An attempt to legislate civility ... or another attack on free speech?
The white mayor of Brazoria, Texas -- a small town of 2,800 -- wants to make it punishable by a fine up to $500 if you say "nigger" with any hint of anger or intimidation, according to today's Houston Chronicle. If it's a successful effort, he might even like to expand the law to include other racial slurs. (It's important to know that merely saying the word "nigger" would not be illegal under the proposed law. To be criminal, it must be said "in an offensive or aggressive manner.")
It's laudable that somebody -- especially a white Southerner -- is standing up against one of the most blatant symbols of racism in America today. The word is mostly used today openly by black rappers and as a term of affection among black folks, confusing matters greatly, but its disappearance from our common vernacular will be an essential step toward racial harmony in America.
But a small-town ordinance -- or even a big-city ordinance, such as one proposed in Queens, N.Y. -- outlawing a word is not the right approach. As one black minister told the Houston Chronicle, people "have a constitutional right to be stupid."
Imagine laws that prohibit any word that might be considered offensive to someone ... anyone. You could no longer holler that the idiot driver in front of you was, well, an "idiot" without offending the mentally ill.
Part of me wants to stand up and applaud the mayor of Brazoria for his urge to do something. But the greater part of me wants to chalk this up to the insidious powers of political correctness and those who think that limiting free speech is a solution to our woes. Our First Amendment wasn't established to protect speech with which we all agreed and made us feel warm and fuzzy ... it protects speech that makes us terribly uncomfortable.
I'm terribly uncomfortable with "nigger" ... and "cracker" and "spic" and "hymie" and "towel-head" and "chink" and "squaw" and many, many more. But our goal should be a culture where we don't want to use those words, not one where they are merely forbidden.