Freedom of speech as an abstract ideal does not exist. Freedom of speech can only occur within concrete power systems and social relations. The question is, “Whose freedom, and freedom for what?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Today, freedom of speech, formulated in the abstract, is precisely such a “dangerously structured dam that blocks the flow of social progress.” Instead of following an empty mantra, we must interrogate and radicalize this principle by situating it within the concreteness of sociopolitical realities and the struggle for establishing justice. The pretext of unrestricted freedom of speech is, de facto, a call to continue practices of unrestricted freedom for elites to espouse positions free from consequence or criticism in a program of preserving elites’ privilege and power.
Within this context, Cultural Praxis, while endorsing the basic principle that government should not suppress speech, is determined to address social institutions and practices, including academic publishing and scholarly debate, that are affected by racist, sexist, and capitalist modes of knowledge production. Elite voices are unfairly amplified while those of the less privileged may be silenced through tactics derived from elites’ power and status. Activists’ challenges to this status quo are often portrayed as a danger to the freedom of speech, inhibiting reflection and debate as freedom of speech is unquestioningly taken as an essential principle. It is time for this to stop and for us to ask, “Whose freedom of speech is it”?
Here on Cultural Praxis, we are committed to creating debate and discussion that is respectful, tactful, generous, thoughtful, open to diverse opinions, welcoming to non-dominant scholars and welcoming to scholars active in the struggles of the oppressed against oppression. We commit to values of social justice, equity, and diversity with several initial actions. For instance, we will put in place a system of asking everyone to introduce themselves so we can attempt to relate to each other as human beings and not virtual characters. We will introduce a video and text mixed-media mode of discussion. We truly believe that treating freedom of speech in a politically and ethically non-neutral way will lead to better scholarship as we amplify diverse voices from whom we can all learn and more fully develop as persons and scholars.