I hate cheese.
I hate Asians.
Looks weird, right? While these two artless statements seem like nothing, they communicate ideas. One clearly avers a certain dairy product while the other avers a specific classified group. This is rhetoric: Language as a code, declarative, form, and art designed to transmit ideas that often the simple confuse as childish, ineffectual and meaningless. These sentences imply something. Maybe they say, why should I care what this unnamed “I” hates?
For starters, cheese is inanimate. If the imagination is strong enough, we can use personification to give cheese more class or dignity. But in the second statement we are much more blatant because Asians are people and once we’ve attached an emotion to a group, it’s harder to just stop feeling an emotion because it alienates someone else.
Rhetoric is shaped by humanity. People have the power to ascribe meaning to anything they would like, and in hindsight give it ambiguity. That ambiguity can be multilayered or singular. This is a beauty and beholder ideal. But that’s just it.
Language is really nothing until someone is manipulated, repulsed, or defamed by it. Up until then, it’s just speech, word, noun, verb, subject and predicate. We, the American English speaking nation, love our right to speech. We love it so dearly that we often claim that “free speech” is free enough to control the attitudes of every person regardless of things like citizenship, history, equality, and discrimination.
I have the right to express any clause and phrase I would like. But I cannot, through my own expression, take away the pathos of other humans no matter what I believe or how arrogant I get.
Free speech is not a blanket promise that people will blindly accept every view that is espoused to them. If I am offended by Asians that’s my right. My right has a boundary line found near the emotional, physical automony that Asians might demonstrate, if I speak my truth.
If a nation could truly control human feeling in that way, the civil and human rights movements over the last fify years in the global sphere would be in vain.
What about these sentences?
I prefer cheese on my sandwiches.
I prefer Asian documentarians.
These statements are free speech. Assuming these are my tastes, they do not limit, injure, or stop human expressions to the contrary. I am also aware that these statements could evoke awkwardness: the kind of incongruity that makes some African-Americans pause with implicit bias or irreverant curiosity and say…
Why the hell would this dude like Asian documentary makers? That’s odd.
But this is the beauty of free speech. This is why America is not supposed to be a dictatorship. One of the first books I read over my summer break was Langston Hughes’s “Not Without Laughter”.
This timeless narrative describes notions of race, sexuality, community, and bias through the basic relationship of grandmother and grandson. I recommend it to all people who are searching for understanding within this time of strife, confusion, and arrogance. The work, while set in 1930s Kansas is a great litmus test to see where we are in the great fight for democracy. Are we clinging to the old mantle of denigration and contempt, or are we embracing inclusion and humility?
I could easily complain and say that X, Q, and Z are wrong on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The marketing professionals are counting on my ire. For them and their corprorations, my feelings translate into dollars and cents. But if malcontent was enough to quiet the petulent child in every adult, I would not need to talk about hating cheese, preferring Asian documentarians, or embracing diverse inclusion.
Speech is free, but the costs of expression often go untallied until communities are decimated, people are dead, diseases have spread, and pyrrhic victories have damaged far more than unpaid student loans, costly health premiums, and fiscal performance reports.
I might hate cheese, but hating cheese isn’t the same as orchestrating an indadvertent murder of a person who had enough compassion to disagree with your values and not kill you. But I was just saying I hate cheese.