Leftist Writer Accidently Makes the Case for Freedom of Association

A recent article published in The Atlantic by Jemele Hill has caused quite a stir. Hill, a former ESPN employee, titled the piece “It’s Time for Black Athletes to Leave White Colleges.” The subheading reads:

“They attract money and attention to the predominantly white universities that showcase them, while HBCUs struggle. What would happen if they collectively decided to go to black schools?”

The core message of the piece is that, since NCAA football players and basketball players are mostly black, they are making significant money for the schools they represent. Yet as a result of NCAA rules, none of these players (regardless of skin color) is allowed to receive any actual payment from the money that they bring in. Since this will continue to be the case, those elite black athletes should choose to attend historically black colleges and universities (often referred to as HBCU’s) to make money for those institutions instead. The article goes on to imagine how great that would be if it happened.

As a libertarian and thus a firm advocate for the freedom to voluntarily associate or disassociate with whomever you wish, I couldn’t help but think of Noam Chomsky when he quipped that:

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

Despite many disagreements I have with Chomsky, I believe this message to be absolutely on point. But it isn’t just limited to free speech. Since people clearly have more freedoms than just speech, Chomsky’s standard should be applied to those too. One of these other freedoms, as Hill helps make apparent, is the freedom of association. In a free society, individuals have a right to both associate with those they wish and disassociate (or discriminate) from whomever they desire. There could be many reasons for this voluntary action, but those reasons are irrelevant. If individuals are truly free, then they have the freedom to be with anyone else they want to be with or not.

Hill’s article makes the case that elite black athletes should chose to discriminate against traditionally white schools and instead associate with historically black ones. She acknowledges there may be some disadvantages to doing this such as exposure, size of the school and the facilities available. Yet she continues to make the case for this voluntary association in order to counter a corrupt NCAA system. Some may question the wisdom of going down this path. But nonetheless, individuals have every right to make such decisions whether they are based on race or any other factors.

These opinions expressed by Hill have been met with a significant amount of criticism. But of course, there are other types of personal and private discriminations that occur which draw the ire of society’s gatekeepers of public opinion. Many kinds of this discrimination have become politically incorrect to the point that all debate seems to be shut down if anyone supports them. Yet the right to voluntary association should remain if we want to be a society that respects this right that all people should innately have. So the following are questions I have directed toward Hill in accordance with her new found affection for the individual right to freely associate.

Does Jemele Hill support the right to secession?

The ability of any territory to secede from a nation it does not want to be a part of anymore is a fundamental aspect of free association. Often in the United States, support for secession is met with accusations of racism and claims of supporting slave owners. But secessions have occurred all over the world and usually have no connection to slavery whatsoever. Even in the United States, the first secession our country faced originated in New England and centered around the opposition to President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. Clearly racism and slavery do not need to be issues when a voluntary separation occurs within a country. Certainly if black student athletes are able to voluntarily associate with an HBCU over a majority white school, then individuals who reside in a nation that they no longer feel represents their best interests should be able to disassociate from that nation.

Does Jemele Hill support Brexit?

In keeping with the previous question about secession, the decision of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union is another example of voluntary disassociation. It is clear that many British citizens feel that the time is right to separate from the EU. Whether or not this is a wise decision is not relevant. The point is that if Hill feels that black basketball and football players should “exit” white collegiate institutions, then the UK should absolutely be able to exit the European Union. Perhaps she can call her plan “White Collexit” as a spinoff.

Does Jemele Hill support the right of a Christian baker to refuse to make a gay wedding cake?

If one believes in the freedom of association, then the belief in the right to use your labor as you see fit is a must. Hill certainly understands this since she desires for black athletes who labor under the NCAA to do so for an HBCU. Yet if this principle is to be applied consistently, those who own property and labor while using that property have this right as well. Thus, a baker (for whatever reason, not just a religious one) should be able to exclusively make wedding cakes for straight couples. If elite black ball players have the right to exclusively offer their services to historically black schools, then those who bake wedding cakes should also have the right to offer their services only to the couples that they want to offer them to.

All of this brings us back to that infamous quote from Chomsky. If Hill truly believes in the freedom to associate, then that freedom needs to be applied to more than just those she finds favor in. Hill clearly admires black college athletes and sees them as positive agents of change. But in keeping with the true application of freedom, people need to also support it for those they believe are not being wise or virtuous. Hill may not admire secessionists, Brexiters or discriminatory bakers. But the admiration for any of these aforementioned groups is not the point. The point is that freedom must be applied to them too if we are going to claim that we believe in it. For if we do not believe in the freedom of association of those we despise, we really don’t believe in it at all.