MINOT, N.D. — "It costs nothing extra to be a straight white male in this country."
So says Taylor Dominguez, a reader from Grand Forks, who responded with a letter to the editor to my assertion that the "the price of admission" to a free society is "accepting that you're going to hear and see some things that make you uncomfortable and even angry."
"For America, historically and apparently still today, the debt held by these men remains the most minimal, because attitudes continue to perpetuate this as a ‘baseline’ and ‘norm,'" Dominguez argues.
There are problems with this reasoning, but let first me acknowledge that Dominguez has at least the shadow point. Historically, white men have been at the top of the social heap. Our nation has made many long strides toward opening up more opportunities for more people, but the vestiges of past injustices remain.
But let's move beyond the obvious.
Taylor's first error is falling into the trap of identity politics. That pernicious thinking permeates modern political discourse. From the rhetoric "woke" activists to the repulsive pandering of former President Donald Trump, how many times is the first salvo in a political debate today something about identity as opposed to the facts or reason?
This thinking treats individuals as nothing more than the identity groups they belong to. As if a straight white man, or a trans Hispanic woman, or any other individual, whatever their location on the spectrum of humanity, must only believe things in line with their identity.
This is bogus to the point of being insulting.
You and I and every other human on this planet, we're unique beings, not cogs in some identity machine. Our identities, the characteristics that make us who we are, might slot us into categories like "gay" or "black," and what matters more is that you're Robert Port.
Or Taylor Dominguez, as the case may be.
We should treat each other as individuals, and not members of a group, because while it may be fashionable to say something like "It costs nothing extra to be a straight white male in this country," that sort of statement, while perhaps true, in the aggregate, in a very shallow way, is callously ignorant of what sort of struggles and challenge an individual has endured.
Taylor's other error is invoking this argument as a rebuttal to my column about the importance of free speech. Because I'm a straight white male, and thus couldn't possibly have empathy for, or understanding of, anyone who might look or live differently than I do, my argument for speech, even speech that can be hurtful, is invalid.
If we accept that argument as true, how could anyone, anywhere, say anything?
Non-controversial speech is not needful of legal protections.
The impetus for the 1st amendment, both as law and philosophy, is protecting speech that might make someone like Taylor Dominguez angry.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.