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Whalen: We all need to stand up against hate speech

Columnist Colleen Whalen asks readers how they want to be remembered. She writes, "We all need to ask ourselves if we would want future generations of our family to know what values we’ve promoted. Are these values good or evil? Will future generations of our family be able to make peace with what we’ve done?"

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I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. Local history told of a KKK chapter in the area decades earlier. The overwhelming majority of the population in the area was white and Christian so a KKK chapter may be surprising to many. The targets of their hatred were my Irish Catholic grandparents, great-grandparents and other Irish Catholics in the area. I was in college before I realized that some of my childhood neighbors had been in the KKK. I never know which ones. I likely went trick-or-treating many times at the homes of men who had worn a costume much more frightening than any of us children could have created. A white hood and robe.

These days many are emboldened enough to publicly proclaim their bigotry. There were “fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. Tucker Carlson recently went on an unhinged rant about how it was no big deal that a noose was found at the building site of former President Obama’s future presidential library. Carlson knew well the racist symbolism, but went on to dismiss it as nothing. After all, there no evidence the perpetrators has worn white robes or had ridden up on horseback. Fox and Fox viewers have no issue with this bigotry, and many find it funny.

Many Republicans celebrated Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter because he would “protect free speech.” These people are ill-informed about the right to free speech. The amendment states, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the freedom of speech, or of the press…” The amendment doesn’t say that everyone has the right to say anything they want and every media outlet, every social media platform, etc., has to give them a place to express their speech. The amendment doesn’t say there should be no consequences for what someone says.

Media outlets and social media platforms provide an opportunity for many to share their opinions with a large audience. It is unique position of privilege to decide who gets to have their voice heard. With privilege comes responsibility. Before they grant an individual an audience, they need seriously consider what they are being asked share with a wider audience. Does it promote stereotypes? Such as racism, sexism, religious intolerance. Does it encourage violence? Images of nooses with a political opponent’s neck in it are not appropriate. Firing or pointing a weapon in the direction of someone with different political views does nothing to promote civil discourse. Is it true? An apt example is claiming every Democrat is a pedophile who drinks the blood of babies.

We all need to stand up to this hate speech. I’m sure if my maternal great-grandfather were alive today, he likely would wish that someone stood up to him and his bigotry. He was of Scandinavian heritage and was a member of the KKK. He has grandchildren and great-grandchildren whose ancestors were targets of his bigotry. How could he ever explain to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren that he promoted hate against a group they are members of? In my family, it is Catholic and Jewish great-grandchildren he would have to face and attempt to defend his KKK membership. History isn’t always in the history books, it is often the family history passed down through the generations.

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We all need to ask ourselves if we would want future generations of our family to know what values we’ve promoted. Are these values good or evil? Will future generations of our family be able to make peace with what we’ve done? My great-grandfather died years before I was born, which makes it easier to accept his bigotry as I never knew him. I suspect if I had memories of time spent with him, it would much more difficult to make peace with his KKK days. Perhaps had I known him, I may not have had to reconcile his views with my own Irish Catholic ancestry. He may have rejected me outright.

Before we spread hatred of people different than us, we need to think about the legacy it leaves. Do you want your grandchildren or great-grandchildren to wonder if you would have accepted them? Wonder if you loved them?

This is my final column with The Forum and is also the one I hope changes the most hearts. Please treat others and speak to others as if they are your future great grandchildren. They may very well be.

Whalen is an insurance professional who lives in Fargo with her beloved dog Baxter.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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