Harry Kalven, the all but very important First Amendment scholar and one who I address frequently in my classes, stated that “as a thumbnail summary of the last two or three decades of speech issues in the Supreme Court, we may come to see the Negro as winning back for us the freedoms the Communists seemed to have lost for us.” Still, as noted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., my third favorite black studies scholar, “Kalven would be shocked to see the stance that some blacks now take toward the First Amendment, which once protected protests, rallies in the 1960s: The byword among many black activists and black intellectuals is no longer the political imperative to protect free speech; it is the moral imperative to suppress ‘hate speech.’ ” Of all people, I believe oppressed minorities should welcome free speech; I realize this seems a bit controversial, but it is the instrument of voice that allows intellectualism and liberalism to grow; it is that of conservatives who look to oppress the voice and freedoms of the oppressed. Iran’s conservative leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the same threat that American Communists faced in the 1950s, blacks until the last 35 years, and other oppressed sub groups. Thus, I was pleased to see that Columbia University did not talk about liberalism and discourse, they allowed it to happen.
Two-thirds of colleges and universities have banned a variety of forms of speech or conduct that creates or fosters an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment on campus, such as racial slurs directed at minority groups: Jews, gays, lesbians, blacks, Mexicans, etc. As a black socialist in a conservative nation, I struggled with Columbia University inviting Ahmadinejad to speak. I questioned the choice because I would object to providing such a forum to the head of the KKK; however, after careful consideration, I applaud Lee Bollinger’s decision to create a forum about oppression and freedom. I am not the most patriotic person in America, but I value this country for its progress. I am allowed to have and advocate my beliefs and ideological constructions. If we are to be the model of freedom and intellectual integrity, we must show the world that Americans are willing to engage in discourse over unpopular views. If that means allowing a dictator to voice his fundamentalist’s views…so be it