Free speech is only free so long as you don’t offend anyone else. That’s the message the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sent when it sided with an employee who complained that his coworker wearing clothing depicting the iconic Gadsden symbol could count as a form of racial harassment:
The complainant, who is black, objected to his coworker wearing a cap with the flag, a patriotic and anti-tyranny icon dating back to the Revolutionary War. The man stated that he “found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a ‘slave trader & owner of slaves.’” He also argues the flag is a “historical indicator of white resentment against blacks stemming largely from the Tea Party.”
The EEOC agreed. “Whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts,” they argue. “For example, in June 2014, assailants with connections to white supremacist groups draped the bodies of two murdered police officers with the Gadsden flag during their Las Vegas, Nevada shooting spree.”
The EEOC is still looking into the situation “to determine the specific context in which C1 displayed the symbol in the workplace.” It should be noted that the complainant didn’t allege that his Gadsden-wearing coworker ever said anything racist to him.
I wonder what would happen if a white employee complained to the EEOC about a coworker wearing a Black Panther hat.