The Misunderstanding of Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech, freedom of press, or freedom of expression, is a concept rooted in the belief that when people are free to voice their opinion and ideas on subjects that the whole populace benefits from the resulting exchange without interference from government. When governing entities take steps to limit what people can say, then the resulting censorship can distort the public’s perception of the actual truth and honesty is threatened. When people are unable to voice their disapproval for fear of retribution, then the result is a government that is no longer responsive to the people. Freedom of speech is much more complex than this, an encyclopedia could be written on the subject, but this should suffice as a basis for our understanding for now.
Damon Wayans feels that the black community is infringing on people’s right to free speech. When black people respond to racially insensitive comments made by white people by demanding that these thinly veiled racist be fired, the American society is just a step away from destroying one of the fundamental principles of democracy. On the television chick talk show The View that aired on November 7th, Mr. Wayans was asked his opinion of what Don Imus said about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Mr. Wayans replied, “It’s freedom of speech. What happened to that? What happened to expressing yourself? At least I know where he stands. And you know what? When he called them that, [when] he called them nappy headed hos, I went, ‘Wow, he’s right.’” Click here to see the interview for yourself.
When did freedom of speech come under threat? Nobody called for Mr. Imus’ arrest or imprisonment. No one holding a government office was able to obtain the censorship of Mr. Imus or for Mr. Wayans for that matter. As far as I understand, from a perspective of law, they are still free to express their opinion of black women to whoever will listen to them. From the governments perspective Mr. Imus was free to say what he wanted to say and suffered not. So where’s the problem?
In response to the comments by Mr. Imus, people in the black community started to exercise their own freedom of expression. Many people said that they did not care for the comment and would refuse to support any corporate entity that would support Mr. Imus. This is also a form of freedom of expression. People have the right to say that they are offended at something they find offensive. The black community has a right to say that it is offended at something we find offensive. What happened to the black community expressing itself? At least the corporate community now knows where the black community stands. And you know what? When I watched Mr. Wayans say what he said, trying to defend Mr. Imus’ rights, I went, “Wow, he’s part of our problem.”
Mr. Wayans is obviously trying to be a comedian. Like many black people these days he’s in need of another career infusion. He wants to show his devotion to the system and potential network employers and wants to say something that will support the corporate interest that can give him his next gig. Saying black people need to lighten up is always a good stance to take when catering corporate favor. White people who belittle us are doing nothing but sharing a little chance at humor with us. Mr. Imus was not laughing at us he was laughing with us, or at least with those black people who refuse to see the seriousness of the situation and can only laugh at the attack on the black community.
This from the man who starred in the movie Bamboozled, about a television producer who revived the minstrel show by using black people in black face. This black version of Hee Haw took place in front of a porch of a house in the middle of a watermelon patch. The show was an instant success but with some dire psychological ramifications for the players who were not prepared to be laughed at for being caricatured with the absolute worst stereotypes of black people. This situation was very similar to the one that motivated comedian Dave Chappelle to walk off the set of the show that bared his name on the Comedy Central. At some point Mr. Chappelle came to the realization that he was a black man allowing himself to be played as a chump for white people’s entertainment at the expense of his black identity.
After his portrayal in Bamboozled I would’ve expected Damon Wayans to have a better appreciation for the condition of the black community with respect to the lack of consideration from the dominant corporate community. But instead of exhibiting some form of intelligent thought that could actually improve the relationship between black and white people that could help establish mutual understanding, Mr. Wayans promotes dismissing the black community as the butt of white people’s hair jokes.
There was a scene in Bamboozled when the two main characters of the minstrel show decided they had enough and walked off the set. The racist network executive Thomas Dunwitty, excellently played by Michael Rapaport, turned to Honeycutt, a stage hand played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd, who was dressed like a minstrel version of Uncle Sam and trying to work the studio audience into a frenzy to see the minstrel show. Mr. Dunwitty asked Mr. Honeycutt if he was ready for a chance to become a star and take the starring role on the show. Mr. Honeycutt didn’t hesitate for even a fraction of a second at the opportunity to step into the lead role. It’s okay to actively participate in the subjugation because somebody’s got to do it. This must have been the lesson Mr. Wayans took from the movie. If somebody were to ask Mr. Wayans if he was ready to do a minstrel show I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to exercise his freedom of speech to be the next porch monkey to reinforce every single stereotype people with a white mindset have of the black community.