Last week, Duncanville High School teacher Vinita Hegwood was fired after she tweeted the words “Who the f—k made you dumb duck ass crackers think I give a squat f—k about your opinions about my opinions Re: #Ferguson” from her personal account. The case made national headlines and circulated around the conservative blogosphere, where posts on sites like the Conservative Treehouse ran with subject lines like “Whoopsie – Did A Ferguson Radical and Dallas School Teacher Go Too Far In Exposing/Expressing Her Racist Hatred ?…” while Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy.com boasted that “‘Social media works!’ Twitter pressure helps suspend teacher who tweeted ‘crackers’ should ‘Kill yourselves’.”
Meanwhile, left-leaning voices were relatively quiet regarding Hegwood. Consider the treatment by Gawker, which is normally reliably on the opposite side of any issue that Twitchy supports: they kept their report on the incident to five sentences, concluding with the relatively mundane observation that “conservative Twitter is rejoicing that ‘racist’ Hegwood is out of a job.” Seemingly everyone could tell that Hegwood made a mistake.
So this is the backdrop to a fresh news story on a similar situation from late last week. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Angela Box, a third-grade teacher from Houston, is under fire for some controversial remarks she made on the public access/YouTube show Tommy’s Garage. According to the Chron, Box said, “I am so sick of the bacon-haters coming here and demanding we bend to their culture.” And Houston New Black Panther Party leader Quanell X accused her of using a racial slur in reference to President Obama. (That quote—if it exists—isn’t available anywhere publicly now, but video of Box’s “bacon-haters” comment is.)
Box defends the remark about “bacon-haters,” saying the phrase has been “taken out of context.” She also insists that the show she was on isn’t for the children she teaches, so it has no impact on her work as a teacher. In an interview with ABC13, Box declared that she’s “never said anything that can be construed as racist or bigoted,” and declared that “I have a right to a personal life, and I have a right to my personal opinions, and that’s my bottom line.”
Box isn’t without her supporters, either. Conservative blog the Right Scoop insisted that “bacon-haters,” rather than being a slur, is “theologically accurate” (which raises “taking things out of context” to new and surprising levels). A Facebook page declaring “I Stand With Box” was launched (at the moment, it’s got a little over 300 members), while Houston talk radio host Matt Patrick decried the Fox 26 story that launched the controversy as a “hit piece” and called it “bulls—t.”
One can’t help but compare and contrast Box and Hegwood’s actions, especially given the strange coincidence that they occured so close to one another. And it seems Quanell X, who’s proven himself to be a media savvy guy, is doing just that. It seems he saw an opportunity for some tit-for-tat retaliation here, seeing as how some of the same people who celebrated Hegwood’s firing justified Box’s actions. Of course it’s reasonable to think that if people believe Box has a right to a personal life and to personal opinions, Hegwood should have those same rights. Or to boil it down further, if Box’s situation is a free speech issue, why wasn’t Hegwood’s?
It’s understandable that Hegwood’s high school students might have felt uncomfortable in her classroom. It’s also understandable that parents of the third graders Box is responsible for might be suspicious of the messages their kids are receiving or concerned with how she might treat children whose religion might come with dietary restrictions. But at some point, a decision needs to be made: Are we comfortable with teachers using racially charged language in public—yet outside of the classroom—that could negatively refer to the race, religion, or creed of their students? Or are we not?
Those who #StandWithBox because of their dedication to free speech, in other words, should probably have also vocally stood alongside Vinita Hegwood for the same reason. But those who celebrated Hegwood’s firing now run the risk of looking like hypocrites or worse if they don’t possess the same fervor to see Box removed from her position. One can support the principle of absolute free speech for teachers who want to make racially-charged public statements in their off-time; or one can support the idea that people who make racially-charged public statements should be fired, lest they compromise the integrity of their classrooms, but you can’t really have both.