On ‘Whites Only’ Signs and Racist Hate Speech: Verbal Acts of Racial Discrimination<sup>1</sup>

Mary Kate McGowan

in Speech and Harm

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199236282
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741357 | DOI:
On ‘Whites Only’ Signs and Racist Hate Speech: Verbal Acts of Racial Discrimination1

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In this chapter, it is argued that some instances of racist hate speech are speech acts that constitute illegal acts of racial discrimination. By identifying a previously overlooked mechanism by which utterances enact norms (the covert exercitive), one comes to see that some racist hate speech enacts discriminatory norms in public places. Such speech thus acts very similarly to ‘Whites Only’ signs. This result has two important consequences. First, it affords at least a prima facie case for the regulation of this subset of racist hate speech. Second, it disproves a certain naive conception of so-called political speech. Although both racist hate speech and ‘Whites Only’ signs express political messages, they do not and should not count as political speech for the purposes of a free speech principle. Thus, expressing a political opinion is insufficient for being political speech (in the relevant sense).

Keywords: racist hate speech; speech act; racial discrimination; free speech; exercitive; regulation; norms; Whites Only signs; political speech

Chapter.  12138 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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