Yes I Can.

In an episode of Gutfeld! last month, a black guest made a controversial statement about a policy issue involving blacks and whites—I can’t remember what—and his statement was one that many conservatives might want to make. Then he looked at the white host, Greg Gutfeld, grinned, and said, “You can’t say that; I can.”

I’ve heard that kind of statement a lot in the last few years and it’s typically about issues where white people and Asians are the victims—things like affirmative action, federal grants that discriminate in favor of black people, and so on.

The statement is profoundly mistaken. If a statement is true, anyone should be able to say it. It might have more rhetorical force coming from a black person, but that’s a different issue. (Even if the statement is false, freedom of speech means that anyone should be able to say it. On that, although I’ll defend someone’s right to make a false statement, I won’t defend a statement that I know to be false.)

In the 1950s and early 1960s, black people were badly hurt by state governments’ segregation policies. They were clearly the victims, whether the policies were about who got to vote, whether municipal bus and streetcar companies were required to segregate by race, etc. When I was a kid, Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of my heroes for fighting against laws requiring segregation or against officials in the South who wouldn’t allow black American citizens to vote. Would it have been even more rhetorically effective if white leaders argued strenuously against these policies? Maybe. But any white leader who did so and then said, on a talk show, to MLK Jr., “You can’t say that; I can” would be wrong.

It’s symmetric.