Balanced Freedom

In her article in Volume CXXXIV, Number 6 of The Phillipian, Christiana Nguyen discussed Alexandra Wallace’s now-infamous “Asians in the Library” YouTube rant, focusing specifically on our culture’s use of the Internet. While she makes a valid point in concluding that we must be polite and responsible when posting our thoughts online, Wallace’s video is not a mere issue of etiquette breach but a larger issue of racial ignorance and insensitivity. A discussion of proper Internet use is appropriate when someone shares too much information online, discussing overly personal details with a larger audience than the one to which they would typically disclose such information in person. Likewise, rude emails or online comments should prompt us to examine why we as a culture are so much more comfortable being impolite when communicating via the internet, rather than face-to-face. Here, though, a focus on Wallace’s choice of media distracts us from the true heart of the matter. The problem is not that a college student expressed racist sentiments online; it is that these sentiments are present in our world at all. Even if Wallace had kept her views on Asian students to herself, the prejudice and ignorance that prompted her creation of the video would still exist, and the widespread prejudice would remain an issue. While the video is both infuriating and disheartening, our anger should not be toward the fact that Wallace had the audacity to create it but toward the ignorant racism present in what she actually says. It is a subtle distinction, and it can certainly be difficult to separate the two, but using this video as a prompt for a wider discussion about racism (and the ignorance from which it stems) is ultimately more valuable than debating whether or not it should be on YouTube and whether or not it is “polite.” So instead of exploring whether Wallace (and others) should have the right to make their racist views public through social media, we should use her rant as an example of the negatives and the positives of our right to freedom of speech. It is the initial instinct of many to insist that blatantly racist writing and speech be prohibited, while others will argue that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and should therefore be spared from possibly productive counter-arguments). The first choice is not a realistic option, since I think almost everyone in the U.S. cherishes our right to express ourselves as we wish. Yet being able to do so does not mean that we are exempt from retaliation through the expression of other citizens. Productive retaliation and discussion can surely happen on the Internet just as easily as Wallace’s rant. Having freedom of speech means that people will always be able to publicize racist views, but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on such opinions in a thoughtful and equally public way. So while the “Asians in the Library” video is truly awful, we should stop examining its mode of presentation and instead use it as a starting point for an educated discussion of racism in our society. Madeline Silva is a two-year Lower from Valatie, NY.