Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story

The threat of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi skinheads goes beyond their repeated acts of illegal violence. Their presence and the active dissemination of racist propaganda means that citizens are denied personal security and liberty as they go about their daily lives. Professor Richard Delgado recognized the harm of racist speech in his breakthrough article, Words That Wound, in which he suggested a tort remedy for injury from racist words. This Article takes inspiration from Professor Delgado’s position, and makes the further suggestion that formal criminal and administrative sanction – public as opposed to private prosecution – is also an appropriate response to racist speech.

In making this suggestion, this Article moves between two stories. The first is the victim’s story of the effects of racist hate messages. The second is the first amendment’s story of free speech. The intent is to respect and value both stories. This bipolar discourse uses as method what many outsider intellectuals do in silence: it mediates between different ways of knowing in order to determine what is true and what is just.