Regarding Free Speech, Unresolved Issues of Race, and the Perils of the 21st Century

The polarizing we have seen in this country since the election of President Barack Obama continues unabated. Historically unresolved issues of race and class wars, pervasive inequalities and inequities, and 24/7 news cycles have met in a perfect storm.
Most recently the Venezuelan- born manager of a baseball team was soundly criticized and punished for expressing his affection for a well-known and much maligned brutal Cuban dictator. Charles Garcia, a native of Panama who in my opinion is a bright, influential, and creative entrepreneur said in an interview with CNN recently,…” to dismiss Guillen’s words as inconsequential, so absurd as to not warrant serious analysis, is to ignore the depth and passion of Cubans who live in this country not as immigrants but as exiles.”
A female political strategist has been roundly criticized for her statement that the wife of a multimillionaire presidential candidate has not worked a day in her life. I can’t help but be reminded of former President Bill Clinton’s infamous question about what the definition of is, is.
The major pieces of information that have been made public in the Trayvon Martin case, most notably George Zimmerman’s own words on the 911 tapes speak volumes as to his state of mind during the event and to the as yet unresolved issues regarding race relations, inequities, and the pervasive consequences for all of us. Each of these points to the importance of the words used, the context, but also to a larger issue of personal freedom of speech issues.
Words do matter. The 21st century need for the skill sets of cultural and linguistic competency has never been more apparent. Particularly in the challenging economic and politically divisive climate we’re in it is important to listen aggressively and appreciate what is really being said. The difficulty is that we are collectively destroying the rights and protections of the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech.
Many Cubans whether here in exile or not may disagree with Guillen’s comments, but he is certainly guaranteed the right to have the opinion and to make the comments. He isn’t a policy-maker who will influence law-making or other areas pertaining to the lives of others. He isn’t a law-maker/politician, lawyer, police officer, teacher, or a physician for example.
Ms. Rosen, the strategist, said what she meant and meant what she said. Parenting is by definition a difficult and challenging journey even in the best of situations. It is disingenuous to suggest however that families with resources face the same work/challenges as those who do not have access to those resources. I think it is insulting to women to infer /charge that Rosen was disparaging stay at home wives. She erred by not better articulating what she meant by “work” in this context
Mr. Zimmerman’s own words highlight the underlying erosion of civility and respect for the lives and well-being of others based on perceptions from personal experiences and other stereotypes. The failure of the police department to more effectively intervene with Mr. Zimmerman based on the 56 calls prior to the one about Trayvon Martin speaks volumes about the work that remains to be done to heal from the sins of the past. We must also face the fact that the scars from the past run deep in part because the historical and institutionalized racism that permitted and promoted slavery and the aftermath continue. Spellings (2008) noted that this nation has consistently failed to properly educate minority and underrepresented children.
A direct consequence of that failure is evident in any data one may choose to peruse. Educational achievement, readiness for workforce, health disparities and consequent poor health outcomes, housing, crime, and the list can go on. Until such time as we value and appreciate one another, respect and understand cultural issues and traditions, and until we infuse our policies and procedures, our social discourse, and our interactions with language that is inclusive, respectful, and responsive, our social ills will remain.
Words matter. At a time when so much is at stake for this nation, for our people, and for our place in the world, it is crucial for us to be honest about race and unhealed wounds. The viability of this nation depends on it.

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