Prof Links ‘Racist Hate Speech’ To Smoking And PTSD


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Rob Shimshock Education Reporter

A professor argued Wednesday that hate speech is linked to PTSD, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking in making the case for a ban on hate speech.

Professor Laura Beth Nielsen of Northwestern University made the claim in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled “The case for restricting hate speech,” according to Campus Reform.

“Empirical data suggest that frequent verbal harassment can lead to various negative consequences,” asserts Nielsen, without citing a specific study or source. “Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies.”

“Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may develop a phenomenon of ‘self-objectification,’ which is associated with eating disorders.”

Nielsen uses these unsubstantiated claims to suggest that hate speech is not “just speech.” She argues that free speech is already limited in ways that guard “the powerful and popular,” claiming that several cities have banned begging and Congress’ Honoring America’s Veterans’ Act outlaws protests within between 300 and 500 feet of veteran funerals.

“So soldiers’ families, shoppers and workers are protected from troubling speech,” said the professor. “People of color, women walking down public streets or just living in their dorm on a college campus are not.”

Nielsen told The Daily Caller News Foundation that she is not recommending any specific “hate speech test” but that legislation or policies passed should account for social science research on harm.

The professor asserted that courts have ruled on issues of subjectivity like hate speech in the past, citing Virginia vs. Black, which ruled that cross burning is subject to regulation when it constitutes a threat as judged by a jury.

“I would not claim causality,” said Nielsen, when discussing hate speech’s relationship to actual harm. “No social scientist worth their salt would. But I don’t think causality is the standard we should be concerned with. But that’s a bigger conversation about the sociology of science.”

Nielsen studies inequality, sociology of law, gender, and race, teaches sociology, and has published work on sexual consent and employment discrimination.

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