Branson Inscore of the Martin Center focuses on the disturbing content of a recent conference in Greensboro.

Scholars gathered October 24 and 25 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to discuss free speech—and focused on its alleged pernicious effects. The takeaway was that the problem is not enough free speech in public, but too much free speech in public.

The conference, “Finding Expression in Contested Public Spaces,” featured a keynote address and seven panels of scholars who presented their research and gave their thoughts on free speech.

Keynote speaker Eric King Watts, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, opened the event with a speech entitled, “Tribalism, Voicelessness, and the Problem of Free Speech.”

“There is very little good news in my talk,” Watts said.

In his speech, Watts outlined problems that stem from free speech. He began by addressing the historical context of free speech as an idea within a culture.

“In particular, freedom of speech is conceptualized and found in documents as a universal human capacity and right requiring legislative and judicial protections, but this late-18th-century idealism obscures the manner in which freedom of speech is always already implicated in racism,” Watts said. He identified the idea of race as a biotrope (a living, constantly developing piece of language that’s represented by different words), and free speech as instrumental in the social construction of race.

“The very idea of freedom, postulated in universalist terms in the 19th century, and serving as the ontological structure for the First Amendment, doesn’t allow the black,” Watts said. “This exclusion is not legal, nor paralegal; it is brokered by the psychic structure and pseudoscience responding to the biopower imperatives of racism.”

Watts primarily identified the harmful consequences of free speech with one political party: the Republicans.