We live in a society where we pride individuality and staying true to who we are, but contradictingly enough we have large numbers of minorities being discriminated for being who they are. Racism being a strongly relevant issue, even in our day and time, doesn’t get dealt with as seriously as it should. Charles R. Lawrence III takes a firm stand addressing this issue arguing that racist speech should be regulated in universities rather than be protected by the first amendment. He claims that universities need to regulate racist speech in order for their students to really receive the equal educational opportunity they deserve.
Getting rid of racist speech would be the only way to give all students the equal opportunity to learn and participate in their university. Lawrence makes strong claims in his argument; however, a lot of his argument is supported through his writing techniques. Charles Lawrence in his argumentative essay “On Racist Speech,” implements emotion-provoking diction, subtle figurative language and a thoughtful use of detail in order to effectively dispute the need for the regulation of racist speech. In his essay, “On Racist Speech,” Lawrence argues that universities should regulate racist speech.
He points out that when racist speech involves insults, catcalls or assaultive speech, it becomes “fighting words,” which have been declared by the Supreme Court to not be protected under the first amendment of free speech. Lawrnence argues that racial insults shouldn’t be protected by the first amendment anyway because, the speakers intentions aren’t to “discover the truth or to initiate dialogue, but to injure the victim”. He also says that the need for regulations on racism advocated under the university’s responsibility to offer equal educational opportunity.
Students don’t have the equal opportunity to learn and participate when they are crippled by the fact that at any time they could be struck with verbal harassment or assault. Lawrence offers a counterargument saying how free speech is the lifehood of our democratic system and that it is impossible to outlaw racist speech without suppressing other kinds of speech necessary for our democratic society Using certain words with specific emotional appeal, Lawrence effectively draws emotion out of the reader and strengthens his argument putting the reader at an emotional, personal level with the argument.
For example, he first mentions how “we will be forced to combat [bad speech]” (51). He specifically chooses to use “combat,” a word with a far more aggressiveconnotation and weight, rather than a more passive word such as address. By doing so Lawrence expresses to the reader the urgency and grave seriousness of the situation; how racist speech is an actual, reckonable force that nees to be contended with. Also, he depicts the matter to be a “cry” from “victims” with “injuries” and “burdens,” all words with implied emotional context (51, 54).
Just by picking certain words, Lawrence successfully uses pathos, pulling the emotions out of the reader and making them feel pity for the minorities. Ultimately with the right words, Lawrence makes the minorities more than just demographics; they become a group of people pressed under injustice and in need of help. He essentially, uses diction to play the readers heartstrings in a manner to make them feel sympathy for the minorities and further sway the reader to support his argument.
Lawrence implements figurative language providing material from which the reader can mentally draw an image or feeling from, by which he further intensifies his argument, and ultimately making it more real and relatable. For example, he describes racism to have “rising flames” in the beginning of his essay (51). He draws a parallel between the situation of racist speech and an out of control fire. By painting such a strong image, he expresses the severity of the issue as well as how it must be addressed urgently.
Rising flames aren’t something to shilly shally around with; likewise, neither is the problem of racist speech. Another example is when he describes the “use of words as assault weapons” (54). By comparing words, simple means of expressions, to assault weapons, firearms meant to hurt, he suggests the brutality of the issue. By putting racist speech next to weapons of destruction, Lawrence effectively shows how racist speech has actual ramifications that hurt and damage others. Also by giving this comparison, he’s able to put a nasty, cruel feeling in the reader’s mind, a feeling that would really stick with them.
Lawrence’s use of figurative language proves to be very effective in getting to the reader, because it puts images, and consequently feelings, in the readers mind. He manages to give actual substance to the argument, substance the reader can see or feel. Lawrence sensibly avoids expounding upon the particulars of “racist speech,” which would have added smaller, more complicated arguments, and ultimately added extra baggage that could turn away readers. Touching upon sensitive issues of racism and free speech, he already packs a heavy load of content for the reader to digest and reflect upon.
If he were to add more with what he believes racist speech should be defined as, he would risk losing readers, and not just to an overload of content. By providing a set definition, Lawrence would basically just be throwing out one more thing for the reader to possibly disagree with. Would his definition be too strict, he’d lose some rather more lenient readers and vice versa. Asserting more of his opinion would have created more room for disagreement with the reader, especially when discussing such touchy subjects. Drawing boundaries of racist speech would have just made his controversial essay more controversial.
Lawrence having already sensitized the reader talking about “racial violence” on “victims” with “injuries” and whatnot, portrays his argument to be more than just a cold expression of his opinion. Having evoked the reader’s emotions, he had to consider them, making sure not to say something too sensitive that would really strike the reader. By leaving the definition open to the reader, not only does he allow the reader to create their own stand on the issue, where they could personalize it and make it relatable to their lives, but he avoids coming off as overbearing which would have been a clear turn off to readers.
Also, by steering clear of precarious details, Lawrence is able to really stick the nitty gritty to the reader and just get his argument out there and heard to a wider array of audiences. Lawrence effectively uses rhetorical devices such as diction, figurative language and details in favor of his argument to regulate racist speech. As serious and urgent Lawrence calls for the regulation of racist speech is, realistically it seems impossible. “Racist speech” is far too subjective of a matter to have any form of regulation.
Plus, it would be impossible to outlaw racist speech without suppressing other speech. That however, does not dismiss the issue. We should rather confront the issue on smaller levels and address it from the source—ourselves. Simply if we were all to simply just stop making or encouraging racist remarks, whether that be indirectly or just for laughs, there would no need for racism to be regulated. If we all were to progress to be accepting of all races, racism would just plainly be a thing of the past.
Courtney from Study Moose
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