Freedom of expression, including verbal, written and artistic, is one of our paramount values in the West.
Until recently, however, I hadn’t thought that this freedom may require a thicker skin than many of us have. Though we take this freedom and right for granted, most people still try for social, moral or politically-correct reasons not to hurt other people’s feelings, insult their perspectives or denigrate their lineage, for example.
And even when others do — and we call them all kinds of names for doing so — we continue to cherish this freedom and right.
When I see students wearing 13 earrings in each ear and eyelid, marijuana tattoos on their cheek and “f*** you b****” T-shirts, I wonder why they would do such a thing. I wonder where they are going to find work, if they can find work.
I wonder about their moral and spiritual values. Still, I accept that we live in a “free” country and they have the right to express themselves however they choose. Increasingly, however, I have worked in schools that forbid the wearing of clothes with profanity written on them or anything that insulted another person’s religion, gender or ethnicity.
It’s easy to see how such a freedom could out of hand and incite people to violence, which schools really didn’t want to deal with.
Recently, I heard a TV commentator say that Birth of a Nation, that famous or infamous silent movie depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic, was one of the best movies ever made. I still recall people arguing that The Color Purple was a horrible movie, because it portrayed all the black men so negatively. Some of Langston Hughes’s poems were criticized for their content and against his talent.
Have you ever bothered to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s show?
I can’t even count the number of rap, hard rock or hip-hop songs and videos that I’ve found disgusting or degrading to women. How many horrible speeches have we heard this election season that could have made even the most insensitive types want to strangle someone?
My husband told me once about an Indian guy he worked with who found it very interesting that Americans spoke negatively about their president in public. In many countries, you might be imprisoned for doing such a thing or suddenly found dead somewhere.
In many African countries that are trying to find their way after years of political dictatorship, you or your loved ones might be killed if the government even thinks you oppose it. Write a letter to the editor or a column criticizing the governor of your state and you might find yourself out of a job or demoted at least. Not that these things don’t happen in the U.S., but we do have legal recourses if we suspect such tactics to dissuade our freedom of speech.
So, where am I going with all this?
This is only my view from the Other Atlantic City, but I think there are people out there who are deliberately trying to incite Arabs — many but not all of them Muslim, who are already reeling from years of socio-political and economic trauma — with that “silly little film” as one Islamic scholar recently referred to it. They will not be happy until the entire Middle East is up in flames and the corpses of people from all of those countries are scattered about the streets and countrysides.
Movies, TV shows, plays, every type of creative art form is meant to entertain us, amuse us, move us to take action, and even provoke us, positively or negatively. We are used to this in the West where we have been living in relative prosperity now for decades.
When people have been through or are in the midst of very difficult times, it is not hard to see why a film, song, poem or news article can move them into the streets. We never want anyone to die during such events, but sadly, it does happen.
Maybe the voices of peace, collaboration and compromise should be louder, or at least demand more coverage from media outlets. More than one of my Jewish friends has told me that there are more and more Jews and Israelis who are for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. How often do we hear the voices of these people?
How often do we hear about the many organizations that for years have been bringing Palestinian, usually Muslim, children and Israeli-Jewish children to the U.S. to live and work together in a spirit of understanding and unity?
We all want to live in a peaceful world. We all want food, clothing, affordable housing and healthcare for our families. If we want it for ourselves, shouldn’t we also want it for others?
Jacob Lawrence Day in Atlantic City
Black History, Jazz and Poetry