Hate filled speech should never be tolerated. However, special interest groups should not be allowed to construe innocuous speech as hate filled.
On Wednesday February 8th, CNN announced the indefinite suspension of political analyst Roland Martin. The suspension comes in the wake of comments that Martin posted to his twitter account during the Super Bowl.
One comment in particular has been seized upon by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC). GLAAD and NBJC claim that Martin’s twitter commentary of an underwear clad David Beckham commercial condoned anti-gay violence. The comment at the heart of this furor is below.
“If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl”
On Monday February 6th, the day after the Super Bowl, Martin issued an apology to anyone who misconstrued his statements and unequivocally denounced violence against gays. He also denied that his comment contained any underlying anti-gay sentiment, explaining that he was instead expressing his disapproval of soccer as he had been known to do in the past.
This did not satisfy GLAAD or NBJC. Although initially supportive of Martin, CNN has since bowed to pressure from the groups and has suspended Martin.
GLAAD, NBJC and gay rights activists everywhere should be applauded for the important work that they do. Violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should never be tolerated, nor should any speech that is designed to incite violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people be tolerated.
However, GLAAD and the NBJC should not be allowed to police speech by construing comments in the most hateful way possible. Although Martin used the phrase “smack the ish out of him,” and although it may not be readily apparent to some, for many others, it is clear that Martin was not calling for anyone to literally be smacked. As it is used today, that phrase is not one that is typically used to incite violence. It is rather a colloquial way of punctuating a sentiment. It is no more violent than the often used "smack him upside the head." Indeed, in some settings and amongst certain cultures, "smack the ish out of him" is typically used in a jovial, tongue in cheek manner amongst friends.
Twitter and other social networking sites foster closeness akin to friendship between people who follow each other on that site. Martin, amongst his “friends”, resorted to a colloquial way of expressing his sentiment about a commercial that featured exclusively, various angles of a man in nothing but skimpy underwear. Even if his twitter statement was not solely about soccer, surely Martin should be allowed to freely voice his opinion about an advertisement that many, (gays people included), found distasteful. Although Martin may not have expressed his opinion in a politically correct manner, contrary to GLAAD and NBJC’s allegations, nothing in his delivery suggested that he condoned anti-gay violence.
GLAAD and NBJC’s attack has resulted in Martin’s suspension. GLAAD and NBJC’s attack on Martin is an attack on the constitutionally granted right to free speech. Allowing GLAAD and NBJC’s attack to go unchecked risks creating an environment where any speech can be construed in the most hateful way possible and used as a weapon by powerful special-interest groups.
Please join this petition and demand that CNN immediately reinstate Roland Martin.