On “on the importance of the right to offend”

I commented tonight on a post, On the Importance of the Right to Offend, by Kenan Malik on his blog.

Thank you for you post, I come from Australia, so I am unaware of the incidents you write about, nor the people involved. But I am interested in your argument about the right to offend as a core tenant of Free Speech. In Australia we currently have the Commonwealth Government seeking to overturn Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act as they argue that Human Rights Commission has gone too far in inhibiting free speech. I, and many others do not agree with them, and are seeking to have this part of the Act preserved.

 

I am attempting to apply the arguments in your post to our situation here in Australia and I am unable to accept your thesis. Firstly, the assumption that we live in a pluralist society is surely mute, when, while I agree there are many competing interest groups, the structural inequality of those groups means that inevitably it is minority groups who are most disadvantaged by the free speech of the powerful. Secondly, I absolutely acknowledge your observation that “offence to a community” is “debate within a community”. As I write, my head is nodding yes, yes, this is so right. But once again, in Australia, in particular Indigenous people and our issues are in many ways prey to the voyeristic gaze of the powerful mainstream media. It’s their influence, particularly that of the Murdoch owned News Limited, which I would argue detrimentally influences government policy and shapes the opinion of the nation. There are very few opportunities, where minority groups can have free, frank and open discussion without the gaze from outside – the hinders our expression, we self-censor regularly or in the least, we wait until it’s safe to discuss it within the community only. I understand the spirit of your argument, and it is valuable to read about similar debates in other jurisdictions, and in a perfect world, I could agree. However when you’re only a small percentage of the population, Whiteness’s Right To Offend, is truly not something that I, and many others can accept.

I’ve written before on the debate about 18C here and at The Critical Classroom. While I don’t agree with the author, I think it’s important to continue discussion on the topic, particularly with international perspectives.

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