Saturday, May 20, 2017

June Chu and Debbie Massey: Foul Behavior or Free Speech???

Many people across the political spectrum dislike the free speech concept. They claim that some speech, which is always speech they oppose, is not so much speech as it is weaponized hate or discrimination, which is unprotected by the First Amendment. Others even drop that fig leaf and argue that "hate speech" in any form can be banned, even if it has no provable impact on anyone. Although the most vocal advocates of this approach are currently on the left, witness the brouhahas over right-wing intellectuals speaking at colleges, arguably many of the most powerful advocates of this approach are on the right. There is a right-wing movement to criminalize advocacy of BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanction the state of Israel) in America. So it goes. Humans being human, we will always be tempted to outlaw viewpoints we don't like. 

Limits on institutional ability to criminalize, punish, prohibit or restrain speech usually are only binding on government institutions. Private institutions can set their own rules. And they often do. The government can't jail me for writing something nasty about my employer. But my private employer, upon reading my screed, might decide that it wanted to fire me. Right now. And there's not too much I could do about that. Two recent events illustrated how someone's honest opinions got them in trouble. Well it might not be their honest opinions but rather the disdain that lay beneath them.😒 Both people paid a price for their statements. I see why many either refrain from sharing thoughts online or use pseudonyms. I have relatives and friends who refuse to use social media for precisely these reasons.

A dean at Yale University who championed cultural sensitivity has apologized for her “insensitive” Yelp reviews of restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, including hot takes on what “white trash” customers would find tasty and employees she blasted as “barely educated morons.” June Chu, dean of Yale’s Pierson College, apologized for the offending reviews, which had been circulating among students for several months, after the Yale Daily News published screenshots on Saturday.

To put it quite simply: If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” Chu wrote in one review of a Japanese restaurant. “This establishment is definitely not authentic by any stretch of any imagination and perfect for those low class folks who believe this is a real night out. Over salted and greasy food. Side note: employees are Chinese, not Japanese.

"Remember: I am Asian,” Chu wrote. “I know mochi. These are not good and overpriced. They are ice cream mochi which are small in size and easily become freezer burned if not stored well … I guess if you were a white person who has [no] clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you.”

Dean Chu also had some snide comments about New Haven, which is apparently about 60% Black and Hispanic.

Stephen Davis, head of Pierson College, initially believed only two such posts existed. But on Thursday, he sent an email to members of the college saying Chu had been placed on leave after he discovered there were numerous “reprehensible posts” that represented a more widespread pattern and damaged his trust in her, according to the Associated Press.

Davis called the posts “deeply harmful to the community fabric.” He said Chu will not participate in any activities related to the university’s May 22 commencement or work with students through the end of this academic year, the Associated Press reported. “Let me be clear,” he wrote. “No one, especially those in trusted positions of educating young people, should denigrate or stereotype others, and that extends to any form of discrimination based on class, race, religion, age, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

Moving right along, ABC decided to cancel the Tim Allen sitcom "Last Man Standing". I didn't know until recently that Tim Allen still had a television show or was a conservative. That's no knock at Allen, although he did recently exhibit some of the Fox News trademarked victimology and paranoia which seems to be popular these days. I just don't watch much television. The show's cancellation was apparently not very popular with one Debbie Odom Massey of Madison, Tennessee. She went on a Facebook rant bemoaning the cancellation and complaining about what she saw as too many gay storylines on television. 

This wouldn't have mattered much but for the fact that Massey happens to be the executive director of the Madison Rivergate Chamber of Commerce. Her Facebook post was characterized as anti-LGBT. She resigned just after the Chamber's Board of Directors said she had to go. For what it's worth Massey's gay colleagues had nothing but kind words to say about her.

The Madison Rivergate Chamber of Commerce executive director resigned Monday after a whirlwind of controversy from an anti-LGBT Facebook post she made last week. Debbie Odom Massey resigned her post shortly after the chamber's board of directors voted to request her resignation.

Massey drew criticism Friday from her Facebook post, which lamented same-sex kissing on television. The post stemmed from her anger that ABC decided to cancel the sitcom "Last Man Standing," which is popular with conservative audiences. “I can’t believe that I am supposed to be OK with shows like (‘Grey’s Anatomy’) or ‘Nashville’ or any other show that promotes LGBT blah blah blah.., Whatever!” Massey wrote in her Facebook post, which linked to a article about the cancellation of "Last Man Standing." “Cramming same sex making out into our Homes! But I can’t watch MY FAVORITE show! ‘Last Man Standing’! Talk about discrimination!!”

Accepting her resignation, the chamber plans to take several steps to reach out to LGBT businesses and encourage diversity. The board's members will soon begin diversity training, and a new policy related to social media posts will be implemented, according to a news release announcing Massey's resignation. Madison chamber member David McMurry, who is gay and whose civic leadership Nashville Mayor Megan Barry touted in her response to Massey's post, said it has been a "unique pleasure working closely with" Massey.

As a business leader, you want to avoid letting your personal biases and opinions interfere with business. That said I do want to push back a bit on the idea that because you're not interested in something means you're bigoted. Maybe yes, maybe no. Everything is not for everybody. Massey deleted her post but the available screen shots don't show her using any anti-gay slurs. She was merely expressing her opinion that gay storylines aren't her cup of tea. And I don't see anything wrong or unusual about that. Everyone we work with has different preferences than we do because they are not us. If someone asks me if I watch a show and I say "No it's not really my thing.", that's different than responding "No, why the f*** would I watch that (insert slur) stuff?" I might actually feel that way but unless I say it you'd be a little hard pressed to say I'm a bigot, based on that alone. People respond positively to things they like based on their hardwiring. I generally enjoyed HBO's Game of Thrones. I could have done without the more explicit interactions between Renly and Loras. Do Not Want! I liked watching Melisandre. Want more! Why? Because I was born that way. And nothing is going to change that. 

Instead of making Massey immediately resign, I would have examined how she interacted with and supported gay co-workers and gay owners/employees of current or potential future businesses. Her workplace behavior would be a more accurate test of anti-gay animus than her private preference for conservative and presumably heterosexual entertainment. With Chu, in today's environment, it would be difficult for anyone to market her as a university leader and cultural sensitivity champion when she's running around calling people "white trash". The slurs make keeping her a harder lift. Slurring a group not your own is usually a career limiting move. But Massey and Chu could probably both agree that today it's often best to keep your opinions to yourself. And in some ways that's sad.

What's your take?

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