Millennials are Less Tolerant of Intolerance than Prior Generations
Are you a 90’s kid? Did you grow up on Hey Arnold and sour spray, and, as you read this, are you currently between the age of 18 and 34? If you just mumbled yes to yourself three times over, you’re a millennial. We pride ourselves on progressive ideals and marrying later than mom and dad did. We’re characterized as more self-expressive than our buttoned up business clad fathers, albeit a little too into ourselves. But according to a recent Pew Study, we aren’t the paragons of progress we like to think we are. We’re actually more closed minded than prior generations.
If your opinion strays from the Republican conservatism that characterizes much of the peach-colored crayon box that is Washington, we embrace you with open arms. But expressions counter to prevailing liberal ideas? Not so much, according to the survey. Roughly 40% of interviewed millennials feel eehhh towards free speech, and wouldn’t mind a little governmental nudge to reinforce non-hateful speech and socially progressive ideals. In conversation with the type of millennial the survey cites, these views are automatically brushed over as “sexist,” “homophobic,” or “racist.”
Sixty percent of those surveyed still feel free speech is the democratic end-all ideal, whether it be hateful posts or Adele love songs – it’s all a go. But the 40% that thinks free speech should be prodded and poked to protect minorities and ward off violence is 16% higher than the baby boomer generation, and 13% higher than Gen X’ers.
The surge to rethink what free speech means is apparent across the University hum drum of students protesting racial prejudice. From Yale to Mizzou, students want buildings renamed and teachers who they feel foster a hostile environment to resign. Last week, the Independent published an article about a group of female students at Oxford who shut down an abortion debate held between two men, on the notion that “the idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups.” For these students it’s more than just free speech–it is a concern for emotional safety.
A quick flurry of texts to the millennials in my life made for a similar spectrum of ideas. What seems to divide the 40% and the other 60% is an idea about the potency of words, how close words relate to subsequent actions, and the degree of threat words evoke in us. A close friend, Sharon Attia, 20, told me that she “reject(s) the notion that free speech means a free pass on saying anything, even if that thing is completely offensive and harmful,” placing herself among the 40%. Yet, another dear city-dweller told me “free speech is more important than censoring racism and prejudices” (anonymous, 20).
When I probed him further about free speech and its occasional incompatibility with emotional safety – in light of University protests across the US – he didn’t see the pair as mutually exclusive. In reality the two are dependent on each other, because “safe zones are zones specific to free speech and free opinion… as long as the free speech is self aware in the ways in which language is understood.” A free space to swap thoughts and idea inklings should urge the the most liberal and conservative alike to blab freely. A safe zone elicits a space where opposing views are housed together without stigma or threat. This space is critical for less accepted ideas, because without it, “those who espouse those ideas can never be engaged in a dialogue on a critical level.”
In a similar notion, the bubbling movement against free speech in favor of emotional safety is seen by many of my peers, like Neil Duprey, 20, as “an ignorance (willful or otherwise) of the first amendment as it has been interpreted by the supreme court and the ego-centrism of millennials.” Rather than subbing free speech for tact and correctness, university students need to be “able to hear and cope with opposing views that may rattle their own convictions,” as says Will Richards, 26.
We might not sit on the pedestal of rad open-mindedness we millennials often envision in the lulls between episodes of Girls and scrolling through news stories on our cell phones. Trump is not the heir of feminism, and Tim Wolfe is not a hero for racial equality, but that does that mean we should deny them the right to spew and rant politically incorrect sludge? When slurs and biases turn to violence, that’s an issue. But curbing speech in the view that differing opinions are a precursor to violence is a dangerous and eerily dystopian move. Offense isn’t the same as physical violence, and an ideological bitch slap isn’t the same as a real one. Personal offense isn’t cause for stunted expression, and as Duprey said, “in the case of freedom of speech and freedom from speech we must continue to uphold the former if we are to live in a free society.”
Images via PewResearchCenter, CBC, the Daily Signal, Mass Live.