Chelsea Handler is not familiar with the saying “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” If she had, she wouldn’t have shattered every glass wall in her house. Not to mention her glass roof, glass windows, and glass floors. Yeah, she threw one heck of a stone.
On Sunday, two Chinese tourists in Berlin paid a visit to the Reichstag, which houses Germany’s lower seat of parliament. While taking pictures of themselves in front of the building, the two tourists made the Nazi salute. The police who patrol the building witnessed their actions. So the tourists were promptly arrested for violating German law that forbids the use of Nazi symbols and gestures.
The arrest of the tourists got Chelsea Handler’s “what if” juices flowing, which lead her to tweet the following on Monday:
2 Chinese guys were arrested in Berlin for making nazi salutes. Wouldn’t it be nice 2 have laws here for people who think racism is funny?
— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) August 7, 2017
The argument Handler is making is that the free speech part of the First Amendment should include a racism (aka hate speech) exception. If you say or do something racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other word that ends in ist, ism, or phobic, then you should go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Even if a hate speech exemption law was constitutional, you would have to get people to agree on what hate speech is. The KKK? Surely the majority would agree that the things they say and do are racist. Likewise with most agreeing that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are homophobic.
Now what about other forms of hate speech? Can you get widespread agreement on what those are? What one group of people think is hate speech may just be a joke to another person.
Take the following examples from Chelsea Handler’s own past. Are they funny jokes, or are they racist, offensive, and dehumanizing hate speech?
Handler made the following tweet during the 2014 Oscars, when she had control of the Huffington Post’s Twitter feed.
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) March 3, 2014
Handler tweeted this after 12 Years A Slave‘s Lupita Nyongo won for Best Supporting Actress. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie’s husband at the time, also starred in the movie. In addition, Jolie and Pitt have one adopted black child named Zahara. After Jolie appeared onstage with Sidney Poitier to present the Best Director award, Handler tweeted that Jolie had already adopted Poitier.
Some people in the tweets’ comments laughed at what Handler said. Some said it was inappropriate and disrespectful. Others, however, said it was racist. Would Handler be okay with this last group of people defining what makes up racist speech?
Later in 2014, Handler poked fun at Germany winning the World Cup by having her Chelsea Lately sidekick, Chuy Bravo, dress up as Hitler for an extended parody. The two-minute clip below is highly edited, but still gives you a good idea of what occurred.
The Anti-Defamation League labeled the entire thing as “tasteless, offensive and hurtful to Holocaust survivors.” Would Handler be okay with the ADL defining what constitutes offensive speech?
After news surfaced that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were getting divorced, Handler tweeted the following:
Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt… he wants the China; she wants Pax and Maddox. ##sorrycouldnthelpmyself
— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) September 21, 2016
Pax and Maddox are the other two children that Jolie and Pitt adopted. Pax was born in Vietnam and Maddox was born in Cambodia. Both countries are in Southeast Asia, making them both Asians. So the “joke” is that Pitt gets the China while Jolie gets the Asians.
Like before, some of the commenters on the Tweet thought it was funny. Some thought it was flat-out racist. Yet others felt Handler had dehumanized the kids with her comment. Would Handler be okay if those people demanded that the hate speech exception included comments that dehumanize other people?
Chelsea Handler thinks it would be great to have hate speech laws on the books. Yet in doing so, she’s actually asking for the law to punish her. All of the above examples have resulted in charges of racism, offensiveness, and dehumanization being leveled against her. Surely Handler realizes that some of those people would be part of the group tasked with defining hate speech.
And there lies the problem with trying to create a hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Every single one of us at some point has said or done something, or will say or do something, that someone else considers as hate speech. That joke you made about the black people can’t swim stereotype? Someone thought it was racist. That time you drew big boobs in Pictionary as a way to get your team to guess Dolly Parton? Someone thought it was sexist. That joke you are thinking of telling about a gay dentist being called the tooth fairy? Someone will think it is homophobic.
That joke you made about the straight, older, white man…………….. never mind. That joke was fine. No one found that one offensive.
The point is, WE’VE ALL said or done something that someone else would consider as hate speech. You can claim you aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, or any of those other words until you are blue in the face (is that colorist?). It won’t matter. If that one person ends up on the panel that defines what hate speech is, then your speech will violate the law.
There is a saying: I’ll agree to allow you to ban hate speech when you agree to allow me to decide what constitutes hate speech. If you want to ban hate speech and you are okay with me, the Token White Guy, getting to decide how to define it, let me know. I’ll be happy to help you find a way to make such a law constitutional. And you might also want to apply that saying to everyone you have ever met, everyone you have seen on TV or heard on the radio, and every politician in the country. Because you never know who I might end up asking to help me decide what is and what isn’t hate speech.
If that ever does happen, Chelsea Handler might want to consider moving. Germany would probably be a good choice for her, since she already likes their hate speech laws.