By: Jacob Christian
I do not know what it’s like to be a black student at Missouri Western. I am troubled when I see members of the black community regarded with undue suspicion by police officers or when I overhear subtle racist comments directed at them. Occurrences like these shed light on the fact that our campuses are still recovering from decades of oppressive laws and practices against people of color. As a person who believes that we still need to address institutional racism, I understand why some rushed to the defense of the woman in the video. However, I must condemn her behavior even as we seek ongoing healing from the wounds of our past.
We must remember that the same principle that protects a Muslim student’s right to wear a burka or hijab also protects a student’s right to wear a MAGA hat. Both choices of head-wear could be offensive to some of the population, but this alone does not justify prohibition. Most students probably do not realize how stringently free speech is protected at public institutions like Missouri Western. Even if a student decided to display a more blatant symbol of white supremacy, he or she would still be protected under current policy. I propose that it is all of our responsibility to protect our unique and radical commitment to free expression. Whatever this looks like, it certainly does not involve shouting profanities at (or even attempting to censor) a high schooler who is setting up for prom.
Even if we did support some restrictions on freedom of expression, the MAGA hat is not the kind of radical speech we should consider restricting. While one could have a legitimate discussion about preventing Nazi symbols and Klan outfits, the MAGA hat for many people represents support for the current president. I share many of the concerns of the black community regarding President Trump’s racism. However, understanding why the MAGA hat is viewed as a white supremacist symbol requires a deeper understanding of sociopolitical history than many individuals – especially high school students – will have. Education, not humiliation, is the proper remedy.
More importantly than upholding an abstract principle is the relationships we build with those we disagree with politically. Tolerance does not mean agreeing with someone’s moral position, lifestyle or expression. It means treating people with dignity and respect even when we have serious political disagreements. We should hang on to tolerance—even in the face of speech we find objectionable—because responding with vitriol only cements people into their beliefs. We may succeed in shaming people into silence temporarily, but this will only create resentment and further weaken unity.
When scrolling through the comments on the video, I was thankful for the African-American individuals who pointed out that the student’s behavior was counterproductive. These comments voiced disagreement with Trump, but acknowledged the importance of civility. This display of tolerance in the midst of divisive rhetoric is indispensable while we continue to fight for justice and reconciliation on campus and beyond.