marc lamont hill’s free speech was revoked
November 30, 2018
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” — Malcolm X
Rewatching Boots Riley’s film, “Sorry To Bother You” in my home was a different experience. I was surrounded around the warm air of my bedroom and the faint smell of weed and frankincense. I invited this strange movie into my regular home. Outside of the cold darkness of a movie theatre, surprisingly, the film did change a bit for me. Instead of focusing on how odd certain storylines in the film were, I realized the things that felt peculiarly normal and familiar. The absurdist, surrealist film that concludes with mutated humans-turned-horses and a severe critique to capitalism sounds polarizing, and it is, but in the comfort in my home it was easier to focus on the things that felt downright mundane in this surrealist adventure. The most mundane idea the film offered to me was that capitalism does not love the people it crushes or empowers. This is especially true if you are Black.
Now, this is especially true if you are a dissenting commentator named Marc Lamont Hill.
During a talk with the United Nations this week, Marc Lamont Hill defended Palestine — he concisely and impressively made his case for justice in Palestine. Marc Lamont Hill, 39, has made his way into my heart, along with many people in my generation, because of his awareness of this talent of speaking to the more angry and radical mainstream media consumer while maintaining being relatable. He can talk about a socialite stumbling out of a club on a radio show one day and then the next he will speak at the UN about the reasons he is pro-Palestine: the borderless nature of his commentary and work feels right on par with the public intellectuals my generation thirsted for in the mainstream.
The double consciousness that possessed Marc Lamont Hill was not new — Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson both are known for the ease in which they flow from pop cultural to heavy political discourse while maintaining a critical gaze. Hill’s version, however, does feel more millennial, more today, and more my own understanding of how a conscious person can exist in media, especially the mainstream media.
What we all were reminded of with the firing of Marc Lamont Hill from CNN was that, media is not this constitutional thing based off of justice and freedom of speech. It’s a space filled with private businesses that will crush or dispose of you if you dissent against things that cost them their profit and power.
Dissenting against Israel was such expensive cost for CNN.
Marc Lamont’s firing happened just days since a Jewish professor at a Columbia named Professor Elizabeth Midlarsky had her office vandalized with white supremacist symbols. She told CNN, “I feel very, very vulnerable.” Any decent person focused on equity and believes in everyone’s right to their highest expression in life who was confronted with this news was stirred and heartbroken for the professor. Bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, has risen due to the political climate. Anti-semites feel emboldened in ways that feel bolder and more visceral in Trump’s America. Ironically, the removing of Hill because of his dissent against Israel serves as a dog whistle to Zionists and white supremacists about who is empowered and who will be crushed, that makes Jewish folks in America even more vulnerable. Simply, this is not about anti-Semitism. This is about global white supremacy and capitalism deciding Hill was too risky and expensive for his value, and he was returned like a product or underwhelming service.
Marc Lamont Hill’s comments were intentionally stripped of its politics and it was projected onto Hill that he was simply anti-Semitic in order to justify his loss of job, and I assume, his erasing of the public mainstream if it is up to certain powers.
Hill took to social media to correct the misunderstanding. He writes, “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.”
Hill’s Pro-Palestine comments are in the tradition of Black dissent: James Baldwin, Assata Shakur and Angela Davis all have expressed solidarity to those in Palestine. These Black thinkers and organizers also felt compelled to flee America in some era of their career because America, the machine, was threatening the quality of their life and the speech they create in public because of their dissent against imperialism and capitalism.
Even in modern days, Hill’s predicament wasn’t unprecedented. Jemele Hill recently left ESPN to maintain a more critical, Black voice. Melissa Harris-Perry was also let go, albeit quietly, by MSNBC when her programs and speech became more leftist, and less liberal. Many reasons can be named the cause for these people’s disappearing, besides the issues I named, but the public-facing issue reads as clear as day: When you have a critical gaze on the world around you, you are treated as if you are the absurd one. Like with Marc Lamont Hill, you are told that ideas around justice and solidarity are bigoted while the bigoted are simply called racially conservative or provocative.
And this is by design. As the absurdity and dishonest logic around fascism is mainstreamed, it makes sense it is important that Black dissent isn’t just silenced, but moralized. It is not just strange or provocative, but it is wrong. This fascist fantasy must be true if they are continuing to lie about the status of the world and mischaracterize people who are not cis, white Americans. The ones dissenting can’t just be intellectual and political oppositions, or even opponents. We must be enemies.
What happened to Marc Lamont Hill is upsetting, but it reminds us that it is imperative to support and maintain spaces and platforms that gives room to Black dissent and radicalism because no Black person in mainstream media is too good to be ruined.
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