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The difference between opinion and oppression

A right to free speech is not the same as a right to hate speech

Free speech has historically been liberating, but it can also be crushing

It’s hard not to come across the phrase, “Sorry if you don’t agree, it’s just my opinion.” Everyone’s heard it in some variation or another. Sometimes it’s meant innocently when a disagreement erupts over what kind of chocolate is best or whether someone is a cat or a dog person.

However, oftentimes people seem to think their right to an opinion is the same thing as the right to spew hatred or oppressive ideas, because this is America, right?

Where legality is concerned, sure, everyone can legally say what they want outside the parameters of things that violate people’s safety. The important thing to remember is that phrases that may not break legal limits often break social ones.

Saying that you think kittens are cute is an opinion, saying that you think all immigrants are deviants is dangerous. We let people get away with too much because as a society we respect the ideology of freedom, but we neglect the fact that when we provide hateful people with the freedom to spew their hatred we deny freedoms to the people they are attacking.

When people allow others to say things that clearly damage a group of people, we are not protecting the valued right to an opinion but are instead giving a platform to ideas that will fundamentally alter the lives of those being attacked. 

Don’t misunderstand me. Freedom of speech is of the utmost value. It allows Americans to voice their concerns, it provided the foundations for this country and it is the reason I am even able to write articles like this.

However, the idea of freedom of speech and the power it gave the citizen to fight an oppressive regime is now being used by oppressors to strip freedom from its citizens, see the problem?

The influence of Donald Trump’s America provides a perfect example. According to FBI hate crime statistics, from 2016 to 2017 hate crimes increased by 17 percent. This is not only a significant jump but deeply evident in the effect hateful rhetoric has in real-life situations.

Politics in this country can seem polarizing right now. Among other reasons, this has to do with the validation many individuals in this country with bigoted ideals have received in recent years. Emboldened by our commander in chief, people seem less and less afraid to voice their animosity towards different groups.

Looking at a smaller scale, the effect of the national discourse can be seen at NDSU. It’s not some big secret that a Trump flag often symbolizes a distaste for Mexican immigrants, for refugees, for women or for any marginalized group in general. Where some students may have felt afraid to voice their negative opinions towards these groups in the past, Trump flags are now proudly seen in NDSU residence-hall windows, on laptops, as bumper stickers and on those famous red hats.

As a woman, when I see this hat, I feel deeply uncomfortable. I know that Trump has been accused of sexual assault several times over, and yet whoever wears his brand full-well knows this fact and still supports him. What does this say towards how they feel about my sex?

More than this, I can’t imagine how an individual who is female, but also an immigrant or a member of a minority race would feel. This happens when we value the right to spew hate over the right to feel safe on one’s own campus, people feel little shame putting a Trump flag in their window.

In no sense do I mean to suggest we don’t allow people to express their opinions. One of the most valued parts of any college education is the exposure to different viewpoints than one’s own. Still, we need to recognize that not all opinions are created equal.

An opinion about a favorite genre of movie has a very different effect than an opinion about what type of people are more valuable than others. There needs to be a recognition on a national scale that there is truly a difference between having an opinion and oppressing a group of people.

Here at NDSU, students need to summon the courage the recognize and shut down hate when they see it. You should never let someone get away with saying something you know could be truly damaging. More than that, you should never let a friend get away with saying something bigoted.

As college students, we are at a unique point in our lives where our morality and beliefs are at their most malleable point. It is essential to listen to others and hear their viewpoint, but it is also essential to not allow our campus or those we surround ourselves with to become a soapbox for sharing opinions that will result in harm to others.

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