believe freedom of speech is essential to the fabric of any respectable university.

Because we have freedom of speech does not mean we are obliged to use it in every instance.

I am a WASP who married into a Jewish family. It would not occur to me to dress up as Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice,” wearing a costume with a big hooked nose and dollar bills coming out of my pockets.

When I was a freshman here 48 years ago, two of my roommates were African-American. It would not cross my mind to dress up in black face as Amos from “Amos N Andy.”

Because of these experiences and human ability to generalize, I would also not dress up in a big sombrero and a fake handlebar moustache, or wear an abaya. I would not masquerade as a toothless “hillbilly” from Appalachia or a person in a wheelchair.

We miss something when we focus only on racism and “victimhood.” Both exist on campus but the real issue in this case is cultural ignorance. It pains me to say this, since I adore this First Global (millennial) generation, which after all elected our first black president.

I am disappointed because there is still so much ignorance about the history of groups other than our own. History matters and it leaves wounds that transcend generations.

Amusement using stereotypes does reflect a structural racism. That doesn’t mean we are all racists, but it does mean that our cultural ignorance continues to contribute to the structural racism that exists in every society, including our own.

There is another aspect of this. We talk a lot about rights: the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to make our own reproductive choices.

With rights go obligations, which we rarely speak of or even consider. What are our obligations to each other as human beings and members of different groups?

We have a right to free speech. We also have an obligation to use that right with care and thoughtfulness.

Howard Dean is a 1971 graduate of Pierson College and former governor of Vermont. He is currently a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Contact him at .

  • distmorph

    The right to free speech is only a right if it is unconditional (within the very generous limits established by the courts). The obligation to be thoughtful and careful sounds nice but will forever be in the eye of the beholder as what passes as thoughtfulness for me could be carelessness in your eyes.

    Some of the “best” speech is crass, unpopular and in poor taste. I would rather be offended by hordes of thoughtless people than told what I can say by well-meaning officials or bureaucrats. Let me rephrase that: what I like best is to be offended by hordes of thoughtful people.

  • germ_16

    The article expresses the obvious sentiment that we’re not obliged to say racist things just because we can but what this article fails to realize is that the circle of what is racist, bigoted and hurtful is ever expanding at a rate that people just cannot keep up with. There is a large assumption on the part of social activists that it should be obvious that wearing a Native-American headdress is racist and offensive. This is only because they believe the ideas of “privilege theory” and that any groups that have suffered previous harm at the hands of “whites” is now off-limits.

    This notion may seem obvious to those of us that have been paying attention to the outrage machine and have studied history and sociology extensively, but how many people out on the street can say that with great confidence? The next assumption is that privilege theory is an actual fact to begin with, when many dispute the ideas behind it, and wonder openly the harm of labeling minority groups only as hurt victims who must be protected at all costs, and to see white people as the privileged who either participate actively in their oppression or do so by being ignorant of their role in society.

    This article is feel-good and attempts to make note of differing points, but the author seems to be ignorant of the very important nuances that are driving the debate.