My colleagues at Bakersfield College, Matthew Garrett and Andrew Bond, debate the significance of stickers reading “Smash Cultural Marxism” and “Never Apologize for Being White” ("COMMUNITY VOICES: Stickers on BC's campus," May 19; "COMMUNITY VOICES: The problematic nature behind the stickers on BC's campus," May 23). After reading their submissions, it’s worthwhile to contextualize their arguments. Let’s set aside the issue of vandalism, because we all agree it’s unacceptable, and instead explore the dangers of attempting to distinguish between hate and protest speech.
How do my colleagues perceive events differently? Garrett encourages us to consider the possibility the stickers contain protest speech and says academics should engage rather than discredit ideas we oppose. Bond convincingly describes the Hundred-Handers as an indefensibly xenophobic, white nationalist group, and he therefore defines the content as hate speech intended to make “people unsafe.” He cautions against “granting legitimacy" to xenophobic ideas by engaging them and asserts the college’s duty to “conspicuously” remind people that campus is “inclusive and intolerant of hate.”
Bond contends the following are characteristics of hate speech: xenophobia; expulsion of other races; anti-immigrant; inflammatory language; undermining the legitimacy of other groups; and racialized supremacy and nationalism. Bond further maintains that views devoid of these characteristics still constitute hate speech if they originate from or are associated with a source that does espouse hate.
Could hate speech criteria silence unintended targets? Bond’s observation of white supremacist designs by Hundred-Handers led me to wonder why someone targeting Chicano events avoided using the more vitriolic slogans “Make America White Again” or “'Diversity' Means No White People.” The sticker-slapper’s refusal to use them led me to consider the possibility that the stickers represent protest speech. So, I researched Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), the alleged, intended victim and a BC student club affiliated with M.E.Ch.A. national.
M.E.Ch.A.’s founding documents raise questions. El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, El Plan de Santa Barbara and the Philosophy of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán state the goals of M.E.Ch.A. and Chicano Studies. They include the following: liberating indigenous peoples from the rule of “gabachos”; expelling “gringos”; disposing of private property in favor of a communal economy; and creating a race-based nation. These documents deny the legitimacy of the United States. They also denounce assimilation unless it furthers La Causa [the Cause], the creation of Aztlán. These ideas embody Bond’s concerns about xenophobia and border on his criteria for hate speech. Notwithstanding, M.E.Ch.A. is currently welcomed, sponsored, and even celebrated on campus.
What if BC's M.E.Ch.A. doesn’t share the views of M.E.Ch.A. national? In a 2006 Los Angeles Times article, “Raza isn’t Racist,” Mechista Gustavo Arellano admits M.E.Ch.A.’s documents and slogans, "Qué viva la raza!" (Long live the Mexican race!) and "Entre la raza todo; fuera de la raza, nada" (Within the race, everything; outside of it, nothing), seem racist. But he assures readers “few members take these hilariously dated relics of the 1960s seriously, if they even bother to read them.” However, M.E.Ch.A.’s own membership qualifications contradict Arellano: “membership shall consist of any student who accepts, believes, and works for the goals and objectives of M.E.Ch.A., including the liberation of Aztlán.” In order to even affiliate with M.E.Ch.A. campus chapters must “orient all members by discussing and reading historical documents of our movement including El Plan de Santa Barbara, El Plan de Aztlán and the Philosophy of M.E.Ch.A.”
Phrases actually posted at BC in early May seem to challenge M.E.Ch.A’s ideology more than “race.” The sticker-slapper targeted M.E.Ch.A.’s event commemorating Jesus “Jess” Gilberto Nieto, a professor credited with establishing Chicano Studies at BC. Given this context, the phrases “Never Apologize for Being White” and “Smash Cultural Marxism” could be suggestive of protest speech. Could it be that the sticker-slapper protested calls for a race-based nation, the expulsion of foreigners and ideas of racial purity with stickers from a site espousing similar views but for a different group? Could it be that this sort of intellectual double standard is just what the sticker-slapper was protesting?
Can you see the dangers of censorship? Bond’s definition of hate speech seems reasonable but also threatens to silence M.E.Ch.A., one of BC’s most active, devoted clubs. Censorship may silence “deplorable” protests, but it also threatens to silence dissent some consider “legitimate.”
Erin Miller is a local history professor. She can be reached at email@example.com.