Monday, December 13, 2010

Exemption from criticism not one of the five freedoms


Media here in Central Indiana have been covering the case of Noblesville business owner Gary Dewester, who sells soaps with racist words and imagery at his antique shop. The soap, brought to the public's attention by blogger Kelly Jones-Sharp, is emblazoned with names like "Darkie," "Kolored Kids," "Monkey Brand" and at least one label that local TV news declined to show. Graphic imagery includes pitch-black faces; wide, pink-lipped, toothy smiles. You get the gist. Understand, these soaps are not truly antiques. They are manufactured in the present by a company in Florida. Nor, despite the store owner's claims, are they reproductions of items that once existed. A historian contacted by the Indianapolis Star says soaps with these labels NEVER ever existed in American history. These aren't reproductions, but what are called "fantasy items" printed purely for profit. Predictably, in today's racial landscape, a certain segment of folks, including the store owner, are crying "political correctness." Black people are simply too sensitive about being called "darkie" and portrayed by stereotypical imagery. Dewester points out that the soaps are stored in a "joke drawer" and that his customers, who buy 20-30 bars a year, find the items "funny." Supporters also compare the soaps to actual antiques that reflect America's ugly racial past (Aunt Jemima cookie jars, etc.) and that are collected by prominent African Americans like Whoopi Goldberg (though presumably not because they find these portrayals humorous).

I must say, as a black woman who lives around the Noblesville area, the presence of support for these items and the racial hostility displayed by many supporters makes me feel a little less welcome in my own community. Nevertheless, this post isn't about Racistsoapgate. This is about one particular reaction to it. Among the comments to an Indianapolis Star report on the case:

How pathetic!! This woman has nothing better to do than cause a small business owner trouble about something that is none of her business!! If she doesn't like the soap wrappers, then don't buy it and don't shop there!! Pretty simple!! Lady you need to get a life and leave other people alone and quit sticking your nose where it doesn't belong!!!! --From commenter Chuck5555 whose avatar is an American flag

Progressives will not be satisfied until individual liberty is dead, the republic is crushed, and all march lock step to their drum beat. --J_Wales

Another case of PC communism run amok. --2muchgoverment

The paper is too demure to tell us what exactly is being sold. Perhaps they are quite offensive, but is there no room for free expression in today's America? --stateless

A shocking number of people seem to believe that the five freedoms that are the backbone of American democracy include "freedom from criticism." They do not. The five freedoms are religious liberty, speech, press, assembly and petition. No "liberty to sell racist soap without anyone complaining" among them. 

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