LA Times op-ed: Unrestricted free speech is giving marginalized groups PTSD and eating disorders

Monday’s 8—0 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Matal v. Tam didn’t score a lot of attention from the news media, and it’s not hard to see why: an Asian-American band called The Slants was arguing for, and won, the right to trademark the name.

The ruling did inspire the New York Times editorial board to rethink its position on banning the Washington Redskins from trademarking the team’s name, and on Wednesday an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times argued that “hate speech” should be restricted, as marginalized groups are hardest hit, and according to research, feel real effects.

Sociologist and legal scholar Laura Beth Nielsen asks readers to consider speech from the perspective of equality, using examples of real-life restrictions on speech like city ordinances that ban panhandling. Such codes favor the “powerful and popular” from aggressive requests for money. Now extend that further to other disadvantaged groups:

Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies. Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may develop a phenomenon of “self-objectification,” which is associated with eating disorders.

These negative physical and mental health outcomes — which embody the historical roots of race and gender oppression — mean that hate speech is not “just speech.” Hate speech is doing something. It results in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves and that collectively amount to the harm of subordination. The harm of perpetuating discrimination. The harm of creating inequality.

Free speech absolutists, therefore, need to consider that marginalized groups suffer so that people can be hateful. Thoughts?

Also in today’s news, by coincidence:

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