oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - The style of a mark : the scandal of free speech in Matal v. Tam

Volume 9 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



“The role of the government shouldn’t include deciding how members of a group define themselves. That right should belong to the community itself …. Americans need to examine our system of privilege and the ways unconscious bias affects our attitudes. But that discussion begins with the freedom to choose our language.”

Simon Tam1


The freedom to choose our language. What are the conditions and the effects of such a choice? Writing in the New York Times three days following his win in the United States Supreme Court decision Matal v. Tam,2 Simon Tam argues that this freedom follows from the suspension of law’s judgment in favour of allowing communities to give voice to and name themselves. A freedom less given by the law than opened by law’s withdrawal, the ability of a community to choose their own language opens an avenue for critique that affords a view into the oppressive structures that lend meaning to our shared collective life. Moreover, this freedom grants members of a group some measure of participation in crafting an identity that “can be influenced by as well as influence the world around us”.3

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