Best from the Rest: Dawoud Bey

I would like to thank Dawoud Bey for his very thoughtful and considered blog entry about censorship at the National Portrait Gallery and the larger historical and cultural implications of this attack. While there are many subtexts to this controversy, and to the many attacks that have come before, that have used moral outrage to justify discrimination, it is critical to place all of these attacks into a clear context of what they truly are — an attack on the core American value of free speech that is guaranteed by the rule of law.

Many of those who are calling for censorship of free speech say that the government should not be supporting art they don’t agree with or find offensive. If you dig down deep enough there are very few endeavors in the United States that the government does not support or help make possible. When we eat anything made from corn, or travel or ship goods on an interstate highway or through an airport, or simply turn on the faucet and have clean drinking water, all of those things and many, many more are made possible with government support. All of these essential things are the benefit of living in a free society. In order to keep America free there is no doubt that the government should support free speech.

If you can control and limit free speech, then you can control people, and that is real power. Freedom, and especially freedom of speech, so clearly defines who we are as Americans. We are a country with over 300 million citizens who are encouraged to speak their minds and there will always be opposing viewpoints on most issues and subjects. One of the great roles that artists play in our society is to ask difficult questions of how we are negotiating our progress as a culture. Artists celebrate the joy and triumph of the human spirit and illuminate the darkness and despair of our struggle. The only way for us to continue to move forward is to allow ideas to be contested in the public arena and to keep expression and speech free.

There will always be subtexts of whose voice or what group is being attacked when censors try to prevail, but any attack on free speech is an attack on us all, and that is what must be resisted at all costs. In the United States we all need to unite to preserve free speech.

—Jeffrey Hoone, executive director

Image: Ted Wathen, War Memorial Coliseum, Syracuse, NY, 1981.
From the Light Work Collection.

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