As racists across the country are being identified, outed, and fired, we are hearing once more questions about “freedom of speech,” as though the First Amendment provides cover for racists who, after frothing and raging publicly all weekend, arrive back at their cubicles on Monday morning.
I have bad news for these racists:
We all make our choices in life, and some of those choices are associational. The nature of such a choice is that it broadcasts something about oneself. If you walk around a college campus with Greek letters across your chest, you’re not just saying to everyone in your community, “This is who I hang out with”; you’re also saying, “This is the kind of person I am.” Since every fraternity or sorority has its own identity, this can be a helpful signal to others making their own associational choices; at a glance, they have some sense of who you are: a jock, a rebel, a cerebral type, a shallow type, etc.
This phenomenon intensifies when the associational choice one broadcasts is defined by some ideology — as for example when a person says, “I’m a Democrat,” or “I’m a Trump Republican.” With a choice like that, a person betrays not just what kind of person he or she is, but also specifically what he or she thinks. And that, in turn, can betray any personality disorder or character flaw associated with such thoughts or modes of thinking.
Bigotry is, in its very nature, violent. It is unmoored and turbulent and chaotic. It need not result in injury or death to itself express a sort of kinetic mental disarrangement — the kind that can be seen in one’s eyes as the pressure of seething hatred expands behind them. It — racism — cannot exist in a sound mind governed by reason. It requires sickness and volatility.
In other words, a bigot is not the kind of person any responsible employer would hire or retain. So when one associates with racists and bigots loudly and publicly, he or she is broadcasting something about himself or herself that might not be entirely salutory — at least as to one’s fitness for any position that doesn’t involve carnival barking or professional wrestling.
Back to that First Amendment. What racists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes, xenophobes, misogynists, and bigots of all stripes need to start understanding is that the First Amendment, like almost every other provision of the Constitution, only restrains the government. (I have explained this elsewhere.) It does not restrain the conduct of any private person or entity, so unless your paycheck is coming from the United States Treasury, a state, or a subdivision of a state (like a county, city, or public school district), the First Amendment does not apply to your boss.
In fact, the First Amendment protects your boss when he or she fires your newly unemployable ass. Because, you see, that right you have to associate yourself with ugliness and unhinged vitriol — your boss has the same right to associate himeself or herself with sane and rational and decent human beings. So don’t come crying to the government you hate when you land on a sidewalk somewhere and melt into nothingness like the snowflake you are.
Because there’s nothing the government can do to protect you. It’s encumbered by that thing you keep invoking: the First Amendment.
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