The terrorist attack perpetrated by a self-confessed white supremacist in Buffalo, NY has sparked yet another national conversation on race relations. It has also prompted the usual calls from Democratic politicians for more restrictions on guns. But one of the more disturbing developments in this situation is left-leaning leaders like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pushing for more government involvement in online speech. Is regulating speech the answer to the problem of heightened racial tensions?
During an interview on ABC’s This Week, Pelosi suggested there should be a “balance” between free speech and public safety. “America is a great country. Our freedom is so important to us, but that freedom also carries public safety with it, and we have to balance those,” she said. Hochul announced her administration would be working with social media companies to address the spread of the type of hateful ideology the alleged gunman espoused.
Of course, the spread of extremist ideology is a source of concern. But it is not difficult to see the slippery slope here. If the government gets involved, it could – and would – expand the definition of “hate speech” to include even normal, mainstream views with which it disagrees. Even now, high-profile leftists are doing the same with Great Replacement Theory, applying it to people who simply believe in tightening up America’s border policies.
The solution to bigotry is more speech, not less.
A Concerning Trend
In 2022, it might be hard to remember a time when the relationship between whites and minorities were improving. The days of hard but civil conversations on these matters seem like they occurred in the olden days of yore. But it wasn’t as long ago as it seems.
Gallup has conducted a yearly poll measuring attitudes about relations between various ethnic groups. It shows that America’s opinions on the matter have changed drastically – and it isn’t a pretty picture. In 2002, 70% of whites and 68% of blacks said relations between the two ethnicities were “somewhat” or “very” good. By 2021, these numbers fell to 43% and 33%, respectively.
The percentage of Americans worried about race relations has also taken a troubling turn. In 2002, 48% of respondents said they worried about the issue a “fair amount” or a “great deal.” In 2022, this number jumped to 70%.
Unfortunately, it gets even worse. Gallup also asked respondents to rate their level of satisfaction with race relations in America. In 2002, 53% said they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied. Two decades later, only 28% of Americans are satisfied with relations between whites and blacks.
There are likely a variety of factors contributing to the increasingly negative view towards race relations among Americans. But one of the primary issues is the tense political environment in which Americans are currently living. In the early 2000s, the relationship between blacks and whites was not perfect, but it was still possible to have productive conversations about these matters without the level of demonization we are seeing today.
Over the past two decades, Americans saw the killing of Trayvon Martin and the birth of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The civil unrest that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown also became a landmark in the deterioration of race relations in America. Other instances of alleged and real police brutality also shone a spotlight on these matters. Even the infamous “beer summit” could not quell another debate on race after Harvard professor Louis Gates was confronted in his home by local police.
Racists and Race-Baiters
The far-left elements in government and the activist media played a critical role in fomenting racial tensions. While some have blamed former President Barack Obama for worsening the problem, it appears more likely that the talking heads and other members of the chattering class were far more responsible. They ramped up racialized rhetoric and stepped up efforts to cast anyone who disagreed with Obama and other Democrats as racial bigots, upset that a black man was occupying the White House.
Of course, the fact that some on the right engaged in racial attacks against Obama did not help, to be fair. Only days before the 2008 election, a life-size figurine of the soon-to-be president was found hanging by a noose from a tree at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. A member of the police commission in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire became the source of controversy when he referred to Obama as the N-word and doubled down when confronted. “For this, I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such,” he said. He was later forced to resign. These are only a few examples that made it to the news.
Still, those attacking Obama because of his race were not in control of the media establishment. They lacked the ability to influence wide swaths of Americans and label dissenters as bigots. The problem became even worse when former President Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president and later became Commander-in-Chief. At that point, the media threw off all pretense of objectivity and worked for four years to smear Republicans as borderline Nazis seeking to oppress people of color.
Social media has played an interesting part in this scenario with most of the fiery rhetoric occurring on Big Tech platforms. When people forget that Twitter and Facebook are not real life, it can be no wonder that attitudes towards racial tension are as dismal as Gallup suggests.
Now, in 2022, it seems nearly impossible to have honest discussions about race and ethnicity the way people used to have two decades ago. Unfortunately, this divide will only further inflame racial tensions and inspire more acts of terror like the Buffalo shooting. Elites on both sides of the political divide seem intent on portraying a United States that is hopelessly divided along racial lines even though everyday people of all races seem to be getting along fine in real life. However, if the perception of a racially divided America metastasizes, the situation could get far worse, and we might see an America that more resembles the world as portrayed by the media.
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