In a period of political authoritarianism, increasing scope and power of private tech firms, and a series of crises that have required a fundamental rethinking of our political certainties, it may be said that issues of free speech and civil liberties have become fundamental and pressing. Likewise, in a context where political conservatives have found a professed ally in freedom of speech, those of us committed to progressive and leftist ideas need to think through what our own understanding of civil liberties and freedom amounts to. In order to think through some of these issues we will be joined by Christine Louis-Dit-Sully, an academic biologist, writer and free speech advocate. She is the author of Transcending Racial Divisions: Will you Stand by me? that will be released with Zer0 Books later in 2021. In this session, she will be joining us to discuss a range of ideas related to freedom of speech, censorship and the politics of identity. What makes Christine’s work interesting is her ability to be both provocative and nuanced, fiercely defending freedom of speech, yet unafraid to challenge professed free-speech advocates and their assumptions.
Central to Sully’s exploration of free speech and civil liberties is her attempt to develop thought on how anti-racism and other political struggles can be pursued without falling into some of the pitfalls of identity politics and its opponents. She has often criticized identity politics for the way “extremely small numbers of the characteristics that could be used to describe me as an individual (such as being black, a woman and a foreigner) are supposed to determine my opinions, my reasoning styles, my ideas, my beliefs, my preferences for hairstyles, my taste in food, and other aspects of my life.” Yet she also notes that “professed opponents of identity politics still believe that my identities and the supposed personal benefits they give me determine my opinions.” Challenging both sides of this debate, Sully’s work could be said to provide a provocative intervention, shifting away from the tendency for such discussions to ossify around notions of ‘culture wars’, and reignite a radical discursive politics.