The Arizona Shootings: A Tragedy and My Apology

In the wake of the tragic shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and eight others, it's time to ask ourselves: How guilty are we all of hate speech?

The Arizona Shootings: A Tragedy and My Apology

In the wake of the tragic shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her fellow victims, it’s time to ask ourselves: How guilty are we all of hate speech?

-Dr. Julianne Malveaux

 Gabrielle Giffords

My cell phone pinged on Saturday to say I had a message. I was in the middle of lunch and chose to ignore it. When I picked it up a couple of hours later, I felt the same sickness that millions did, learning that Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt. Television news bubbled over with the news, with fact, spin, and interpretation. Would all 435 members of Congress need ramped up security? Was hate speech the basis of this shooting? I even saw Neil Boortz, the peripatetic Atlanta lawyer and talk show host suggest that President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama had been guilty of some of the same hate speech that the right has been accused of. Please.

The talk about hate speech, however, is important and I’m going to own my part of it, and apologize. A bazillion years ago (actually in 1992) I made a wisecrack about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Anyone who knows me would see it as a wisecrack, but those who don’t saw it as hate speech. Here’s the background. Thomas said he would live to be 120 to stay on the court to frustrate liberals. I replied that the average black man had a life expectancy of about 65, and that if his wife fed him lots of butter and eggs (if her recent call to Anita Hill is any indication she isn’t cooking much these days), ingredients for high cholesterol and heart trouble, he’d die an early death. Conservatives called it a death wish. Death by breakfast, I responded, still in jest. As if someone were standing over Thomas with an Uzi forcing him to eat that butter and eggs. The wisecrack has to be taken even less seriously if Justice Thomas’ purported commitment to physical fitness and working out is taken into consideration.

 No matter, and no excuses. My comment about Thomas, my wisecrack, was in poor taste. Out of line. Out of order. I am sorry if the words I spoke at all contributed to the climate in which we live, to the vitriol that has poisoned the atmosphere. My apology does not mitigate or reduce my contempt for Clarence Thomas and for his arrogant dismissal of liberals and for the African American community. If I could do it all over, I’d have wished him the bacon and eggs, or simply made reference to the black male life expectancy rate and his own hubris, but left out the comment about his early death. The fact is that none of us should joke about death. It just isn’t funny.

To be sure, the right has had a great time distorting my words, and they’ve disseminated them widely. And anytime a liberal makes an inappropriate comment they take their media machine and work it overtime. These conservatives invoke free speech when pastors pray for President Obama’s death from their pulpits (if it were any other president, that pastor might have been looking the FBI in the face). These same conservatives say they aren’t racist when they use images of apes to describe the First Family. These conservatives have both fingerprints and footprints in the poisoned language that poses as free speech.

Yet it is true that it takes sticks and twigs, not just logs and trees, to build a fire. Was my comment one of the twigs?

It has taken me nearly two decades and an attempted assassination to understand the damage that my wisecrack might have caused, not to Justice Thomas, but to the public discourse. I hope it won’t take our nation two more decades to understand embrace the notion of speech civility, even for, no, especially for, political opponents.

Every day, and in every way, I tell my students, faculty, and staff that I value civility. Yet, my comment about Clarence Thomas was not only uncivil, it was ugly and unnecessary. And it really wasn’t that funny. I regret it. I apologize for it. I wish I could take it back.

A dynamic young Congresswoman is fighting for her life, and I am among those who will fall to my knees in prayer for her each day. The assassin who shot her also took out a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, a Congressional aide, and others. A dozen more were wounded. Scores of lives will never be the same.

Even as we pray for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, we need to fight to restrict easy access to guns. And we all need to be reminded to tone it down.

Dr Julianne MalveauxJulianne Malveaux is the 15th President of Bennett College for Women. Her most recent book, Surviving and Thriving, 365 Facts in Black Economic History, can be purchased at



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0 thoughts on “The Arizona Shootings: A Tragedy and My Apology

  1. Liberals are in fact the most egregious offenders of hate speech. Look at how Sarah Palin has been vilified.

    I don’t like Obama’s policies but I don’t engage in hate speech about him. State your disagreements without the personal attacks. Mean Betty has been the leading proponent of hate speech on here, especially about conservatives.

