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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
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The Media and 'Bullying'


Back in the 1920s, the intelligentsia on both sides of the Atlantic were loudly protesting the execution of political radicals Sacco and Vanzetti, after what they claimed was an unfair trial. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to his young leftist friend Harold Laski, pointing out that there were "a thousand-fold worse cases" involving black defendants, "but the world does not worry over them."

Holmes said: "I cannot but ask myself why this so much greater interest in red than black."

To put it bluntly, it was a question of whose ox was gored. That is, what groups were in vogue at the moment among the intelligentsia. Blacks clearly were not.

The current media and political crusade against "bullying" in schools seems likewise to be based on what groups are in vogue at the moment. For years, there have been local newspaper stories about black kids in schools in New York and Philadelphia beating up Asian classmates, some beaten so badly as to require medical treatment.

But the national media hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Asian Americans are not in vogue today, just as blacks were not in vogue in the 1920s.

Meanwhile, the media are focused on bullying directed against youngsters who are homosexual. Gays are in vogue.

Most of the stories about the bullying of gays in schools are about words directed against them, not about their suffering the violence that has long been directed against Asian youngsters or about the failure of the authorities to do anything serious to stop black kids from beating up Asian kids.

Where youngsters are victims of violence, whether for being gay or whatever, that is where the authorities need to step in. No decent person wants to see kids hounded, whether by words or deeds, and whether the kids are gay, Asian or whatever.

But there is still a difference between words and deeds — and it is a difference we do not need to let ourselves be stampeded into ignoring. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech — and, like any other freedom, it can be abused.

If we are going to take away every Constitutional right that has been abused by somebody, we are going to end up with no Constitutional rights.

Already, on too many college campuses, there are vaguely worded speech codes that can punish students for words that may hurt somebody's feelings — but only the feelings of groups that are in vogue.

Women can say anything they want to men, or blacks to whites, with impunity.

But strong words in the other direction can bring down on students the wrath of the campus thought police — as well as punishments that can extend to suspension or expulsion.

Is this what we want in our public schools?

The school authorities can ignore the beating up of Asian kids but homosexual organizations have enough political clout that they cannot be ignored. Moreover, there are enough avowed homosexuals among journalists that they have their own National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association — so continuing media publicity will ensure that the authorities will have to "do something."

But political pressures to "do something" have been behind many counterproductive and even dangerous policies.

A grand jury report about bullying in the schools of San Mateo County, California, brought all sorts of expressions of concern from school authorities — but no definition of "bullying" nor any specifics about just what they plan to do about it.

Meanwhile, a law has been passed in California that mandates teaching about the achievements of gays in the public schools. Whether this will do anything to stop either verbal or physical abuse of gay kids is very doubtful.

But it will advance the agenda of homosexual organizations and can turn homosexuality into yet another of the subjects on which words on only one side are permitted. Our schools are already too lacking in the basics of education to squander even more time on propaganda for politically correct causes that are in vogue. We do not need to create special privileges in the name of equal rights.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is



4 Comments | Post Comment
All such bullying should be stopped. Mr. Sowell is also quite correct on the double standard on college campuses.
One key distinction that Mr. Sowell seems to be oblivious to is that, in the case of gay students, many religious conservatives teach that homosexuality is a choice and a moral failing. When the members of a school's teaching and administrative staff hold such beliefs, gay students are particularly at risk because it tends to create an environment where the bully's prejudices are supported. I somehow doubt that such beliefs about Asians are common among school employees anywhere in the country.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mark
Mon Oct 24, 2011 6:13 PM
Free speech is a lot less free then the name implies. It really only protects you to talk about against the government without fear of arrest, or, I don't know, being blown up by a predator drone.

First of all, school officials can punish students for whatever they feel is appropriate, they aren't police and they aren't bound by the same rules. Secondly, the speech in this article would be considered "fighting words" (see Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire) and therefore isn't protected free speech.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Clucri
Mon Oct 24, 2011 6:41 PM
As a casual observer of the straight-bashing that gays inflict on the people of one major North American city during their pride week, it appears that their free speech rights are far more guaranteed than the free speech rights of those who disapprove of this lifestyle. LGBT's literally 'Bully' this city for over a week at a time and don't you dare say anything to anyone that can be cast as negative by a gay journalist. When sexuality was a private matter left in the bedroom, there was little friction, regardless of one's orientation. But now that it is more often discussed in the boardroom than the bedroom, why would we expect anything less than the usual controversy over any issue so widely debated? As gay's and lesbians seek to grow their constituency, adding bi-sexuals and trans-genders in recent years, and who knows which recently aggrieved group will be next, why is not a fair topic for criticism? I am tired of being bullied into acceptance of something I am as passionately against as gays are for. We are either all free to 'come out' in support of what we believe, or none of us is free.
Comment: #3
Posted by: fanman
Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:48 AM
The thesis of Mr. Sowell's piece was that Asian bashing by blacks in school is ignored while effort is being made to stop bullying of gay students. There does not seem to be a big problem of gay bullies beating up on straight students. Yes, the issue of PC speech in adult society is complex. If you express, for example, beliefs about how black or women should just keep quite and stay in their place, you may also encounter some negative feedback. You are still free to express such opinions, but don't expect significant social support in doing so.
In your good old days when sexuality, or at least gay sexuality, was hidden in the bedroom, things were not exactly safe for gay people, especially not for gay high school students. Gay adults who were found to be gay risked being blackmailed, legal sanctions, being fired, evicted, etc. HS students who were even perceived as possibly being gay faced endless harassment and bullying and could expect little protection from the school staff.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Tue Oct 25, 2011 11:12 AM
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