Indeed, an astoundingly small proportion of arguments ‘for free speech’ & ‘against censorship’ or ‘banning’ are, in fact, about free speech, censorship or banning. It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy? This assertive & idiotic failure to understand that juridical permissibility backed up by the state is not the horizon of politics or morality is absurdly resilient.
The “fools and knaves” quote comes later in China Miéville’s brilliant post at rejectamentalist manifesto about the recent Belgian legal decision regarding Tintin au Congo, where
shehe notes that grey areas and hard cases when it comes to controversial content are not a reason to refuse to address the problem – we are intelligent people who can work it out.
This sentence in particular is the crux, for me:
It is a strange, depraved morality that chooses relentless fidelity to racist texts over consideration of the day-to-day lives of children & others.
The idea that, at the very least, cultural slurs in older books or films which make life difficult for children of that culture should not be treated as “innocent” simply because of the mores of their time, and that those slurs should be signposted in some way on covers or in library shelving systems seems like such a minimalist starting point for notions of basic polite consideration for others in a civil society. Hergé himself revised Tintin decades ago to strike out some portions he was no longer comfortable with; Enid Blyton’s daughters did the same with her golliwogs; Disney revised Fantasia to remove a character depicted as a racist stereotype – all felt a need to modify certain content which they had come to see as troubling because it was gratuitously confronting to some of their readers/viewers. If it seemed so obvious to them back then, why is it so hard for some others to see it now?
Image credit/description: Index thumbnail is part of a panel from Tintin au Congo, showing Tintin being carried in a sedan chair by African bearers. The African men are depicted with grotesquely large lips and eyes in stereotypical “minstrel” fashion.