Uncensored: Why I Won't Bite my Tongue
[Disclaimer: I hate that I have to say this, but I’d like to make it clear that the following post does not in any way justify the use of racial slurs, or derogatory terms towards women, LGBQT persons, individuals with disabilities, any minority group, or any individual. Period. There is a difference between opinion and derogation and discrimination.]
As a writer, I'm no stranger to controversy, anger and confrontation about my opinions. I've been dealing with that for about as long as I've been able to properly express myself. Growing up, I was an only child for many years and being the baby of the house, I got away with a lot, some of which included spouting off my many opinions unabashedly. As I grew older, I remained opinionated and just as uninhibited about spreading those opinions. Once I was given the outlet of writing, and a larger audience to share those opinions with, things really got dicey. In high school, I once published a poem in the school newspaper about how I felt that black youth needed to stop blaming society for their own shortcomings. Needless to say, some of my school mates were none too pleased and saw fit to let me and a few teachers know about it. I found myself both fiercely defensive and deeply afraid, and wondered whether I ought to have censored myself. That was my first brush with the question of censorship and I've been battling that ever since.
Each time I write something controversial, be it on my blog, a Facebook or Instagram post, or some other forum, it comes after much debate in my mind about whether I should say anything at all our remain silent. I've learned to bite my tongue in certain conversations, face-to-face or otherwise, for fear of offending someone, though I firmly believe my opinion to be valid. In this world of political correctness where every word is potentially a bomb with the power to trigger people's anger and sensitivity, it's an absolute wonder that I even talk at all. At this point, it isn't even just religion, body type, politics, gender and other buzz topics that have the potential to land you in trouble, but simple dictionary words that have been transformed into "bad words" and replaced with nice sounding euphemisms with precisely the same meanings. People are no longer able to measure the intent behind your words, and now you must be careful to phrase things “just so” to avoid being misinterpreted. As an opinionated person, and a writer at that, I find this terribly stifling and overwhelming.
I've finally come to the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience shut myself up for fear of misinterpretation. It is like being strangled. The truth is, sometimes my views are going to upset people simply because they don't align with their thoughts. Some words are going to bother some individuals because they have attached negative associations to them. Some of my views will contradict the religious or spiritual beliefs of those around me. But I cannot pussyfoot around everyone's feelings. No one can. It is impossible to say what you mean if you must measure every word, not only to make sure it expresses your thought, but also to make certain it offends no one's sensitivities.
I think we've forgotten how to differentiate between frankness and rudeness. If a person does not sprinkle sugar on their words, most can't handle the bitterness of it. But there is nothing wrong with frankly discussing religion, health, politics, gender, sex and all the other topics we've turned into landmines. I intend to boldly express my opinions on those topics, to march across the minefield that political correctness has turned them into. I will be respectful, but I will not be pussyfooted. Writing is my air, and I'll be dammed if I hold my breath to keep others from getting blue in the face about what I say.
No one should have to live in fear of speaking their opinion. To silence an opinion is robbery, not just of the one who holds the opinion, but for those who refuse to hear it. I took a philosophy class last year, and the words of John Stuart Mill have stuck with me ever since. He wrote, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” For all I know, the opinion I stand behind so strongly might be wrong. But how can I challenge that if I'm too afraid to voice it. If we're able to state controversial opinions and engage in meaningful discussions, we have the opportunity to come closer to the truth or enlighten others. Remember, some of the ideas and beliefs we take for granted today were once hotly debated (see: gravity) and even dangerous to support (see: racial equality). When controversial opinions are silenced, engaging debates are not had. These debates are important for helping individuals refine, redefine or discover truths. Most of all, they encourage critical thought, rather than reducing us to mere sheep, and that’s worth pissing a few people off.