Emil Guillermo: The Slants' Simon Tam speaks candidly on PODCAST: "The cure for hate speech isn't censorship...let communities decide, not government."
July 10, 2017 6:58 PM
It's been a big summer for Simon Tam, musician and founder of the Slants, now trademarked, reappropriated, and unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court.
He also got married recently in his native state of California, so there's been much to celebrate.
And yet it seems there still some who aren't cheering his nearly eight-year-long battle to trademark his band's name and use the disparaging term "slant."
People of color remain divided since the Slants' victory is certain to allow for the Washington NFL team to continue using its disparaging name.
"It makes my skin crawl, it's terrible," Tam said. But he ultimately feels the decision was a win for all, protecting vulnerable communities who have had no say in the trademark process until this case. "Our identities were used against us," said Tam, who feels it will now be up to the marketplace and our own communities to say what's inappropriate, rather than the government.
"The cure to hate speech is not censorship," said Tam, who believes that the First Amendment allows for a deeper and more nuanced approach than simply to say some words are good, and others are bad.
In recent reports, some Asian American legal groups like NAPABA and AAAJ have criticized the Supreme Court decision. (AALDEF and other Asian American groups joined the ACLU amicus brief
and supported the Slants.) But Tam has held steady and rejects the "slippery slope" notion of critics who believe that an avalanche of hate speech will result from the decision. In an open letter to his critics
, Tam sees the decision as advancing legit reappropriation.
"In fact, now communities can be equipped to protect their own rights and prevent villainous characters from profiting and misleading people with these same terms," Tam wrote.
In his open letter, Tam cited the case of Heeb, a Jewish publication on pop culture, granted the registration for their magazine, but when they applied for the exact same mark in the categories of t-shirts and events, were denied for "disparagement."
As Tam points out, it meant when a group of Holocaust deniers sent harassing communications to subscribers, inviting them to Heeb Events, the organization was unable to stop them. "Had Heeb not been wrongly denied a registration, they would have been able to get a cease and desist order. This case now allows a just procedure against other people wrongly profiting from racial slurs or countering the work done by reappropriation."
Tam concludes: "Laws, like words, are not always inherently harmful. It depends on how they are used. It is like a sharp blade: in the hands of an enemy, it can inflict pain and suffering. However, in the hands of a surgeon, it can provide healing. The law I fought against was a large sword used by the government to haphazardly target "disparaging" language, but the collateral damage was on the free speech rights of those who need protected expression the most. Like other broad policies around access and rights (be it stop and frisk or voter ID laws), there was a disparate impact on the marginalized."
That logic may still not satisfy those conflicted by the decision, especially when it leads to a result like affirming the use of the Washington NFL team's slur.
But the bottom line is still the First Amendment, which Tam is busy expressing in the studio on the follow-up to the group's last EP, "The Band Who Must Not Be Named."
The new disc will definitely be named, eponymously, the group's first ever under its proud SCOTUS affirmed banner. For Tam, in the name of the broader Asian American community, it was worth it.
Listen to the Slants here
Listen to Simon Tam on Emil Amok's Takeout
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.
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