On Wednesday, February 22, 2017, in Kansas, a white man confronted two Indian men at a bar, and told them to “get out of my country” before proceeding to shoot, injuring two men and murdering another. It is the use of those words, “get out of my country,” that is leading the FBI to investigate this crime as not just a murder, but a hate crime. His words matter. And the words he heard before that day, the ones that made him feel that his hateful actions were okay? They matter, too.
In President Donald Trump’s America, hate spewing is the new orange, and it doesn’t seem like it will let up anytime soon (even if he managed to stick to a teleprompter for an hour during his Congressional address). Women, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Jews, transgender Americans, Mexican Americans, Black Americans, etc., etc., have all been on the receiving end of this onslaught of increasingly normal and hateful rhetoric. In turn, these groups have seen a horrific rise in violence committed against them. The number of anti-Muslim hate groups more than tripled in 2016 during Trump’s campaign. Over 100 Jewish Community Centers have received bomb threats in the last month. In the week and a half after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 “bias-related incidents,” including over 300 that targeted immigrants or Muslims. This reality is both painful and shameful.
But despite the well-documented history of hateful words leading to hateful actions, people continue to shy away from clamping down on hate speech for fear of trampling “free speech.”
The irony of course is that free speech actually is threatened right now, but not by those of us who refuse to buy into hate. It is threatened by a president who calls the press the “enemy of the people.” By a White House that bans certain press outlets and props up others. By a man who would use his government-appointed power to silence his critics with the end goal being a populace that only hears his half-scrutinized message and harmful ideology. That’s where “free speech” ends — with this new government’s interference. We private citizens have the ability, perhaps even the duty, to sanction and discern the speech of others. And if we’re going to pretend that corporations are people, then they have the same responsibility.
“Free speech” means that you can say whatever you want without government interference. It also means that I can say whatever I want, be it in opposition to you or not. And everyone else is free to do the same. And ‘speech’ here means words, dollars, clothing, you name it. So I am free to not buy what you’re selling and organize my friends and allies to do the same. Free speech doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same platform. In a capitalist democracy, it means that the market, for better or for worse, gets to control which messages are spread.
“Hate speech” on the other hand is language designed to oppress and reinforce discrimination, and it is incredibly vile, dangerous, and bad for America. In Europe, it has been made illegal in response to their firsthand experience of unchecked hate speech turning into genocide. But just because hate speech is not technically illegal here doesn’t mean we have to stand idly by and let it infect our culture.
At the end of the day, protecting “free speech” absolutely should not require gifting hate speech a microphone. And yet, that is exactly what we have done. Rather than protect civil society, we have lifted up these hateful narratives and given them prime real estate on our TV screens, in our book stores, and on our computers. Is it any wonder then that we’ve increasingly seen hate rise in our homes, in our schools, and in our communities? We’ve prioritized profit, power, and ratings (not coincidentally following Trump’s lead). We’ve normalized bigoted views and hate speech. And we’ve betrayed our core American values.
We watched Trump crown Miss America instead of firing him for his intrusion into women’s changing rooms. We gave Corey Lewandowski a primetime contract, rather than arrest him for assault. We gave Milo a book deal, and the KKK a TV pilot. We advertised our products next to Breitbart headlines that read “Young Muslims in the West are a ticking time bomb,” or “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: women should log off.” Because hey, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for [insert your CEO, company, or shareholder name here].”
But now it’s time to wake up. Is this the culture we want? A culture where we say protecting the humanity of those who look, pray, or speak differently than us is of lesser value than making a buck? Where we value power and control at the expense of empathy and collaboration? Where we give up any pretense of a civil society and devolve into smaller and smaller factions who despise each other?
No. Not anymore. Not in our America.
It’s high time we use our free speech to never, ever buy hate.
We live in a democracy and for that to work, we have to be able to respect each other. Join in partnership to advance the common good. See each other as equals.
Hate speech undermines all of that. And when hate speech prevails, everyone becomes the enemy. Instead of lifting up the most marginalized, we scapegoat them and blame them for their lot in life. Instead of coming together from a place of empathy, care, and collaboration, we rely on power, dominance, and aggression to ensure hierarchy and control.
Our public and private sector leaders may still be showing us that they value power above all else, but we the people can chart another way forward. We can show that our power is based on our inherent potential as citizens, consumers, and human beings. We can use our ability to work together and strive for the better angels of our human nature — valuing, not sacrificing, the common humanity in each and every one of us.
Human beings create culture, and so we can also recreate culture. We create the market and we can sway it. Together, let’s demand that the companies we support are aligned with our values, and that they uplift not undermine our democracy and civil society. We cannot allow these companies to privilege money over democracy, profit over civil society. No, we must isolate the hate speech-ers and their apologists. We must take away the microphones of those who spread hate.
So on March 8, 2017, International Day of the Woman, and #DayWithoutAWoman, we ask each of you to join us in the first step toward de-funding hate speech, with a targeted effort to isolate Breitbart, one of the worst offenders. Breitbart uses sexist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric to turn us against each other. More than one thousand companies have already pulled their ads, but one of our favorites — Amazon — has not.
That's why on Wednesday, we're expanding our #NotBuyingIt campaign to target hate speech and to let Amazon know that if its ad dollars support Breitbart, we can’t support them. Sign up to tweet at Amazon Help and create a chorus of voices demanding that mainstream companies and products do not give a penny to the likes of Breitbart. And starting on #DayWithoutAWoman, show Amazon your purchasing power by not buying a single product from them until the company changes its ways.
Together, let’s continue to hold brands accountable for their words and messages and therefore the values they promote and propagate. Together, let’s remind our leaders that hate speech does not deserve a microphone, no matter the dollars at stake. And together, let’s demand a culture that uplifts us all.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom is the filmmaker behind the documentaries Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In, CEO & Founder of The Representation Project, wife to California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and mother of four.
Editor's note: The views expressed here are the writer's own.