    John Wilder

  2. This article distresses & disturbs me. First Ms. Malveaux apologizes for her caustic remarks made yrs ago, then blatantly blames “conservatives” for all that’s not worked right across the aisle ever since. NO ONE–liberals as well as conservatives, Ms. Malveaux–is innocent in our current, throw-out-the-thoughtless-commentary, hurt-filled environment. We all need to clean up our act, & yes, that includes even President Obama … in addition to any number of other politicians–both Republican & Democrat. Look up his gaffs, Ms. Malveaux. They’re all over the ‘net, just like everyone else who’s held that ofc … as well as so many others.

  3. Oh, please. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have been way more vilified than Sarah Palin. And they don’t complain about it, the way Sarah Palin does about Katie Couric.

  4. It is unfortunate that mainstream media & the extreme left has glossed over the tragic loss of life perpetrated by a self proclaimed, atheist,anarchist,left leaning psycho to demonize conservatives. I find it fascinating that there has never been any type of indignation about the rhetoric such as the photo exhibited at the Getty of a rifle being pointed at Sarah Palin’s head or the movie about assasinating President Bush yet, now the left is trying to blame conservatives for the tragedy in in Arizona.
    Couldn’t possibly be an attempt at censorship? Naw. Liberals love everyone Right? Right.

  5. Group think can be very dangerous too. I Remember being in jr. high & high school and all those teacher/girls talks about being mean and how to have the courage and words to stop it. It’s scary to stand up and say I think “so&so” is nice when everyone around you is making disparaging remarks about them and at times it is still scary as an adult. We are all responsible for what comes out of our mouths and how our actions and words will effect others. We are a civilized society with God given brains – we ALL know how to reason, discuss and apologize. No one needs to hide behind “free speech”, blame, bullying words or the “Johnny did it so I can too” mentality (the mother in me wants to say – If Johnny jumped off a cliff would you do it too?) We are grown ups, people who have a different viewpoint are not the enemy – it’s okay to have a difference of opinion. It is not okay to harbor a hatred of all things that are not like you, if someone feels this way they need to immediately seek help for their irrational thought process & anger issues. Mental health issues are real and need to be treated just like other bodily ailments. Family members need to step up and help their loved ones get help because they can be incapable even though they seem functional. The NAMI website can be good start in the right direction if someone is unsure where to ask for help.
    I am so very sorry for the loss of life in AZ and I am saddened by the news that the shooter may have had some mental illness issues that did not get addressed. And I have been saddened by the way politics have gotten so overly hostile in the last 15 years because that is such a loss for our country when we can’t see or hear the brilliant & smart politicans on both sides of the aisle. Our country deserves better.

  6. I don’t think liberals OR conservatives can claim to be free of hate speech. Yes, we bash Palin and Obama pretty equally. Kudos to you for recognizing your mistake and trying to make up for it. As a school counselor, I see way too much of it, even in very small children. The world is NOT a kinder, gentler place.

  7. Politics has always been hostile yet over time has become more subdued by using words rather than challenging an opponent to duel. That being said,using terminology like aim, target, and crosshairs is perfectly legitimate when addressing debate that uses words. That is vastly different than blatantly calling out for physical violence against someone with whom one disagrees. Healthy debate using metaphor is an educational experience and should not be censored by political correctness. Unfortunately in our society, ad hominem attacks on conservatives are acceptable; fodder for late night humor and embraced as G-d’s truth. Conservatives do not call for the death of or violence against any elected official or public figure; can liberals say the same? Bottom line here is, this unspeakable tragedy should have immediately initiated public comfort to the victim’s and their families It should have been harshly condemned for the malevolent, sociopathic act that it is but, it was politicized. It was politicized by the left to demonize conservatives.

  8. Neocons and other assorted conservatives, I believe, were the aboriginal creators of much of our hate speech today. Up until the Reagan and Fawell Cabals [i.e. The Moral Majority, which were neither) America was making progress toward a more humane and ideal society. Then along comes the Holier-than-Thou’s with their rigid and ridiculous Moral Code that they shoved into our faces to supercede Jesus’ Morale Code [viz the Golden Rules]. It is no wonder it is no wonder that this Wonderful Counselor and Social Worker despised the Holier-than-Thou Hypocrites of his day and told them so in Words that might appear to be Hateful. The Truth can and is most often very painful as we are forced to look at ourselves and into our own eyes to see if we carry a wood beam as we judge our brothers and sisters for their splinters. Remember America was founded on the Pursuit of Happiness theme [which is the Morale Code or Sensible Golden Rules], but along the way, we

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