Everything is problematic: all opinions are not created equal

[Columns, letters or cartoons published are the work of the attributed author and do not necessarily represent the offical views or opinions of “The Highland Echo.”]

I’m about to pose a statement to you that people would generally disagree with in schools, but that I personally feel is necessary for our society to move forward. Brace yourselves: you do not have to respect every opinion.

It’s one thing to throw the idea around in elementary schools, when opinions mostly consist of things like favorite TV shows or colors. It’s another to take this as a rule and apply it to the real world, where opinions take root in our culture and influence decisions that seriously affect other people’s lives.

In a time when opinions dominate political rhetoric, we need to understand that there are some which need to be called out for being harmful. This idea is at the very heart of freedom of speech. Every person has the right to their own opinions without being censored by the government (with notable exceptions for things like violent hate speech), but they do not have the right for that opinion to remain uncriticized. Our freedom of speech creates the opportunity for discussion, not echo chambers.

We’ve had plenty of opinions come out recently that we should be addressing critically and that many would say don’t deserve our respect.

Jon Hubbard, a state representative from Arkansas, has recently had to defend the following statement about slavery he made in a self-published book: “But I think the end result — that they [African-Americans] did get to live in America, although the means for getting here were terrible — I think the end result was better than it would have been if they had to live in Africa themselves.”

He has the right to say these things, to actually come up with ideas like this and put them into a book and let everybody read it. The people who unfortunately have to be exposed to these comments, though, have the right to say that they’re terrible. His fellow republicans have the right to distance themselves from him.

His constituents have the right to not vote him back into office. It’s not always politicians, though, and it’s not always so obviously controversial. More often than not, it’s people in our day to day lives. It’s tweets and Facebook statuses and class discussions. These things might not seem like they have any effect on real issues, but we don’t live in a vacuum. What we say and how we act will always influence those around us and will always be influenced by those around us.

When you hear people say something that is casually racist or misogynistic or homophobic, they aren’t just hurting feelings. They’re interacting with and perpetuating institutionalized systems of oppression, even if it’s on a small scale. They’re contributing to lines of thought in our culture that do things like prevent states from passing nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ citizens from being fired for their sexuality or gender identity/expression or that keeps the gender and racial-based wage gap unfortunately wide.

These types of ideas start to edge into questioning people’s basic rights, their lives, liberties and the pursuit of their own happiness, and that is exactly when they should stop being accepted and start being criticized. When people who are already marginalized are constantly faced with the kinds of opinions that add to that marginalization, the response shouldn’t be passive.

It shouldn’t be acceptance. People of color, women, disabled people, LGBTQ people (and please note the “T,” because transgender people are often the most targeted in this group and the most unacknowledged for it) and others who already face discrimination should not have to accept other people’s opinions about their own humanity.

People who suffer at the ends of these opinions are in no way obligated to validate them. You do not have to respect someone whose words relegate you to a lower status, dehumanize you or prop up a system or an idea that is seeking to deny you equality.

You have every right to stand up and tell them exactly why you think their opinion is wrong, and if you feel safe in doing it, you should.

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