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Is Free Speech Racist?


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Table of Contents

1 Debating racism, disputing speech
2 Closure: who decides what is racist?
3 Culture: who values free speech?
4 Capture: what is free speech being claimed for?
Afterword: So, is free speech racist?

About the Author

Gavan Titley is Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Maynooth University.


"This is a small but mighty book."
Angela Saini, BBC Science Focus 'Best Books of 2020'

"Titley's book offers a detailed, analytical counter-argument to those voices suggesting that the rights of the already entitled are somehow under threat or that speaking out against racism is an assault on public life." [...F]ree speech is always more, rather than less, complex in his analysis of the fluid processes by which it shapes racism."
Times Higher Education

"An excellent contribution to dispelling liberal myths that freedom of expression is impotent and unconditional, and to taking back freedom of expression. [...] Titley's short and concise book [is] recommended for any anti-racist thinking and action."

"[This book] is clear, manageable and does not reproduce that fakely neutral tone that some academic discourses on race do. It does not shy away from complexity either. This book is both a worthwhile contribution to the history of writing on racism and a timely publication considering recent events. Highly recommended."
Manchester Review of Books

"[O]ne of the clearest accounts that has yet been published of [...] how free speech is being misused by those who have turned it into an ideology. [...] It's lively, compelling and principled, and anyone who cares about the topic should buy a copy."
David Renton, lives; running

"A particularly necessary reminder to those of us who relate to freedom of expression on a liberal basis [...] that the worn-out term 'liberal democracy' is actually based on freedoms and rights that do not arise through reflex responses - that these are processes that require active debate to defend and develop. It is never more important than after attacks on our open societies."

"Against accounts that frame freedom of speech in terms of idealized speech acts that serve both moral and utilitarian ends in avowedly enlightened, postracial liberal democracies, Titley asks critical questions about how invocations of free speech are being put to work, in service of whose interests, and to what ends. This framing pushes us past endless, circular debates about free speech as an abstract, idealized liberal democratic good and instead brings prevailing relations of oppression and exploitation sharply into focus."
Alex Khasnabish, Journal for the Study of Radicalism

"Titley writes with an analytical and interrogative eye toward one of democracy's most professed values and tenets-free speech. Clawing his way beneath the surface of popular political rhetoric, Titley implores his audience to reconsider how they understand free speech and its implications."
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

"A significant contribution to our understanding [of how and why] the far- and racist right in many Western countries have with uneven but significant success managed to appropriate the language and rhetorics of free speech, and weaponize it for the purpose of mainstreaming racism and Islamophobia."
Sindre Bangstad, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"[P]seudoscience has now gone mainstream: it infects public and political discourse on the pandemic, on climate, on medicine and vaccination, on abortion, race and culture. [...] As media scholar Gavan Titley points [...], dealing with misinformation of this kind is an unequal battle."
Chemistry World

"In this admirably short, tightly argued and easily accessible book [...], Titley shows us all what Applied Philosophy (my description, not his) can be, but so often is not: remorselessly logical, but at the same time jargon-free, witty and continually stimulating. The case that he sets out ought to be-but of course will not be-the last word on the matter."
Bob Brecher, Res Publica

"[A]n excellent inquiry into how racist expression has found a home through the alleged 'free speech crisis'."
Irish Marxist Review

"This important contribution embeds contemporary discussions of free speech into Critical Race Theory in subtle, well-argued ways. Titley exemplifies how racisms are advanced through the defense of freedom of speech, and how the latter is used as a blunt weapon to bludgeon efforts to tackle racist expression. "
David Theo Goldberg, University of California, Irvine "A marvellously readable and yet intellectually rigorous exploration of how race, racism and freedom of speech have become so intensely intertwined in the western public sphere. Titley offers an illuminating account of how the so-called "free speech crisis" is really a story of race, power and politics whereby vested interests have captured the very idea of the freedom to speak."
Priyamvada Gopal, Churchill College, University of Cambridge

"This is an excellent and urgently needed book that offers a key contribution to both academic and public debate on free speech. In a clear, succinct style, Gavan Titley persuasively argues that free speech is often defended in a superficial way, which focuses on speech as a mere channel of ideas and neglects structural inequalities between different speakers."
Matteo Bonotti, Monash University

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