politics, especially with the shift in our political climate this past month. A common example of this is people feeling liberated and grouping all Hispanic and Latinx people together, and only referring to them as “Mexicans” no matter what ethnic background they identify with, then stereotyping the entire group as “lazy”, or “job stealers”, or “illegals”. First, it’s ridiculous and illogical to assume every person in the U.S. of Hispanic descent is undocumented. Second, most people saying these harmful statements don’t understand the process of becoming a citizen and how long it takes, which downplays the actual process and contributes to the “lazy” stereotype.
These harmful sayings are the kinds of things that perpetuate the harmful behavior of wrongful political abuse done to hispanics in this country. This is shown by recently electing a president who had a large part of his campaign include building a wall to keep them out. By doing so, this normalizes the daily abuse that is given like using racist slurs and making inappropriate jokes.
The use of “opinions” as an excuse is commonly used in our daily lives. People will start off their racist statements with, “I’m not racist but…” say their racist statement and close with, “but I’m not racist, that’s just my opinion,” as if that excuses the harmful comment just made and gets them out of being called out. People will say they personally would not date or befriend someone of a certain race because it’s just an opinion of theirs, when in reality they’re agreeing with the negative stereotypes and further perpetuating the hate done that group of people.
We need to stop excusing bigotry in our everyday lives and start calling it out. We need to stop excusing our ignorant statements as “opinions” and “freedom of speech” and accept when people correct us instead of getting defensive. We need to come together and educate each other, instead of divide and hurt each other. We can, and will progress, when we learn this.