One Writer’s Journey

July 2, 2014

Self-Censorship: Shock or Not

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
Tags: ,

self-censorshipIf you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know where I stand on censorship and banning.  In my opinion, freedom of speech is vital in a free society.  That said, it is a right that comes with responsibilities.

Freedom of speech means that no topic is off limits.  Freedom of speech does not mean that you get to shock people just to cause trouble.  Sometimes that means judicially editing what you write even if what you’ve written is historically accurate.

I’m working on a piece on the inventor Elijah McCoy.  McCoy began his career immediately after the Civil War.  He had grown up in Canada and was educated in Scotland but his family were escaped slaves. This, of course, means that he was black.

I’m writing about McCoy because young readers need to see what he accomplished in spite of the times in which he lived.  He went to university in Edinburgh Scotland although his father couldn’t read.  His inventions made the industrial revolution possible on a scale it wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.  He adapted his own work for use in air brakes.  His tech can now be found in space.  In space!

Some companies would order his oilers, find out he was black and cancel their orders, reluctant to rely on the “nigger oil cup.”  Yep. It’s a quote.  They weren’t particularly secretive about their disdane.  It’s important for readers to know about this prevalent attitude, but use the quote or not. . .

Initially, I included it.  It is historically accurate and I’m a historian.  Still, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with my decision.  I took the piece to my critique group without telling them about my doubts.  Their opinion? Take it out.

This is a piece of readers theater.  That means that it will be read aloud in the classroom.  By including that one phrase, I’m setting up some unsuspecting kid to read that out loud.  I’m also setting up the teacher.  It may be history, but it isn’t politically correct and I don’t know who will end up reading it out loud or where it will happen.  I removed the phrase.

What would you have done?

–SueBE

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